Saturday, February 5, 2011

Czeslaw Milosz

World - Class Poets:
Czeslaw Milosz and Seamus Heaney

[photo source]

My Polish born friend, Beata, occasionally asks me to help her with her American English, but as you will see from her prose below, she already has a beautiful grasp of the language.

Last summer, I sent Beata a short email after a weekend visit from three of my five siblings, telling her that I was feeling blue because the house felt so empty after their departure.

She wrote back to say: "Kitti, You are so lucky! I don't have any siblings and no one comes to me because we live sooo far away from the family. And it is tooo expensive for them to come. If we meet it is always like walking on the high wire. I wish for just a normal, regular, informal visit."

And I replied: "Thank you so much for reminding me of my good fortune. It made me think of this poem, that you might already know:

My - ness
My parents, my husband, my brother, my sister . . .
I delight in being here on earth
For one more moment, with them, here on earth,
To celebrate our tiny, tiny my-ness.

by Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz"
[see previous post: January 24, 2010]

To which Beata responded:

"Thank you for your email, Kitti. The poet you've mentioned is dear to my heart. At the time of the Solidarity Revolt, he was on the list of prohibited authors. When I was in Poland I used to buy his books on the black market, and they were very, very expensive. Being able to catch them on an illegal sale was delightful and made me feel as if someone had put me on the wave of a breeze of independency. I dreamed about a free world and a free Poland.

"When I arrived in the United States, I saw these same books on the shelves of a Slavic bookstore in Palo Alto. No one was rushing to have them; there was no elbow pushing to get to them or neck stretching to see if some copies were left. I asked myself: 'Where is the breeze of independency? Where are the people who want to read the works of Czeslaw Milosz? Why are people are not forming a line to buy his books?'

"And then it came to me that I was now INSIDE of independency! I did not need to rush or look around suspiciously for somebody who wanted to catch me red - handed buying illegal, independent books. I had these books NEXT to me, available, ready. I was free to read them in a free world . . . I had only to stretch my arm and reach my wallet.

"I realized that I was in not only a different world but also a different market, a different air. I felt a strange happiness to be in America but also a great distance. That air separated my spirit, like a wounded soldier taken by his fellows from the battlefield, blessed to be saved but longing to return for another fight, or a legless invalid who could hear church bells calling him to pray for a miracle . . . but there was no way to get there. Still, I could hear the sweet sound of bells ringing in afternoon sunshine, falling peacefully, on a quiet town.

"I was also very lucky to see Czeslaw Milosz in person. He went to the same church in Berkeley. He looked serious, composed, and I never saw him talking to other people. He liked to sit in the middle of the pew, not far from the altar, and usually stayed there alone. He rarely looked around, and usually disappeared quickly after the mass was over while the other people socialized and exchanged greetings.

"I remember hearing that his wife had died not long before and that he preferred to stay very private. I think perhaps he wanted to stay iconic, historical, and in the shadow. Many times I thought about approaching to ask for his autograph (I planned to leave the service earlier and wait for him) but we moved to Massachusetts before I worked up the nerve, and the opportunity was lost. Still, I think he helped me to build and cross my invisible bridge above the Atlantic Ocean."

[Thanks to Beata
for sharing these amazing thoughts and memories.]

Gravestone of Czeslaw Milosz, 1911 -2004
Polish Poet and Essayist
Became an American Citizen, 1970
Won the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1980

Click for more good poems by Czelaw Milosz


To believe you are magnificent.
And gradually to discover that you are not magnificent.
Enough labor for one human life.

Calm down.
Both your sins and your good deeds will be lost in oblivion.

I was left behind with the immensity of existing things.
A sponge, suffering because it cannot saturate itself;
a river, suffering because reflections of clouds and trees
are not clouds and trees.

Click for more good quotations by Czeslaw Milosz

1 comment:

  1. What Heaney wrote when Milosz died: