Classics  
Czesław Miłosz was born on June 30, 1911 in the village of Šeteniai (Kėdainiai district, Kaunas County) on the border between two Lithuanian historical regions of Samogitia and Aukštaitija in central Lithuania (then part of Russian empire). He was a son of Aleksander Miłosz, a civil engineer, and Weronika, née ... Read more
Czesław Miłosz was born on June 30, 1911 in the village of Šeteniai (Kėdainiai district, Kaunas County) on the border between two Lithuanian historical regions of Samogitia and Aukštaitija in central Lithuania (then part of Russian empire). He was a son of Aleksander Miłosz, a civil engineer, and Weronika, née ... Read more

1
We, whose lungs fill with the sweetness of day.
Who in May admire trees flowering
Are better than those who perished.

We, who taste of exotic dishes,
And enjoy fully the delights of love,
Are better than those who were buried.

We, from the fiery furnaces, from behind barbed wires
On which the winds of endless autumns howled,
We, who remember battles where the wounded air roared in
paroxysms of pain.
We, saved by our own cunning and knowledge.

By sending others to the more exposed positions
Urging them loudly to fight on
Ourselves withdrawing in certainty of the cause lost.

Having the choice of our own death and that of a friend
We chose his, coldly thinking: Let it be done quickly.

We sealed gas chamber doors, stole bread
Knowing the next day would be harder to bear than the day before.

As befits human beings, we explored good and evil.
Our malignant wisdom has no like on this planet.

Accept it as proven that we are better than they,
The gullible, hot-blooded weaklings, careless with their lives.

2
Treasure your legacy of skills, child of Europe.
Inheritor of Gothic cathedrals, of baroque churches.
Of synagogues filled with the wailing of a wronged people.
Successor of Descartes, Spinoza, inheritor of the word 'honor',
Posthumous child of Leonidas
Treasure the skills acquired in the hour of terror.

You have a clever mind which sees instantly
The good and bad of any situation.
You have an elegant, skeptical mind which enjoys pleasures
Quite unknown to primitive races.

Guided by this mind you cannot fail to see
The soundness of the advice we give you:
Let the sweetness of day fill your lungs
For this we have strict but wise rules.

3
There can be no question of force triumphant
We live in the age of victorious justice.

Do not mention force, or you will be accused
Of upholding fallen doctrines in secret.

He who has power, has it by historical logic.
Respectfully bow to that logic.

Let your lips, proposing a hypothesis
Not know about the hand faking the experiment.

Let your hand, faking the experiment
No know about the lips proposing a hypothesis.

Learn to predict a fire with unerring precision
Then burn the house down to fulfill the prediction.

4
Grow your tree of falsehood from a single grain of truth.
Do not follow those who lie in contempt of reality.

Let your lie be even more logical than the truth itself
So the weary travelers may find repose in the lie.

After the Day of the Lie gather in select circles
Shaking with laughter when our real deeds are mentioned.

Dispensing flattery called: perspicacious thinking.
Dispensing flattery called: a great talent.

We, the last who can still draw joy from cynicism.
We, whose cunning is not unlike despair.

A new, humorless generation is now arising
It takes in deadly earnest all we received with laughter.

5
Let your words speak not through their meanings
But through them against whom they are used.

Fashion your weapon from ambiguous words.
Consign clear words to lexical limbo.

Judge no words before the clerks have checked
In their card index by whom they were spoken.

The voice of passion is better than the voice of reason.
The passionless cannot change history.

6
Love no country: countries soon disappear
Love no city: cities are soon rubble.

Throw away keepsakes, or from your desk
A choking, poisonous fume will exude.

Do not love people: people soon perish.
Or they are wronged and call for your help.

Do not gaze into the pools of the past.
Their corroded surface will mirror
A face different from the one you expected.

7
He who invokes history is always secure.
The dead will not rise to witness against him.

You can accuse them of any deeds you like.
Their reply will always be silence.

Their empty faces swim out of the deep dark.
You can fill them with any feature desired.

Proud of dominion over people long vanished,
Change the past into your own, better likeness.

8
The laughter born of the love of truth
Is now the laughter of the enemies of the people.

Gone is the age of satire. We no longer need mock.
The sensible monarch with false courtly phrases.

Stern as befits the servants of a cause,
We will permit ourselves sycophantic humor.

Tight-lipped, guided by reasons only
Cautiously let us step into the era of the unchained fire.

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat 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 signs and archangels’ trumps
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 prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.

