I was blessed to get to hear Czeslaw Milosz read aloud from his poetry during a lunchtime poetry session at the Doe Library at UC Berkeley. My father has long admired his work, and I was so happy to invite my dad to visit me on campus and hear this amazing man speak. I never took my dad to a Cal football game while I was a student, but I did take him to a poetry reading by his favorite poet. That's got to count for something.
Milosz is, perhaps, my father's one connection to a vague cultural inheritance. His Polish-speaking grandparents died long ago. His Polish-speaking father lives in a rest home in Arizona, mumbling his throughts in that slavic tongue, letting none of us know his secret thoughts. But Czeslaw Milosz translated his poems, allowing those of Polish background but not linguistically inclined, the chance to see inside the often - though not always - depressive Polish mind.
"There where that ray touches the plain
And the shadows escape as if they really ran,
Warsaw stands, open from all sides,
A city not very old but quite famous.
"Farther, where strings of rain hang from a little cloud,
Under the hills with an acacia grove
Is Prague. Above it, a marvelous castle
Shored against a slope in accordance with old rules.
"What divides this land with white foam
Is the Alps. The black means fir forests.
Beyond them, bathing in the yellow sun
Italy lies, like a deep-blue dish.
"Among the many fine cities that are there
You will recognize Rome, Christendom's capital,
By those round roofs on the church
Called the Basilica of Saint Peter.
"And there, to the north, beyond a bay,
Where a level bluish mist moves in waves,
Paris tries to keep pace with its tower
And reins in its herd of bridges.
"Also other cities accompany Paris,
They are adorned with glass, arrayed in iron,
But for today that would be too much,
I'll tell the rest another time."
A Poem For The End Of The Century
When everything was fine
And the notion of sin had vanished
And the earth was ready
In universal peace
To consume and rejoice
Without creeds and utopias,
I, for unknown reasons,
Surrounded by the books
Of prophets and theologians,
Of philosophers, poets,
Searched for an answer,
Waking up at night, muttering at dawn.
What oppressed me so much
Was a bit shameful.
Talking of it aloud
Would show neither tact nor prudence.
It might even seem an outrage
Against the health of mankind.
Alas, my memory
Does not want to leave me
And in it, live beings
Each with its own pain,
Each with its own dying,
Its own trepidation.
Why then innocence
On paradisal beaches,
An impeccable sky
Over the church of hygiene?
Is it because that
Was long ago?
To a saintly man
--So goes an Arab tale--
God said somewhat maliciously:
"Had I revealed to people
How great a sinner you are,
They could not praise you."
"And I," answered the pious one,
"Had I unveiled to them
How merciful you are,
They would not care for you."
To whom should I turn
With that affair so dark
Of pain and also guilt
In the structure of the world,
If either here below
Or over there on high
No power can abolish
The cause and the effect?
Don't think, don't remember
The death on the cross,
Though everyday He dies,
The only one, all-loving,
Who without any need
Consented and allowed
To exist all that is,
Including nails of torture.
Better to stop speech here.
This language is not for people.
Blessed be jubilation.
Vintages and harvests.
Even if not everyone
Is granted serenity.
Are you celebrating National Poetry Month?