[Poetry reading and commentary] by Czeslaw Milosz side 1


cheslow me washe was born in Lithuania
in 1911 he spent part of his childhood in Russia grew up in Poland where he was
active in literary political groups influenced by Marxism during the Second
World War he worked as a writer and editor for resistance publications and
at the war’s end joined the Polish diplomatic service however he broke with
the regime in 1951 after the suppression of the coalition government and settled
in Paris since 1961 mr. Miwa has been professor of slavic languages and
literature at the University of California at Berkeley and has published
numerous books among his publications are selected poems 1973 bells in winter
1978 and a novel the is evaluate e1 as most of you know I’m sure in 1980 mr.
mee washe was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature
his most recent poem that I’m familiar with appeared last Thursday in the New
York Times it was a poem written to lek valensa it’s a great pleasure to present
to you Miwa chest love me wash I am a part of the Polish language and
poems which I am going to read our translations done by myself and my
friends well I am proud of the fact that I am one of very few writers from my
part of Europe who received the Nobel Prize though writing in an exotic
language in Polish translations of course of my poems into English present
several difficulties solved by my friends with whom I work I’m going to
read those poems in English and some poems in Polish I hope that there are
some people who understand Polish and those who do not understand would have
just a feeling just sound I would comment also I know that poetry reading
sometimes is a very dry affair if there are no commentaries and so I would
comment and more or less explain circumstances in which poems were
written I should say that in my use when I was a
beginning poet in Poland or in Czechoslovakia or in Hungary poets used
to go to Paris for an apprenticeship Paris was the capital of the world when
I came first the first time in Paris that was the capital of the French
Empire and even I saw a colonial exhibition in which which was near the
zoo of Vincennes so and you looked at the animals and then you looked at the
natives in there and natural habitat many years later after my first arrival
in Paris many years later returning to Paris
I wrote a following poem as a comment I am native of Lithuania and in my
country there was a belief that some animals are sacred and among those
animals was a water the water snake by passing read a card I descended toward
the Sun shy a traveler a young barbarian just come to the capital of the world
you are many from Yazzie and college bar will not in Bucharest Saigon and
Marrakesh a shame to remember the customs of our homes about which nobody
here should ever be told the clapping for servants barefooted girls hurry in
dividing food with incantations choral prayers recited by master and household
together I had left the cloudy provinces behind I entered the universe dazzled
and desiring soon enough many from Yazzie and colours far or Saigon or
Marrakesh would be killed because they wanted to abolish the customs or their
homes soon enough their peers were seizing power in order to kill in the
name of the universal beautiful ideas meanwhile the city behaved in accordance
with its nature rustling with throaty laughter in the dark
baking long breads and pouring wine into clay pitchers buying fish lemons and
garlic at Street markets indifferent as it was to honor and shame and greatness
and glory because that had been done already and had transformed itself
into monuments representing nobody knows whom into areas hardly audible and into
turns of speak again I lean on the rough granite of the embankment as if I had
returned from travels through the underworld and suddenly saw in delight
the reigning wheel of the seasons where empires have fallen and those months
living are now dead there is no capital of the world neither here nor anywhere
else and the abolished customs are restored to their small fame and now I
know that the time of human generations is not like the time of the earth as to
my heavy sins I remember one most vividly how one day
walking a forest path along a stream I pushed a rock down onto a water snake
called in the grass and what I have met with in life was the just punishment it happened so that in my my fate was to
spend in France nearly ten years later after the last war and here is another
poem which the action takes place in Paris this is a prose little prose poem
about well on a subject quite serious it is with the verb to be I consider that
this is the most sacred word of the language and even I would like to write
without using that word because I consider it too sacred but it’s very
difficult to write without verb to be the poem is entitled as I looked at that
face down found that the lights of metro stations flew by
I didn’t notice them what can be done if our sight lacks absolute power to devour
objects ecstatically in an instant leaving nothing more than the void of an
ideal form a sign like a hieroglyph simplified from the drawing of an animal
or bird a slightly snub nose a high brow with slickly brushed back hair the line
