Posts filed under ‘Czeslaw Milosz’

I Would Like to Describe

Zbigniew Herbert

Listen (to Warya read)

I would like to describe the simplest emotion
joy or sadness
but not as others do
reaching for shafts of rain or sun

I would like to describe a light
which is being born in me
but I know it does not resemble
any star
for it is not so bright
not so pure
and is uncertain

I would like to describe courage
without dragging behind me a dusty lion
and also anxiety
without shaking a glass full of water

to put it another way
I would give all metaphors
in return for one word
drawn out of my breast like a rib
for one word
contained within the boundaries
of my skin

but apparently this is not possible

and just to say — I love
I run around like mad
picking up handfuls of birds
and my tenderness
which after all is not made of water
asks the water for a face

and anger
different from fire
borrows from it
a loquacious tongue

so is blurred
so is blurred
in me
what white-haired gentleman
separated once and for all
and said
this is the subject
this is the object

we fall asleep
with one hand under our head
and with the other in a mound of planets

our feet abandon us
and taste the earth
with their tiny roots
which next morning
we tear out painfully

(Translated by Peter Dale Scott & Czeslaw Milosz)

Warya writes,

“honestly, quite incredible.
and here my two paisa:

I love Zbigniew Herbert, and it’s not just because his name begins with a Z. Although admittedly, that helps. With Milosz and Szymborska, he peaceably begins and completes my canon of fucking brilliant Poles (it is a small canon).
And I love this poem, for its exhausting pursuit of that elusive morsel of perfection, of perfect comprehension, which mirrors our own. It is the poem that paints us everything a writer has ever wished, asked, lamented; only who knew that from shuffling sands in the mind, crystal could pour out so, drenching paper? Oh but it does, and there’s your hand, in a mound of planets. ”


October 9, 2006 at 6:37 pm 8 comments

This World

Czeslaw Milosz


It appears that it was all a misunderstanding.
What was only a trial run was taken seriously.
The rivers will return to their beginnings.
The wind will cease in its turning about.
Trees instead of budding will tend to their roots.
Old men will chase a ball, a glance in the mirror –
They are children again.
The dead will wake up, not comprehending.
Till everything that happened has unhappened.
What a relief! Breathe freely, you who suffered much.

(translated from the Polish by the author and Robert Hass)

Such a wonderful fable this – the idea of time running backward, of the accidental world we live in being rewound.

Is this what we really want, though? To discover that all our suffering, all our loss has been for nothing, a matter of mere oversight, so easily undone? How terrible if the thing we have taken so seriously turn out to be little more than a trial run. And how difficult to begin again (if consciousness and identity still have meaning in the renewed world) knowing what could, possibly, lie ahead.


September 16, 2006 at 3:34 am 1 comment

At a certain age

Czeslaw Milosz


We wanted to confess our sins but there were no takers.
White clouds refused to accept them, and the wind
was too busy visiting sea after sea.
We did not succeed in interesting the animals.
Dogs, disappointed, expected an order,
A cat, as always immoral, was falling asleep.
A person seemingly very close
Did not care to hear of things long past.
Conversations with friends over vodka or coffee
Ought not to be prolonged beyond the first sign of boredom. It would be humiliating to pay by the hour
A man with a diploma, just for listening.
Churches. Perhaps churches. But to confess there what?
That we used to see ourselves as handsome and noble
Yet later in our place an ugly toad
Half-opens its thick eyelid
And one sees clearly: “That’s me.”

(Translated from the Polish by the author and Robert Hass)

There’s no one quite like Milosz, is there? The quiet patience of that voice, the sense of serenity bordering on wisdom. Milosz knows that you don’t have to be clever or breathless to write a great poem, all you have to do is let your heart be worn to a stone like stillness, and then speak from it without artifice or ornament.


August 30, 2006 at 2:07 am Leave a comment

Ars Poetica?

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.


February 28, 2006 at 6:59 pm 3 comments