I read your poetry once more,
poems written by a rich man, understanding all,
and by a pauper, homeless,
an emigrant, alone.
You always want to say more
than we can, to transcend poetry, take flight,
but also to descend, to penetrate the place
where our timid, modest realm begins.
Your voice at times
if only for a moment,
that every day is holy
and that poetry, how to put it,
rounds our life,
completes it, makes it proud
and unafraid of perfect form.
I lay the book aside
at night and only then
the city’s normal tumult starts again,
somebody coughs or cries, somebody curses.
[translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh]
Reading poets on other poets is always fun, and who better to pay tribute to Milosz than Zagajewski? I love this poem mostly because it rings true, because it expresses, better than I ever could, just why Milosz is so special. The first time I read it (in the March 1 issue of the NYRB, which also features Zagajewski on Brodsky) I found myself nodding along, saying yes, that’s it exactly, that’s exactly how I feel about him too. “Poetry”, Zagajewski tells us, “rounds our life / completes it, makes it proud / and unafraid of perfect form”. It takes a very great poet to make us feel that way, and an incredibly good one to put that feeling into words.