Czeslaw Milosz (1911–2004) was born in Szetejnie, Lithuania. Over the course of his long and prolific career he published works in many genres, including criticism (The Captive Mind), fiction (The Issa Valley), memoir (Native Realm), and poetry (New and Collected Poems, 1931-2001). He was a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980.

The Emperor Constantine

I could have lived in the time of Constantine. Three hundred years after the death of the Savior, Of whom no more was known than that he had risen Like a sunny Mithra among Roman legionnaires. I would have witnessed the quarrel between homoousios and homoiousios …

Forget

Forget the suffering You caused others. Forget the suffering Others caused you. The waters run and run, Springs sparkle and are done, You walk the earth you are forgetting. Sometimes you hear a distant refrain. What does it mean, you ask, who is …

From Milosz’s ABC’s

CITY I have thought a great deal about the phenomenon of the city, but not at all about the silly slogan “Miasto, masa, maszyna” (“Metropolis, masses, machine”—a slogan of the Polish avantgarde). I have had occasion to live in very large metropolises, in Paris and New York, but my first …

Discreet Charm of Nihilism

First First, a fringe of the aristocracy cultivating literature and art, elegant, freed from the coarser superstitions. And churches filled with the pious, the scent of their incense and their prayers. They would come to a common frame of mind. It would take a hundred and fifty years. Opium for …

Subjects to Let

Fleas It was at the time when missions fell into ruin and their possessions were divided by the Mexican authorities between neighboring estates, before the appearance of Americans. The causes of the missions’ downfall were multiple. The Sonoma mission disintegrated because of grizzly bears. These made a discovery that the …

Themes

Christopher Robin In April of 1996 the international press carried the news of the death, at age 75, of Christopher Robin Milne, eternalized in a book by his father A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh ,as Christopher Robin. I must think suddenly of matters too difficult for a bear of little brain. I …

On Szymborska

For me, Szymborska is first of all a poet of consciousness. This means that she speaks to us, living at the same time, as one of us, reserving her private matters for herself, operating at a certain remove, but also referring to what everybody knows from one’s own life.

Bringing a Great Poet Back to Life

Two distinguished poets have translated into English a sixteenth-century Polish poet whose work reads as if he were our contemporary. The very possibility that we can respond to works written long ago is always fragile. After all, how often do we fail to overcome the gap in time that separates …

Adders and Other Reptiles

Reptile Journalism is a solidly documented account of the Polish publications that appeared under Nazi rule, based on material the author found in Polish archives when he was a member of the Institute of History at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. He is now a historian at the …

The State of Nature: Notes from a Diary

The following excerpts are drawn from Czeslaw Milosz’s forthcoming A Year of the Hunter, a diary of 1987 and 1988. At night, right after returning from a screening at Wheeler Hall of the Soviet film Repentance, with the director [Tengiz Abuladze] present, the auditorium full, an audience of several thousand.

Swing Shift in the Baltics

Liberal thought of our time has often treated nationalism as a relic of an unenlightened tribal past. No wonder that many are now bewildered by the passions aroused by the question of national identity in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. A much more nuanced approach was elaborated by …

Father Ch., Many Years Later

I sit down now and write in my defense. The witnesses are old things, undimmed, dense With the life of human hands: the intense reds In stained glass, stone lacework, marble heads, The dark gold calligraphies of magic, traces Of red in alchemical …

An Interview with Czeslaw Milosz

The following interview with Czeslaw Milosz took place in Berkeley, California, in August 1985. The East NATHAN GARDELS: Your poems are very popular today in Poland. Why is poetry so important there? CZESLAW MILOSZ: At moments of cataclysm and upheaval, poetry becomes popular as the expression of the people’s hope, …

Three Poems by Adam Zagajewski

What a joy to see a major poet emerging from a hardly differentiated mass of contemporaries and taking the lead in the poetry of my language, a living proof that Polish literature is energy incessantly renewed against all probabilities! Born in 1945, Zagajewski belonged to the angry “generation of 1968” …

Preparation

Still one more year of preparation Tomorrow at the latest I’ll start working on a great book In which my century will appear as it really was. The sun will rise over the righteous and the wicked. Springs and autumns will unerringly return, In a …

Report from a Besieged City

Too old to carry arms and to fight like others— they generously assigned to me the inferior role of a chronicler I record—not knowing for whom—the history of the siege I have to be precise but I don’t know when the invasion began two …

Three Poems by Czeslaw Milosz

ACCOUNT The history of my stupidity would fill many volumes. Some would be devoted to acting against consciousness, Like the flight of a moth which, had it known, Would have tended nevertheless toward the candle’s flame. Others would deal with ways to silence anxiety, …

Ruins and Poetry

I intend to speak on the experience of poetry in a strictly defined time and place. The time is 1939 to 1945, the place, Poland. Before World War II Polish poets did not differ much in their interests and problems from their colleagues in France or Holland. The specific features …

The Nobel Lecture, 1980

Every poet depends upon generations who wrote in his native tongue; he inherits styles and forms elaborated by those who lived before him. At the same time, though, he feels that those old means of expression are not adequate to his own experience. When adapting himself, he hears an internal voice that warns him against mask and disguise. But when rebelling, he falls in turn into dependence upon his contemporaries, various movements of the avant-garde. Alas, it is enough for him to publish his first volume of poems to find himself entrapped. For hardly has the print dried, when that work, which seemed to him the most personal, appears to be enmeshed in the style of another. The only way to counter an obscure remorse is to continue searching and to publish a new book, but then everything repeats itself, so there is no end to that chase. And it may happen that leaving behind books as if they were dry snake skins, in a constant escape forward from what has been done in the past, he receives the Nobel Prize.