Thursday, June 30, 2016

The World of Matter Received Its Shape from Diabolic Power, or: Born One-Hundred Five Years Ago Today


Czeslaw Milosz

Vanity and gluttony were always her sins
And I fell in love with her in the phase of life
When our scornful reason is the judge of others.

Then I went through a sudden initiation.
Not only did our skins like each other, tenderly,
And our genitals fit once and for all,
But her sleep at arm's length exerted its power
And her childhood in a city she visited dreaming.

Whatever was naive and shy in her
Or fearful in the disguise of self-assurance
Moved me, so that - we were so alike -
In an instant, not judging anymore,
I saw two sins of mine: vanity, gluttony.


Czeslaw Milosz

I am no more than a secretary of the invisible thing
That is dictated to me and a few others.
Secretaries, mutually unknown, we walk the earth
Without much comprehension. Beginning a phrase in the middle
Or ending it without a comma. And how it all looks when completed
Is not up to us to inquire, we won't read it anyway.


Czeslaw Milosz

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 they 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  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 with 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.


Czeslaw Milosz

His old age fell on years of abundant harvest.
There were no earthquakes, droughts or floods.
It seemed as if the turning of the seasons gained in constancy,
Stars waxed strong and the sun increased its might.
Even in remote provinces no war was waged.
Generations grew up friendly to fellow men.
The rational nature of man was not a subject of derision.

It was bitter to say farewell to the earth so renewed.
He was envious and ashamed of his doubt,
Content that his lacerated memory would vanish with him.

Two days after his death a hurricane razed the coasts.
Smoke came from volcanoes inactive for a hundred years.
Lava sprawled over forests, vineyards, and towns.
And war began with a battle on the islands.


Czeslaw Milosz

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 honor,
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.

And you’d have done better with a winter dawn,
A rope, and a branch bowed beneath your weight.


Czeslaw Milosz

No, it won’t do, my sweet theologians.
Desire will not save the morality of God.
If he created beings able to choose between good and evil,
And they chose, and the world lies in iniquity,
Nevertheless, there is pain, and the undeserved torture of creatures,
Which would find its explanation only by assuming
The existence of an archetypal Paradise
And a pre-human downfall so grave
That the world of matter received its shape from diabolic power.  


Czeslaw Milosz

The history of my stupidity would fill many volumes.

Some would be devoted to acting against consciousness,
Like the flight of a moth which, had it known,
Would have tended nevertheless towards the candle's flame.

Others would deal with ways to silence anxiety,
The little whisper which, though it is a warning, is ignored.

I would deal separately with satisfaction and pride,
The time when I was among their adherents
Who strut victoriously, unsuspecting.

But all of them would have one subject, desire,
Of only my own - but no, not at all; alas
I was driven because I wanted to be like others.
I was afraid of what was wild and indecent in me.

The history of my stupidity will not be written.
For one thing is is late. And the truth is laborious.


Czeslaw Milosz

I looked out the window at dawn and saw a young apple tree translucent
          in brightness.

And when I looked out a dawn once again, an apple tree laden with fruit
          stood there.

Many years had probably gone by but I remember nothing of what happened
          in my sleep.


All translations by Clare Cavanagh

1 comment:

  1. My collegiate sweetheart (whose family were disenfranchised Austro-Hungarian nobility; no joke) traveled to Poland in the mid-1970's and while there would have the chance to meet Milosz. She wasn't particularly inclined to things literary, so I filled her in as to who the man was. I was impressed and jealous; it was a rare opportunity.

    When she returned, I asked: So, what was Milosz like? She paused, thinking. "Old, and Polish," she said.