Ars Poetica?

February 28, 2006 at 6:59 pm 3 comments

Czeslaw Milosz


I have always aspired to a more spacious form
that would be free from the claims of poetry or prose
and would let us understand each other without exposing
the author or reader to sublime agonies.

In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent:
a thing is brought forth which we didn't know we had in us,
so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out
and stood in the light, lashing his tail.

That's why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion,
though its an exaggeration to maintain that he must be an angel.
It's hard to guess where that pride of poets comes from,
when so often they're put to shame by the disclosure of their frailty.

What reasonable man would like to be a city of demons,
who behave as if they were at home, speak in many tongues,
and who, not satisfied with stealing his lips or hand,
work at changing his destiny for their convenience?

It's true that what is morbid is highly valued today,
and so you may think that I am only joking
or that I've devised just one more means
of praising Art with the help of irony.

There was a time when only wise books were read
helping us to bear our pain and misery.
This, after all, is not quite the same
as leafing through a thousand works fresh from psychiatric clinics.

And yet the world is different from what it seems to be
and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings.
People therefore preserve silent integrity
thus earning the respect of their relatives and neighbors.

The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

What I'm saying here is not, I agree, poetry,
as poems should be written rarely and reluctantly,
under unbearable duress and only with the hope
that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.

Continuing with the general trend of poems about poetry (no, BM, I'm not trying to make this a series, it's just, well, interesting), here's one of my all time favourites.

Oh, and do read the commentary on Minstrels. I have a lot to say about this poem (and about Milosz generally), but I couldn't put it better than the commentary there.


Entry filed under: Czeslaw Milosz, English, Polish.

Banalata Sen A Scratch

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cheshire Cat  |  February 28, 2006 at 9:31 pm

    Who is this guy Aseem Kaul anyway? Frankly, Falstaff, I think you’re a much more perceptive critic; it would be interesting to hear what you have to say…

  • 2. Judith Skillman  |  October 10, 2007 at 6:51 am

    I was wondering whether I might find a place on your website. My twelfth book will be published next year. “Heat Lightning, New and Selected Poems 1986 – 2006″ came out in 2006 from Silverfish Review Press. If you have the time, please see my website and let me know if you have any interest. While I am not a ‘big wig” poet, I do work hard and I like your site.

    Thanks for considering this request,

    Judith Skillman, M.A.

  • 3. falstaff  |  October 12, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    Judith: We’d be happy to run your poems on the site. Perhaps you’d consider recording something and mailing it to us? Our e-mail is


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