Reading Milosz

March 15, 2007 at 12:43 pm 2 comments

Adam Zagajewski


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
persuades us,
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.



Entry filed under: Adam Zagajewski, Clare Cavanagh, English, Falstaff.

Coming Verse XLI – The Gardener

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Equivocal  |  March 15, 2007 at 4:42 pm


    THANK YOU for posting this. Psst– any way we could also see the poem on Brodsky? It lurks in the subscribers-only zone of the NYRB issue….

  • 2. Falstaff  |  March 16, 2007 at 4:36 am

    Hmmm…not sure I should be doing this, but what the hell. I figure the NYRB folks have better things to do than persecute li’l old me. Here you go:

    Subject: Brodsky

    by Adam Zagajewski, translation by Clare Cavanagh
    (Courtesy: New York Review of Books)

    Please note: born in May,
    in a damp city (hence the motif: water),
    soon to be surrounded by an army
    whose officers kept Hölderlin
    in their knapsacks, but alas, they had
    no time for reading. Too much to do.

    Tone—sardonic, despair—authentic.
    Always en route, from Mexico to Venice,
    lover and crusader, who campaigned
    ceaselessly for his unlikely party
    (name: Poetry versus the Infinite,
    or PVI, if you prefer abbreviations).

    In every city and in every port
    he had his agents; he sometimes sang his poems
    before an avid crowd that didn’t understand
    a word—afterwards, exhausted, he’d smoke a Gauloise
    on a cement embankment, gulls circling above,
    as if over the Baltic, back home.

    Vast intelligence. Favorite topic: time
    versus thought, which chases phantoms,
    revives Mary Stuart, Daedalus, Tiberius.
    Poetry should be like horseracing:
    wild horses, and jockeys made of marble,
    an unseen finish line lies hidden in the clouds.

    Please remember: irony and pain;
    the pain had long lived inside his heart
    and kept on growing—as though
    each elegy he wrote loved him
    obsessively and wanted
    him alone to be its hero—

    but ladies and gentlemen—your patience,
    please, we’re nearly through—I don’t know
    quite how to say it: something like tenderness,
    the almost timid smile,
    the momentary doubt, the hesitation,
    the tiny pause in flawless arguments.


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