After Miłosz

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Czesław Miłosz was born on June, 30th 1911 in Szetejnie, Lithuania. A poet, prose writer, essayist, and translator, he won the Nobel Prize in 1980 and many other prestigious literary awards throughout his life, and has been translated into forty-two languages. He received honorary doctorates from universities in the USA and in Poland, and was made an honorary citizen of Lithuania and the City of Kraków. He spent his school days and university youth in Wilno (Vilnius), where he also made his debut as a poet, and lived out the German occupation in Warsaw. After the war he worked in the diplomatic service of the People’s Republic of Poland in the USA and in France until 1951, when he appealed for political asylum in Paris. In 1960 he left for California, where he spent twenty years as a professor of Slavic languages and literature, lecturing at the University of California, Berkeley. Until 1989 he mainly published in the Paris émigré journal Kultura and in the Polish underground press. After 1989 he lived in Berkeley and in Kraków. He died on August 14, 2004.

Critics and poets alike from around the world, address Miłosz's literary output in superlatives. His poetry is rich in visual-symbolic metaphor. The idyllic and the apocalyptic go hand-to-hand. The verse sometimes suggests the naked philosophical discourse of religious epiphany. Songs and theological treatises alternate, as in the "child-like rhymes" about the German Occupation of Warsaw in The World: Naive Poems (1943) or “Six Lectures in Verse” from the volume Chronicles (1987). Miłosz transcends genre and style. As a poet and translator, he moves easily from contemporary American poets to the Bible (portions of which he has rendered anew into Polish).

As a novelist, he won renown with The Seizure of Power (1953), about the installation of communism in Poland. Both Miłosz and his readers have a particular liking for the semi-autobiographical The Issa Valley (1955), a tale of growing up and the loss of innocence that abounds in philosophical sub-texts. There are also many personal themes in Miłosz's essays, as well as in The Captive Mind (1953), a classic of the literature of totalitarianism. Native Realm (1959) remains one of the best studies of the evolution of the Central European mentality. The Land of Ulro (1977) is a sort of intellectual and literary autobiography. It was followed by books like The Witness of Poetry (1982), The Metaphysical Pause (1995) and Life on Islands (1997) that penetrate to the central issues of life and literature today.