Pennsylvania, 1948-1949

The garden of Nature opens.
The grass at the threshold is green.
And an almond tree begins to bloom.

Sunt mihi Dei Acherontis propitii!
Valeat numen triplex Jehovae!
Ignis, aeris, aquae, terrae spiritus,
Salvete!—says the entering guest.

Ariel lives in the palace of an apple tree,
But will not appear, vibrating like a wasp’s wing,
And Mephistopheles, disguised as an abbot
Of the Dominicans or the Franciscans,
Will not descend from a mulberry bush
Onto a pentagram drawn in the black loam of the path.


But a rhododendron walks among the rocks
Shod in leathery leaves and ringing a pink bell.
A hummingbird, a child’s top in the air,
Hovers in one spot, the beating heart of motion.
Impaled on the nail of a black thorn, a grasshopper
Leaks brown fluid from its twitching snout.
And what can he do, the phantom-in-chief,
As he’s been called, more than a magician,
The Socrates of snails, as he’s been called,
Musician of pears, arbiter of orioles, man?
In sculptures and canvases our individuality
Manages to survive. In Nature it perishes.
Let him accompany the coffin of the woodsman
Pushed from a cliff by a mountain demon,
The he-goat with its jutting curl of horn.
Let him visit the graveyard of the whalers
Who drove spears into the flesh of leviathan
And looked for the secret in guts and blubber.
The thrashing subsided, quieted to waves.
Let him unroll the textbooks of alchemists
Who almost found the cipher, thus the scepter.
Then passed away without hands, eyes, or elixir.


Here there is sun. And whoever, as a child,
Believed he could break the repeatable pattern
Of things, if only he understood the pattern,
Is cast down, rots in the skin of others,
Looks with wonder at the colors of the butterfly,
Inexpressible wonder, formless, hostile to art.


To keep the oars from squeaking in their locks,
He binds them with a handkerchief. The dark
Had rushed east from the Rocky Mountains
And settled in the forests of the continent:
Sky full of embers reflected in a cloud,
Flight of herons, trees above a marsh,
The dry stalks in water, livid, black. My boat
Divides the aerial utopias of the mosquitoes
Which rebuild their glowing castles instantly.
A water lily sinks, fizzing, under the boat’s bow.


Now it is night only. The water is ash-gray.
Play, music, but inaudibly! I wait an hour
In the silence, senses tuned to a beaver’s lodge.
Then suddenly, a crease in the water, a beast’s
black moon, rounded, ploughing up quickly
from the pond-dark, from the bubbling methanes.
I am not immaterial and never will be.
My scent in the air, my animal smell,
Spreads, rainbow-like, scares the beaver:
A sudden splat.
I remained where I was
In the high, soft coffer of the night’s velvet,
Mastering what had come to my senses:
How the four-toed paws worked, how the hair
Shook off water in the muddy tunnel.
It does not know time, hasn’t heard of death,
Is submitted to me because I know I’ll die.


I remember everything. That wedding in Basel,
A touch to the strings of a viola and fruit
In silver bowls. As was the custom in Savoy,
An overturned cup for three pairs of lips,
And the wine spilled. The flames of the candles
Wavery and frail in a breeze from the Rhine.
Her fingers, bones shining through the skin,
Felt out the hooks and clasps of the silk
And the dress opened like a nutshell,
Fell from the turned graininess of the belly.
A chain for the neck rustled without epoch,
In pits where the arms of various creeds
Mingle with bird cries and the red hair of caesars.


Perhaps this is only my own love speaking
Beyond the seventh river. Grit of subjectivity,
Obsession, bar the way to it.
Until a window shutter, dogs in the cold garden,
The whistle of a train, an owl in the firs
Are spared the distortions of memory.
And the grass says: how it was I don’t know.


Splash of a beaver in the American night.
The memory grows larger than my life.
A tin plate, dropped on the irregular red bricks
Of a floor, rattles tinnily forever.
Belinda of the big foot, Julia, Thaïs,
The tufts of their sex shadowed by ribbon.


Peace to the princesses under the tamarisks.
Desert winds beat against their painted eyelids.
Before the body was wrapped in bandelettes,
Before wheat fell asleep in the tomb,
Before stone fell silent, and there was only pity.


Yesterday a snake crossed the road at dusk.
Crushed by a tire, it writhed on the asphalt.
We are both the snake and the wheel.
There are two dimensions. Here is the unattainable
Truth of being, here, at the edge of lasting
and not lasting. Where the parallel lines intersect,
Time lifted above time by time.