of the chin but why isn’t the power of sight absolute and in a whiteness tinged
with pink – sculpted horse containing a dark lustrous lava to absorb that face
but to have it simultaneously against the background of all spring boughs
walls waves in its whipping its laughter moving it back 15 years or ahead 30 to
have it is not even a desire like a butterfly a fish the stem of a plant
only more mysterious and so it before me that after so many attempts at naming
the world I am able only to repeat her pink on one string the highest the
unique a vowel beyond which no power can attain I am
she is shout blow the trumpets make
thousand-strong march asleep rend your clothing repeating only is she got out
at rasp I I was left behind with the immensity of existing things spawned
suffering because it cannot saturate itself a river suffering because
reflections of clouds and trees are not clouds and trees there is there are very
few poems probably in our time praising reason somehow reason is not very highly
regarded by poets but here is a poem entitled incantation which I’m going to
read the first in English and then in Polish because it’s short incantation or
straw throwing spells throwing spells as you know it results from a belief that
you can change the reality by by an act of magic so this is my magic here
incantation human reason is beautiful and invincible no bars no bar but wire
not pulping of books no sentence of banishment can prevail against it it
establishes the universal ideas in language and guides our hand so we write
truth and justice with capital letters lie and oppression with small it puts
what should be above things as they are is an enemy of despair and a friend of
hold it doesn’t know drew from Greek or slave from master
giving us the state of the world it saves austere and transparent phrases
from the filthy discord of tortured words it says that everything is new the
Sun opens the cunt poetry her ally as late as yesterday
nature celebrated their birth the news was brought to the mountains by a
unicorn and an echo their enemies have delivered himself to destruction
maybe the same in Polish Zak open e te llamo gone it’s progeny on
Astana vivienda cooperhog need a approval nombre del special miss del
killa Terry Pravda is probably worse as male clumsy or Excel de un puñado de
esto vino she’s a bitch pub in neckiace Rose Park Seattle Nagi on esna Zidane
agree cannibal Makani Paula doesn’t add ons nom spoon a gospel Darvish viata ons
plug a Vegas girl Kudrin tronic veresov aussolas Danish rava yes on movie nom
sophistical Chong Villanova pots lines at Viera drawings except Montebello king
may I borrow modest feed Oh Sophia is prima donnas no way of sous-vide Oh
Braco natural ed of Quraish vinci life neuro Genie – autumn Gorham she knows
Leidner Asiago saladna benji creation is just nomograms
in prokofyeva dolly chef nas nice chain you like the sound I am reluctant to
read poems at the time of war under the Nazi occupation in war so because they
are maybe too depressing so I would limit myself to – I guess there was a
tremendous production of poetry under the Nazi occupation in Poland a
relatively recent anthology of poetry of resistance counts some 2,000 pages and
this is only a part of what has been I’m going to read a poem written in the
spring of 1945 when were so was completely heap of ruins really a huge
city changed by the Nazis into into ruins houses dynamite population
deported houses dynamite at one after another and this poem dedication is a
kind of a fairy well maybe to myself and or to do to those who perished in the
battles of the uprising of 45 you whom I couldn’t save listen to me try to
understand this simple speech as I would be ashamed of another I swear there is
me no wizardry of words I speak to you with silence like a cloud or a tree what
strengthened me for you was little you mixed up very well to an epoch with the
beginning of a new one inspiration of hatred with lyrical beauty blind force
with accomplished shape here is the valley of shallow porous rivers and an
immense bridge going into white fog there is here is a broken City and the
wind throws the screams of girls on your grave when I am talking with you what is
poetry which doesn’t save nations or people akin Ivan’s with official lies a
song of drunkards who strolls will be cut in a moment readings for sophomore
girls that I wanted good poetry without knowing it that I discovered late
it’s salutary aim in this and only this I find salvation they used to pour
millet on graves or poppy seeds to feed the dead who would come disguised as
Birds I put this book here for you who once
lived so that you should visit us no more during the war a number of ironic poems
or poems representing representing gallows humor were written here is I
should say ironic song a song on the end of the world I’m going to read this in
English and then in Polish this is a little song in when I read it in Polish
you will see that this kind of on the day the world ends a bee circles a
clever a fisherman man’s a glimmering net happy porpoises jump in the sea by
the rain spout young sparrows are playing and the snake is God skimmed as
it should always be on the day the world ends women walk through the fields under
their umbrellas a drunkard grow sleepy at the edge of a lone vegetable peddlers
shout in the street and the yellow sailboat comes nearer the island the
voice of a violin lasts in the air and leads into a starry night and those who
expected lightning and thunder are disappointed and those who expected
science and Turk injures trams do not believe it is happening now as long as
the Sun and the moon are above as long as the bumblebee visits a rose as long
as rosy infants are born no one believes it is happening now only
a white-haired old man who would be a prophet yet is not a profit for his much
too busy repeats where he binds his tomatoes there will be no other end of
the world there will be no other end of the world the same in Polish Jasin cocoon sushi otta Oh Jen coins
Asiata holocrons not create a minister see Reba Cana probably stands on Shh
Scott sophomores of Isola del fin e mo Duru blech appearance Rene evolve as
Lawrence Cora Yaakov in a minute virgin conscience viata Kobe netted on
Paul Pott parcel kami Piazza sipping a braggart ravenica Nguyen Elise
productive a diva you would consult in juggling the wispy pork liver doing
skippers Povich Sutra I not register on Mecca actually check re bliss cavity
gram of Sansa region actually jackal is knock off your heels if Trump may be
honest I see you the pookie slain 600 some good la pierna via DeRusha the Paki
GT Rose of Sharon acknowledges a stylish you because she be sterile shocked
rubyprogram Allen his pro rakia mama illness ing for
the adoption insurance Pomodori indigo Kentucky attorney Benjy in Naga coins
ash viata neben sometimes I was asked what what what is really my philosophy
but what is my wealth and sound so I wrote a poem of six lines
presenting my philosophy and here it is if I had to tell what the world is for
me I would take a hamster or a hedgehog or a more and place him in a theater
seat one evening and bringing my ear close to his humid snout would listen to
what he says about the spotlights sounds of the music and movements of the dance as a as a child I read there once a book
on a little boy who was nasty and as a punishment affair changed him into a fly
for one afternoon many years later I wrote a poem on the subjects Baba’s
metamorphosis Baba a nasty boy was changed into a fly in accordance with
the right of the flies he washed himself by a rock of sugar and ran vertically in
caves of cheese he flew through a window into the bright guard their indomitable
ferryboats of lives carry at the drop taut with the excess of its rainbow
mossy parks grew by ponds of light in the mountains of bark an acrid dust was
falling from flexible columns inside cinnabar flowers and though he didn’t
last longer than from teatime till supper later on when he had pressed
trousers and the trimmed moustache he always thought holding a glass of liquor
that he was cheating them for a fly shouldn’t discuss the nation and
productivity a woman facing him was a volcanic peak
where there were ravines craters and in hollows of lava the movement of earth
was tilting crooked trunks of pines translation translations from polish
sometimes are tricky because in Polish there is a great freedom of coining a
new words coining verbs from nouns nouns from verbs and for instance and there
are many words we do noting qualities for instance equality of being a dog or
Jay or in this case in my short poem magpie quality of being a magpie so we
turned around trotters in Polish so we turned around and we decided with a
friend of mine and we decided to entitle the poem magpie this is a philosophical poem is very
short but philosophical and referring to a basic philosophical quarrel of the
Middle Ages a quarrel about universals that was a problem whether the ideas
precede the existence of real things or the real things precede the existence of
ideas namely whether the idea of the magpie precedes the existence of a real
magpie McPike the same and not quite the same I
walked through oak forests amazed that my muse namazi knee has in a way
diminished my amazement a magpie was screeching and I said mock piety
what is mock piety I shall never achieve a magpie heart
a hairy nostril over the big a flight that always renews just when coming down
and so I shall never comprehend mock piety
if however Micaiah tea doesn’t exist my nature doesn’t exist either who would
have guessed that centuries later I would invent the question of universes I
said that I write only in Polish I have never attempted to write in English or
in French but there is one poem I wrote in English due to circumstances I had a
discussion with Hindu writer and philosopher Raja Rao it was in Austin
Texas and he tried to convert to his oriental wisdom and – as a matter of
fact he’s a Brahman but I was resistant very very resistant and then I got angry
and then came home and wrote the following poem to Raja Rao in English a
letter in the form of a poem or a poem in the form of a letter Rajyam I wish I knew the cause of that
malady for years I couldn’t accept the place I was in I felt I should be
somewhere else a city trees human voices lacked the
quality of presence I would live by the hope of moving on somewhere else there
was a city of real presence of real trees and voices and French and love
link if you wish my peculiar case on the border of schizophrenia to the messianic
