Czesław Miłosz

From Family Archives of Czesław and Andrzej Miłosz, National Library, Warsaw. Photo by Andrzej Miłosz. Copyright © by Grażyna Strumiłło-Miłosz and Joanna Miłosz-Piekarska.

Czesław Miłosz

Treatise on Poetry

Read by Robert Hass
English translation: Czesław Miłosz and Robert Hass
Beautiful Times

Cabbies were dozing by St. Mary’s tower.
Krakow was tiny as a painted egg
Just taken from a pot of dye on Easter.
In their black capes poets strolled the streets.
Nobody remembers their names today,
And yet their hands were real once
And their cufflinks gleamed above a table.
An Ober brings the paper on a stick
And coffee, then passes away like them
Without a name. Muses, Rachels in trailing shawls,
Put tongues to lips while pinning up their braids.
The pin lies with their daughters’ ashes now,
Or in a glass case next to mute seashells
And a glass lily. Angels of Art Nouveau
In the dark WCs of their parents’ homes,
Meditating on the link between sex and the soul,
Went to Vienna for migraines and the blues
(Dr. Freud, I hear, is also from Galicia),
and Anna Csilag grew her long, long hair.
Hussars’ tunics were trimmed out with braid.
News of the emperor spread through mountain villages.
Someone had seen his carriage in the valley.

This is our beginning. Useless to deny it.
Useless to recall a distant golden age.
We have to accept and take as our own
The moustache with pomade, the bowler hat acock,
Also the jingle of a tombac watch chain.
It’s ours, the worker’s song, the mug of beer
In factory towns black as heavy cloth.
The match struck at dawn and twelve hours
Labor to make wealth and progress out of smoke.
English translation: Czesław Miłosz and Robert Hass

Czesław Miłosz

born in Szetejnie (Lithuanian: Šeteniai) in Lithuania on 30th June 1911, died in Krakow on 14th August 2004. A poet, essay and prose writer, translator, and lecturer. One of the most eminent poets of the 20th century and best-known Polish writers, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980. An émigré since 1951, first in France and later (since 1960) in California, US. Awarded honorary citizenship of Krakow in 1993, Miłosz made the city his permanent home, and lived at 6 Bogusławskiego Street, where he worked until his death. Krakow meant much for his family: it is here where his mother, Weronika, came from the faraway Lithuania for education and where his father, Aleksander, settled and died (in 1959). The poet’s father is buried in one of Krakow’s most beautiful necropolises, the Rakowicki Cemetery. In the wartime migration (1944–1945), the poet and his then wife-to-be Janina found shelter in the manor house in Goszyce near Krakow, owned by the family of the wife of his friend – Jerzy Turowicz. In 1945, the newly-wed couple moved to 26/11 św. Tomasza Street.
Choosing the city of Polish kings for the autumn of his life, Miłosz returned to Poland after 50 years of living abroad. Of all East European cities, Krakow was the one to remind him of the Vilnius of his youth most. He also returned to the circle of his friends from Tygodnik Powszechny weekly, with whom he worked, the Jagiellonian University, and his publishers (Wydawnictwo Literackie and Znak), yet primarily to the readers, for whom he incessantly wrote in Polish. The most frequent route of his walks with his second wife, Carol Thigpen-Miłosz, led across the Planty park to the Main Market Square, where the two would enjoy  cafés and restaurants, visit bookshops, and meet friends. The poet died in his Krakow flat, and his body was laid to rest in the Crypt of the Pauline Church na Skałce (“on the Rock”) at 15 Skałeczna Street in Krakow.

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