Monday, August 16, 2004

Czeslaw Milosz

Since none of us gets to choose the era in which our brief lives play out, I find myself being grateful that my allotted time has overlapped the lives of some who were truly great. Leonard Bernstein is one who comes to mind. Czeslaw Milosz is another.

Though he lived long enough to see himself become an icon of the twentieth century, Milosz did not think of himself as great. He was a humble man who felt he had missed his calling.

Why did I, who was crazy about the natural sciences, suddenly convert to literature, switch to literature? If you study my work, you'll find that the sense of guilt is central to me, and to all my poetry. I also feel guilty for not having become a naturalist. I had decided to devote my life to studying nature, and that's what I should have done. But I didn't. Very bad. That might be the reason nature has shown me its cruel side. In fact, my entire life and all my creative work are against nagure, against so-called Mother Nature--an attempt to liberate myself from its demonic embrace. I can't, and I never could, but I tried. . . .

About ten years ago, my husband visited Milosz in his home overlooking San Francisco Bay. Using the new videocamera we had for our new baby, he recorded Milosz as he read two of his poems, in English and Polish. You can hear (and read) these poems on the Internet Poetry Archive, which Paul created and continues to edit with the sponsorship of UNC Press.

Death, you say, mine and yours, closer and closer.
We suffered and this poor earth was not enough.
The purple-black earth of vegetable gardens
Will be here, either looked at or not.
The sea, as today, will breathe from its depths.
Growing small, I disappear in the immense, more and more free.

--from "Conversation with Jeanne"

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