Seesaw: Cultural Life in Eastern Europe
Polish Writing Today
New Writing of East Europe
Poland, Eagle in the East
Soviet-East European Dialogue: International Relations of a New Type?
If one could get back to Wilno, one would perhaps understand everything. If only—and this thought must afflict many others who now write about Eastern Europe—one could be transported to that brilliant, polyglot little city as it was, say, thirty-five years ago, how much of the mystery which both swaddles and envenoms the relations of Poles and Lithuanians and Russians and Byelorussians and Jews would make sense at last! Europe, and in fact the world, is littered with puzzling fragments of that entity which was smashed and scattered from 1939 onward. There persists, of course, the city of Vilnius, capital of a Soviet republic, ruled by a very-muchless than independent Communist Party of Lithuania. Some Poles and some Jews still live there. Perhaps its citizens feel qualified relief that the decades of alarming uncertainty about whom the town belonged to have been settled, even if in such a glum manner. But “Wilno,” the meeting-place where the attitudes of all these peoples to each other found such vivid expression, has gone.
This is the importance of Czeslaw Milosz’s latest book, whose subtitle, significantly, is “a search for self-definition.” Perhaps it is a less than adequate judgment upon a major literary essay by one of the senior living Polish poets. Milosz, who was born in Lithuania in 1911, left Poland in 1951 and now teaches at Berkeley as Professor of Slavic Literature. He began writing verse well before the war and—in spite of his exile—has exercised an influence on the younger generation of Polish poets which seems to increase with the years rather than to diminish. In return, he has become one of the best-known translators of Polish writing into English.
Czeslaw Milosz first became known in the West for his The Captive Mind (1951 and 1953), a book of essays and portraits which at the time was hailed as a splendid anti-Communist missile, but which now, in calmer years, is seen more clearly for what it is: a work of Polish literature that will eventually find a permanent place among sources for the nature of Polish Stalinism. It was written very shortly after Milosz abandoned his post as attaché in the Polish Embassy in Washington: it is brilliantly polemical and a good deal less candid and more elusive than it seems on the surface. Now, however, in Native Realm, Milosz has provided at last for the interested Westerner several key pieces of the bewildering Polish-Lithuanian puzzle which is so important to an understanding of Eastern Europe. How could Pan Tadeusz, the epic of Polish patriotism, open with the words: “Lithuania, my homeland…,” if the relationship between Pole and the land of Lithuania were not like that between the English traditionalist and the Scottish bagpipers who reduce him to tears of nationalist emotion? How could Feliks Dzierzynski, a well-born Pole from Lithuania, belong first to a party dedicated to the denial of Polish independence, transfer to Moscow as the first great Bolshevik policeman, and still have a …