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New and Collected Poems: 1931-2001 Paperback – April 4, 2017
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About the Author
Czeslaw Milosz was born in Szetejnie, Lithuania, in 1911. He worked with the Polish resistance movement in Warsaw during World War II and was later stationed in Paris and Washington, D.C., as a Polish cultural attaché. He defected to France in 1951, and in 1960 he accepted a position at the University of California, Berkeley. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980, and was a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He died in 2004.
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A reader could perhaps extract a slice of twentieth-century history form the poems of Milosz, but he cautions poets to not yield to the temptation to become reporters. Milosz wants poets to "contemplate the things of the world as they are without illusion', but whether he did so in his poetry is to a large degree irrelevant. All that matters is the beauty of his poetry and its propensity to cause a neuronal riot in the minds of its readers.
And indeed, this collection of poems just precisely that, for Milosz speaks of the earth's happiness as being terrible. He speaks for the need of living more than one life in order to decipher its sufferings and probe its laws. He scolds the mob for having laid ashes to Giordano Bruno, and those who give up hope. He exalts men who are small but who produce great works.
And Milosz is not hesitant to receive messages from "a world that is bright, beautiful, warm and free", and to speak of the artistry of the sun and a poem called the Earth. He cautions against becoming a "ritual mourner", of "poetry which does not save", and in this regard promises "no wizardry of words." Milosz gives a characterization of European society and culture that is characteristically Stendahlian, and he shows no mercy to its "malignant wisdom". He delightfully pokes fun at the Hegelian justification of power structures and scientific fakery. Stendahl's glorification of obsequious flatteries and praising of power supported by ambiguity of communication is admonished with subtle literary skill.
Milosz wants to perform combat with prose. There is ample proof of his battle campaigns between the covers of this book.
Late Ripeness by Czeslaw Milosz
Not soon, as late as the approach of my ninetieth year,
I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning.
One after another my former lives were departing,
like ships, together with their sorrow.........
This wonderful collection spans a lush and lavish 70 long years; years magically molded in the hands of a cunning and capable and wise prophet of our times.
Milosz yearns for a 'tangible reality' to maintain the health of poetry. He is accessible even to the untrained ear.....for it is ultimately in the lack of illusion that his work shines and reverberates.
In his introduction, he concludes that "poetry has always been for me a participation in the humanly modulated time of my contemporaries."
And we see this simple humility reflected in the last verses of his final poem of this collection.
Moments from yesterday and from centuries ago -
a sword blow, the painting of eyelashes before a mirror
of polished metal, a lethal musket shot, a caravel
staving its hull against a reef - they dwell in us,
waiting for a fulfillment.
I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,
as are all men and women living at the same time,
whether they are aware of it or not.
This rich collection will transport you back and forth in time with a gifted, yet humble master of distillation, distance and destiny!
My Lord, I loved strawberry jam
And the dark sweetness of a woman's body.
Also well-chilled vodka, herring in olive oil,
Scents, of cinnamon, of cloves.
So what kind of prophet am I? Why should the spirit
Have visited such a man? Many others
Were justly called, and trustworthy.
Who would have trusted me? For they saw
How I empty glasses, throw myself on food,
And glance greedily at the waitress's neck.
Flawed and aware of it. Desiring greatness,
Able to recognize greatness wherever it is,
And yet not quite, only in part, clairvoyant,
I knew what was left for smaller men like me:
A feast of brief hopes, a rally of the proud,
A tournament of hunchbacks, literature.