hope of my civilization ill-at-ease in the terrain here it is in the
Republic in the one I long for freedom in the other for the end of corruption
building in my mind a permanent polish forever deprived of aimless bathroom I
learned at last to say this is my home here before the glowing call of ocean
sunsets on the shore which faces the source of your Asia in a great Republic
moderately corrupt rajae this didn’t cure me of my guilt
and shame a shame of failing to be what I should have been the image of myself
grows gigantic on the wall and against it my miserable shadow that’s how I came
to believe in original sin which is nothing but the first victory of the ego
tormented by my ego deluded by it I give you as you see already argument I
hear you saying that liberation is possible and that Socratic wisdom is
identical with your gurus NORAD I must start from what I am I am those monsters
which visit my dreams and revealed to me my hidden essence if I’m sick there is
no proof whatsoever that man is a healthy creature Greece had to lose
their pure consciousness had to make our agony only more acute we needed God
loving us in our weakness and not in the glory of be our cocoon now help Raja my
part is agony struggle objection self love and self hate prayer for the
kingdom and reading Pascal I have spent many years in a place which
we were recognized in the following poem the title of the poem is a Magic
Mountain as you know that’s the title of a novel by Thomas Mann the hero of that
novel came to a sanitarium in Switzerland at the time when TB was
fashionable and spent some nine years over there in the mountains in the Davos
so I hope that you will recognize the place from here Magic Mountain I don’t
remember exactly when booth Berg died it was either two years ago or three the
same with Chan whether last year or the one before soon after our arrival booed
Berg gently pensive said that in the beginning that in the beginning it is
hard to get accustomed for here there is no spring or summer no winter or fall I
kept dreaming of snow and birch forests were so little changes you hardly notice
how time goes by this is you will see a Magic Mountain booed Berg a familiar
name in my childhood they were prominent in our region this Russian family
descendants of German balls I read none of his works to specialize
and Chan I have heard was an exquisite poet which
I must take on faith for he wrote in Chinese so tree October’s qu July’s
trees blossom in February here the nuptial flight of hummingbird
doesn’t forecast spring only the faithful maple sheds its leaves every
year for no reason its ancestors simply learnt in that way
I sensed Buddha was my anti rabbit so I won’t have power
one save the world fame will pass me by no tiara no crown did I then train
myself myself the unique to compose stanzas for girls and see haze to listen
to the fog horns blaring down below until it passed what past life now I am
not ashamed of my defeat one murky island with his barking seals or a
parched desert is enough to make us say yes we see even a slip we partake in the
becoming of the world as from Heraclitus and Durin’s comes only from enduring
with a flick of the wrist I fashioned an invisible rope and climbed it and it
held me what procession held Elise what caps and hooded gowns most respected
professor booth Berg most distinguished professor chan wrong honorable professor
Miller who wrote poems in some unheard-of tongue who will count them
anyway and here sunlight so that the flames of a tall candles faith and how
many generations of hummingbirds keep them company as they walk on of earthly civilization what shall we
say that it was a system of colored spheres cast in smoke glass where
illumination click we tread kept winding and unwinding or that it was an array of
sunburst palaces shooting up from a dome with massive gates behind which walked a
monstrosity without a face that every day lots were cast and that whoever drew
low was March there as sacrifice old man children young boys and young girls or
we may say otherwise that we believed in a Golden Fleece in a rainbow net in a
cloud cocoon suspended from the branch of a galactic tree and our net was woven
from the stuff of science hieroglyphs for the eye and ear amorous rings a
sound reverberated in words capturing our time the flicker fluttered Twitter
of our language for from what could we weave the boundary between within and
without light and abyss if not from ourselves our own warm breath and
lipstick and gos and Muslim from the heartbeat whose silence makes the word
die or perhaps we’ll say nothing of earthly civilization for nobody really
knows what it was well maybe I would read you to you a very short
philosophical poems of four lines when the moon rises went women in
flowery dresses are strolling I am struck by their eyes eyelashes and the
whole arrangement of the world it seems to me that from such a strong mutual
attraction the ultimate truth should issue at last well I have a number of
poems I define myself as a poet pessimistic but ecstatic and here is a
poem entitled rivers of course I prefer this poem in Polish because of its very
strong written but in translating I try to be close to the trip under various
