december 1 :: czeslaw milosz

The vineyard country, russet, reddish, carmine-brown in this season.
A blue outline of hills above a fertile valley.
It’s warm as long as the sun does not set, in the shade cold returns.
A strong sauna and then swimming in a pool surrounded by trees.
Dark redwoods, transparent pale-leaved birches.
In their delicate network, a sliver of the moon.
I describe this for I have learned to doubt philosophy
And the visible world is all that remains.

my-ness :: czeslaw milosz

“My parents, my husband, my brother, my sister.”
Having breakfast in the cafeteria, I listen.
Women’s voices rustle and fulfill themselves
In a ritual we clearly need.
Out of the corner of my eye I watch their moving lips
And feel such sweetness, being here on earth,
One more moment, together, here on earth,
To celebrate our little my-ness.

my faithful mother tongue :: czeslaw milosz

Faithful mother tongue,
I have been serving you.
Every night, I used to set before you little bowls of colors
so you could have your birch, your cricket, your finch
as preserved in my memory.

This lasted many years.
You were my native land; I lacked any other.
I believed that you would also be a messenger
between me and some good people
even if they were few, twenty, ten
or not born, as yet.

Now, I confess my doubt.
There are moments when it seems to me I have squandered my life.
For you are a tongue of the debased,
of the unreasonable, hating themselves
even more than they hate other nations,
a tongue of informers,
a tongue of the confused,
ill with their own innocence.

But without you, who am I?
Only a scholar in a distant country,
a success, without fears and humiliations.
Yes, who am I without you?
Just a philosopher, like everyone else.

I understand, this is meant as my education:
the glory of individuality is taken away,
Fortune spreads a red carpet
before the sinner in a morality play
while on the linen backdropp a magic lantern throws
images of human and divine torture.

Faithful mother tongue,
perhaps after all it’s I who must try to save you.
So I will continue to set before you little bowls of colors
bright and pure if possible,
for what is needed in misfortune is a little order and beauty.

reading milosz :: adam zagajewski

I read your poetry once more,
poems written by a rich man, knowing all,
and by a beggar, homeless,
an emigrant, alone.

You always wanted to go
beyond poetry, above it, soaring,
but also lower, to where our region
begins, modest and timid.

Sometimes your tone
transforms us for a moment,
we believe—truly—
that every day is sacred,

that poetry—how to put it? —
makes life rounder,
fuller, prouder, unashamed
of perfect formulation.

But evening arrives,
I lay my book aside,
and the city’s ordinary din resumes—
somebody coughs, someone cries and curses.

encounter :: czeslaw milosz

translated by czeslaw milosz and lillian vallee

We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

                         Wilno, 1936

and yet the books :: czeslaw milosz

And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings,
That appeared once, still wet
As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,
And, touched, coddled, began to live
In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up,
Tribes on the march, planets in motion.
“We are,” they said, even as their pages
Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame
Licked away their letters. So much more durable
Than we are, whose frail warmth
Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.
I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it’s still a strange pageant,
Women’s dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born,
Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.