We should re­spond to love and beauty and re­ject cru­elty as long as we live

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL NEWS -

“You gave me gifts, God-En­chanter. I give you thanks for good and ill. Eter­nal light in ev­ery­thing on earth. As now, so on the day af­ter my death” “Thank­ful­ness”

“To find my home in one sen­tence, con­cise, as if ham­mered in metal. Not to en­chant any­body. Not to earn a last­ing name in pos­ter­ity. An un­named need for or­der, for rhythm, for form, which three words are op­posed to chaos and noth­ing­ness.” - Czes­law Milosz

Ev­ery­one should read him. He is a great poet and great poets should be read. Czes­law Milosz, the Pol­ish poet, born in 1911, win­ner of the No­bel Prize for Lit­er­a­ture in 1980, died in 2004 at the age of nine­tythree. He never pe­tered out in si­lence. It as­ton­ishes and en­cour­ages me, who at eighty-five feels and hates any de­ple­tion of creative en­ergy, that Milosz was still writ­ing strong and mar­velous po­etry up to the time of his death.

One is blessed to be given longevity not only with rea­son in­tact but with the fac­ulty which gen­er­ates ideas and in­sights unim­paired and the abil­ity to give still pow­er­ful ex­pres­sion to them. It is rare. The eb­bing of en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm is what hap­pens to the huge ma­jor­ity of us as we grow older and sur­ren­der the ea­ger fresh­ness of youth which opens wide the heart and mind to ev­ery ad­ven­ture of thought and deed in this in­ex­haustibly as­ton­ish­ing world. But no one ever wrote an elegy for lost youth for Milosz. He never ceased to cel­e­brate or to be amazed or to be hurt to his depths as if for the first time. The world for him was al­ways new and some­times ter­ri­ble and he was rest­lessly con­cerned to re­spond to its beauty and cru­elty as long as he lived.

He had this to say about po­etry and love which in­forms the best po­etry.

“Peo­ple ob­serve and describe peo­ple, peo­ple pro­nounce their opin­ions on peo­ple, but, above all else, peo­ple are bound to peo­ple by feel­ings of love, hate, com­pas­sion, fear, ad­mi­ra­tion, loathing. It is not cer­tain whether good po­etry can arise from ha­tred… At the risk of be­ing pedan­tic, it is worth­while to in­voke here three Greek words de­not­ing kinds of love. Eros is sex­ual love, but not only such, be­cause it is “an in­ter­me­di­ary between gods and hu­mans,” an un­lim­ited de­sire, a true mo­toric force of cre­ativ­ity in art and sci­ence. Agape is love of our fel­low man, love-em­pa­thy, al­low­ing us to see in another hu­man be­ing a crea­ture as frail and as eas­ily hurt as we are our­selves: that is the same as Latin car­i­tas, char­ity. A third Greek word, storge, de­notes a ten­der care, af­fec­tion unit­ing par­ents and chil­dren. Per­haps some teach­ers feel such a love for their pupils. It is also not im­pos­si­ble that storge may be ap­plied to the re­la­tion­ship between a poet and gen­er­a­tions of read­ers to come: un­der­neath the am­bi­tion to per­fect one’s art with­out hope of be­ing re­warded by contemporaries lurks a mag­na­nim­ity of gift-of­fer­ing to pos­ter­ity.”

I choose two po­ems writ­ten when Milosz was well into what oth­ers call old age.

A Con­fes­sion

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. 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 wet thicket a thrush will build his nest lined with clay And foxes will learn their foxy na­tures.

And that will be the sub­ject, with ad­denda. Thus: armies Run­ning across frozen plains, shout­ing a curse In a many-voiced cho­rus; the can­non of a tank Grow­ing im­mense at the cor­ner of a street; the ride at dusk Into a camp with watch­tow­ers and barbed wire.

No, it won’t hap­pen tomorrow. In five or ten years. I still think too much about the moth­ers And ask what is man born of woman. He curls him­self up and pro­tects his head While he is kicked by heavy boots; on fire and run­ning, He burns with bright flame; a bull­dozer sweeps him into a clay pit. Her child. Em­brac­ing a teddy bear. Con­ceived in ec­stasy. I haven’t learned yet to speak as I should, calmly.

And I can­not help end­ing with Milosz’s fa­mous lines warn­ing all tyrants, mur­der­ers, those who do great evil unto oth­ers and think they have got away with it.

“You who wronged a sim­ple man Burst­ing into laugh­ter at the crime, And kept a pack of fools around you To mix good and evil, to blur the line,

Though ev­ery­one bowed down be­fore you, Say­ing virtue and wis­dom lit your way, Strik­ing gold medals in your hon­our, Glad to have sur­vived another day,

Do not feel safe. The poet re­mem­bers. You can kill one, but another is born. The words are writ­ten down, the deed, the date.”

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