names I have praised only you rivers you are
milk and honey and love and death and dance from a spring in hidden grottoes
sipping from mossy rocks where a goddess pours live water from a pitcher at clear
streams in the meadow where is murmur underground your race and my race begin
and amazement and quick passage naked I exposed my face to the Sun steering with
hardly a dip of the paddle oak woods fields a pine forest skimming by around
every band the promise of the earth village smoke sleepy herds flights of
markings over sand blood I entered your water slowly step by step and the
current in that silence took me by the knees until I surrendered and it carried
me and I swam through the huge reflected sky
of a triumphant noon I was on your banks at the onset of Midsummer Night when the
full moon rolls out and lips touch in the rituals of kissing I hear in myself
now as then the lapping of water by the boathouse and the whisper that calls me
in for an embrace and for consolation we go down with the bells ringing in all
the sunken cities forgotten we are greeted by the embassies of the Dead
where your endless flowing carries us on and on and either is nor was the moment
only a turn well sometimes well this poem of course
reflects my my youth my adolescence spent in the city of Illinois which is
now the capital of the Soviet Lithuania which is a city on the banks of a very
beautiful River and there is a lot of rivers and lakes in that country so this
is a employ emil of four rivers is reflected maybe i should tell you a
story of a poem sometimes poems have strange stories in
1950 i was done in still in the service of the polish government i was deeply
depressed by what was going on in poland so i wrote a short poem just to let my
steam off without any hope of cause of publishing that poem that was born of a
dissident of a man who was against the government thirty years later that poem
was chosen by committee building monument for workers in Gdansk four
workers killed in the riots against the police in 1970 and a fragment of that
Paul was placed engraved in bronze on the monument over there in Gdansk that
was the time of solidarity so I am going to read to you translation done by my
former student and friend Richard Lauria there are some lines which I do not like
in translation but I have no better translation so this is a very short
classical poem you wronged a simple man bursting into
laughter at the crime and kept a crowd of fools around you
mixing wouldn’t evil to blur the line though everyone bow down before you
saying virtue and wisdom lit your way striking gold medals in your honor
glad to have survived another day do not feel safe
the poet remembers you can slay one but another is born the words are written
down the deed the day and you’d have done better with a winter dawn a rope
and a branch bowed beneath your way so this of course this poem is a kind of an
incantation against evil against the totalitarian terror proof and yet you experienced the flames of
her you can even say what they are like real ending in sharp hooks so that they
turn up flesh piece by piece to the bone you walked in the street and it was
going on the lashing and bleeding you remember therefore you have no doubt
there is a hell for certain now about the world of suffering and
pain and evil pure beauty benediction you are all I gathered from a life that
was bitter and confused in which I learnt about evil my own and not my own
wander kept seizing me and I recall only one risings of the son of an endless
green a universe of grasses and flowers opening to the first light blue outline
of the mountain and the Hosanna shall I asked how many times is this the truth
of the earth how can laments and curses be turned
into hymns what makes you need to pretend when you know better but lips
praised on their own on their own defeat round the heart beat strongly and the
tongue proclaimed its adoration I am the author of the poem entitled ARS Poetica
innumerable poets in the past I wrote a poem wrote recipes how to write poetry I
am not sure of my recipe so my title has an interrogation mark after ARS Poetica
with interrogation mark I have always aspired to a more spacious
form that would be free from the claims of poetry or prose and would let us
understand each other without exposing the author or reader to sublime agony in
the very essence of poetry there is something indecent a thing is brought
forth which we didn’t know we had in us so we bring our eyes as if a tiger had
sprang out and stood in the light lashing his tail
that’s why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a diammonium go it’s an
exaggeration to maintain that he must be an angel it’s hard to guess where that
pride of poets comes from when so often they are put to shame by the disclosure
of their frailty what reasonable man would like to be a city of demons who
behave as if they were at home speak in many tongues and who not satisfied with
stealing his lips or hand work at changing his destiny for their
convenience it’s true that what is morbid is highly valued today and so you
may think that I am only joking or that I have devised just one more means of
praising art with the help of iron

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