After Miłosz

After Miłosz - Facebook  After Miłosz - Twitter    
Add date: Monday, 26 September 2011

Miłosz jak Świat vol. 2 by

« back

"Tygodnik Powszechny" has issued a special publication: 2nd edition of "Miłosz jak Świat" quarterly magazine for a centennial anniversary of Czesław Miłosz.

“At the end of the year 1960 when Czesław Miłosz was flying from France to the United States in order to start his work at the University of California, Berkeley, he did not expect that the American chapter of his life would last over three decades. At first the Miłosz family did not even sell the house in Montgeron, near Paris, as they planned that in a year or two they would go back to France. His regular post at university and the financial stability that it ensured (and which was so different from the small income from his publications in the Polish émigré monthly journal “Kultura”) and, above all, the fact that he took great pleasure in being a lecturer – all those became the decisive factors for Miłosz’s staying in the US. His house was situated on Grizzly Peak over Berkeley and it had a wonderful view of the Bay with San Francisco in the background. Soon this house became a haven for the Miłosz family and later it turned into a place of pilgrimage for many generations of Poles.
However, if those pilgrims from Poland imagined that the life of the author of “Ocalenie” was a dream come true they were utterly wrong. Before he was awarded with the Nobel Prize in 1980, Miłosz was not a very well-known and widely read poet in America and it was difficult for him to reach out to the English-speaking audience. As his poetry was banned in Poland and he had only a small number of foreign readers, he suffered from loneliness and the lack of fulfillment. It was at that time when he made bitter remarks that instead of publishing his poems in “Kultura” he could just as well hide them in bird nests. When Miłosz was visiting the Death Valley or listening to the distant barking of the seals on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, the nature of California, which for many people seems to be a paradise, was perceived by the child of the Nevėžis Valley as dreadful, radically foreign and constantly reminding him of the human mutability. The political situation of the 60s and the 70s, the time of the Vietnam War and the hippie revolution, caused his deep anxiety (which found its reflection in the collection of essays “Widzenia nad Zatoką San Francisco”). Miłosz had a similar attitude towards the American mass culture, the Darwinian rule of the capitalist competition and the reform in the Church (which in his opinion forgot about the sin and the devil). At that time the poet’s intellectual interests were becoming more and more focused on the problem of faith and it was proved by his essay “Ziemia Ulro.”
To Miłosz California was not the Promised Land even though many of his greatest poetic works were created there and among them was his brilliant poem “Gdzie wzchodzi słońce i kędy zapada.” Moreover, it was America that helped him to get the Nobel Prize and later he was accepted into the American intellectual and artistic circles. In time, the recluse of Grizzly Peak was reconciled with that country.” – this is how Andrzej Franaszek, the author of Miłosz’s biography, introduces the readers to the next volume of the supplement devoted to Miłosz published by “Tygodnik Powszechny.” By reaching back to Miłosz’s experience, the editorial staff and the authors of “Tygodnik Powszechny” reflect upon problems connected with modern times. “Those 40 years that Miłosz spent on the West Coast resulted in his involvement in the American culture while the Nobel Prize gave him a marvelous opportunity to rewrite his life in another language on the new continent thanks to the fact that his works were translated into English.” – says Clare Cavanagh, a literary historian, translator and the winner of the Found in Translation Award in 2010.
Piotr Florczyk, who is a translator and a publisher, writes on the topic of how the Polish poetry functions in the American reality and he emphasizes that “the ways of promoting poetry in the USA are almost unlimited” even though on the other hand “the poems written by younger Polish authors are not so widely read in the USA, as in general they do not share the issues and the atmosphere with the poetry that the American audience got used to and which was provided to them by the great Polish Poets of the 20th century” such as Miłosz, Herbert, Różewicz or Szymborska.
A different point of view is presented in “Made in USA” by Benjamin Paloff, a lecturer at the University of Michigan. According to him in Poland there is a clear difference between the poetry of the native and foreign origin while in the USA the works of foreign authors which are translated into English automatically become part of the American culture: “As soon as Polish poetry reaches the shelves of our bookshops it becomes our own poetry.”
The topic of the poet’s religious portrait and his famous essay “Ziemia Ulro” were discussed by Ireneusz Kania, a specialist in Buddhism and cabala, and Tadeusz Sławek, a philosopher and the author of many works devoted to William Blake and Henry David Thoreau. Kania puts emphasis on how different or even how demonic the American culture is in comparison to the European cultural heritage: “You could always deal with the Lithuanian devil with the use of an aspen stake or another solution provided by the tradition which developed over the centuries.
In comparison, in America, the man who has just landed in a new reality and who has just became the possessor of the new land was faced with something completely primitive, exposed and powerful at the same time.” Tadeusz Sławek elaborates on the way Miłosz was related to the American counterculture: “Isn’t it true that the religious experience means that we are getting closer to something but at the same time we cannot grasp it, define it or describe it? Miłosz was irritated by the constant attempts at defining the religious experiences especially those which were pseudo-mystical or reminding more of a trance. He noticed it in the hippie culture and he used to say that they want to get their pie in the sky.”
Tadeusz Lubelski, a specialist in the history of cinema, writes about Miłosz’s attitude towards the mass culture and he concentrates on his criticism of modern cinematography. According to the poet the modern film “becomes the ‘magic pipe of the rat-catcher’ who lures people with the promise of ‘blissful evenings in front of the TV screen in the company with a can of beer in hand” while the audience acts like ‘sheep led to be slaughtered’.” Among others the author of the article makes references to the works of Bergman and he proves that “Miłosz has never abandoned the thought of a cinema different from the one which dominated the movie theatres and which should be more intelligent, more sensitive and, in a way, metaphysical. It appeared and reappeared in his poetry in the motif of the unwinding film reel on which everything is recorded.”
During the meeting with the Polish winner of the Nobel Prize, the Pope John Paul II said that in his poetry Miłosz at first makes one step forward towards the faith but then he immediately makes a step back. Miłosz answered him with a question whether it is possible nowadays to write religious poetry in a different manner. Two decades later, in a totally new social context, we ask this question once again and we invite poets from different generations into the discussion and there are people such as: Wojciech Bonowicz, Piotr Matywiecki, Dariusz Sośnicki and the critic Marian Stala. Wojciech Bonowicz persuades: “What is our situation? I noticed that there is a lot of playing with poetry and words but this play usually has a second or even third dimension which usually is more serious. This is because the need to deal with serious issues will never disappear.” Piotr Matywiecki confesses that: “When I am writing about the strange reality that the God constitutes and I notice that it becomes a routine I know that it is an act of treason against the thing which is the most important of all things. Thus, the matter of God is the touchstone of my poetry.” Dariusz Sośnicki is convinced that: “When we are searching for ambitious and distinguished poetry it would obviously be much easier to find it beyond what is orthodox and thus rather in the metaphysical works and not in confessional art.” Marian Stala answers that: “Recently, we are fascinated more by the artists who declare themselves as non-believers but at the same time they speak about their lack of faith so fiercely that, paradoxically, they seem to be much more religious than other artists.”
In a way the interview with Charles Simic, a respected artist, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, seems to be the conclusion of the whole debate. He presents his poetic credo in a semi-ironical way: “I like the poems which are rather suspicious of the poetic emotions and pompous rhetoric. When the reader expects to get paper flowers and fake fruits, I present him with a plate full of sausages and pickles” …

English summary [PDF file]: milosz-jak-swiat-2_summary-eng.pdf
"Miłosz jak Świat" in Polish: milosz-jak-swiat-2_pol.pdf

Other news: