Czeslaw Milosz, one of the few unquestioned giants of world poetry remaining from the last century, died today at his home in Krakow. I don’t have anything useful to say about him except that he speaks to me directly and is one of those rare poets who seem undiminished by translation (I say “seem” because I can’t read him in Polish), so I’ll just quote a couple of poems from New and Collected Poems.
No duties. I don’t have to be profound.
I don’t have to be artistically perfect.
Or sublime. Or edifying.
I just wander. I say: “You were running,
That’s fine. It was the thing to do.”
And now the music of the worlds transforms me.
My planet enters a different house.
Trees and lawns become more distinct.
Philosophies one after another go out.
Everything is lighter yet not less odd.
Sauces, wine vintages, dishes of meat.
We talk a little of district fairs,
Of travels in a covered wagon with a cloud of dust behind,
Of how rivers once were, what the scent of calamus is.
That’s better than examining one’s private dreams.
And meanwhile it has arrived. It’s here, invisible.
Who can guess how it got here, everywhere.
Let others take care of it. Time for me to play hooky.
Buona notte. Ciao. Farewell.
(from Provinces, 1991)
And a prose poem from This (2000):
In advanced age, my health worsening, I woke up in the middle of the night, and experienced a feeling of happiness so intense and perfect that in all my life I had only felt its premonition. And there was no reason for it. It didn’t obliterate consciousness; the past which I carried was there, together with my grief. And it was suddenly included, was a necessary part of the whole. As if a voice were repeating: “You can stop worrying now; everything happened just as it had to. You did what was assigned to you, and you are not required anymore to think of what happened long ago.” The peace I felt was a closing of accounts and was connected with the thought of death. The happiness on this side was like an announcement of the other side. I realized that this was an undeserved gift and I could not grasp by what grace it was bestowed on me.
Thanks to Bonnie, who gave me the news, for sharing my love of Milosz.
Addendum. The NY Times has published a serviceable obituary by Raymoond H. Anderson, but it seems not to have been updated in a while; the last paragraph says “Ecco Press gathered a half-century of his work in ‘The Collected Poems 1931-1987.’ In it is a 1986 poem called ‘And Yet the Books,’…” but Ecco’s New and Collected Poems has been out for three years now (and yes, the poem Anderson quotes is still in it).