Before the butterfly and its color, he, numb,
Formless, feels his fear, he, unattainable.
For what is a butterfly without Julia and Thaïs?
And what is Julia without a butterfly’s down
In her eyes, her hair, the smooth grain of her belly?
The kingdom, you say. We do not belong to it,
And still, in the same instant, we belong.
For how long will a nonsensical Poland
Where poets write of their emotions as if
They had a contract of limited liability
Suffice? I want not poetry, but a new diction,
Because only it might allow us to express
A new tenderness and save us from a law
That is not our law, from necessity
Which is not ours, even if we take its name.


From broken armor, from eyes stricken
By the command of time and taken back
Into the jurisdiction of mold and fermentation,
We draw our hope. Yes, to gather in an image
The furriness of the beaver, the smell of rushes,
And the wrinkles of a hand holding a pitcher
From which wine trickles. Why cry out
That a sense of history destroys our substance
If it, precisely, is offered to our powers,
A muse of our gray-haired father, Herodotus,
As our arm and our instrument, though
It is not easy to use it, to strengthen it
So that, like a plumb with a pure gold center,
It will serve again to rescue human beings.


With such reflections I pushed a rowboat,
In the middle of the continent, through tangled stalks,
In my mind an image of the waves of two oceans
And the slow rocking of a guard-ship’s lantern.
Aware that at this moment I—and not only I—
Keep, as in a seed, the unnamed future.
And then a rhythmic appeal composed itself,
Alien to the moth with its whirring of silk:


O City, O Society, O Capital,
We have seen your steaming entrails.
You will no longer be what you have been.
Your songs no longer gratify our hearts.


Steel, cement, lime, law, ordinance,
We have worshipped you too long,
You were for us a goal and a defense,
Ours was your glory and your shame.


And where was the covenant broken?
Was it in the fires of war, the incandescent sky?
Or at twilight, as the towers fly past, when one looked
From the train across a desert of tracks

To a window out past the maneuvering locomotives
Where a girl examines her narrow, moody face
In a mirror and ties a ribbon to her hair
Pierced by the sparks of curling papers?


Those walls of yours are shadows of walls,
And your light disappeared forever.
Not the world's monument anymore, an oeuvre of your own
Stands beneath the sun in an altered space.


From stucco and mirrors, glass and paintings,
Tearing aside curtains of silver and cotton,
Comes man, naked and mortal,
Ready for truth, for speech, for wings.


Lament, Republic! Fall to your knees!
The loudspeaker’s spell is discontinued.
Listen! You can hear the clocks ticking.
Your death approaches by his hand.


An oar over my shoulder, I walked from the woods.
A porcupine scolded from the fork of a tree,
A horned owl, not changed by the century,
Not changed by place or time, looked down.
Bubo maximus, from the work of Linnaeus.


America for me has the pelt of a raccoon,
Its eyes are a raccoon’s black binoculars.
A chipmunk flickers in a litter of dry bark
Where ivy and vines tangle in the red soil
At the roots of an arcade of tulip trees.
America’s wings are the color of a cardinal,
Its beak is half-open and a mockingbird trills
From a leafy bush in the sweat-bath of the air.
Its line is the wavy body of a water moccasin
Crossing a river with a grass-like motion,
A rattlesnake, a rubble of dots and speckles,
Coiling under the bloom of a yucca plant.


America is for me the illustrated version
Of childhood tales about the heart of tanglewood,
Told in the evening to the spinning wheel’s hum.
And a violin, shivvying up a square dance,
Plays the fiddles of Lithuania or Flanders.
My dancing partner’s name is Birute Swenson.
She married a Swede, but was born in Kaunas.
Then from the night window a moth flies in
As big as the joined palms of the hands,
With a hue like the transparency of emeralds.


Why not establish a home in the neon heat
Of Nature? Is it not enough, the labor of autumn,
Of winter and spring and withering summer?
You will hear not one word spoken of the court
of Sigismund Augustus on the banks of the Delaware River.
The Dismissal of the Greek Envoys is not needed.
Herodotus will repose on his shelf, uncut.
And the rose only, a sexual symbol,
Symbol of love and superterrestrial beauty,
Will open a chasm deeper than your knowledge.
About it we find a song in a dream:


Inside the rose
Are houses of gold,
black isobars, streams of cold.
Dawn touches her finger to the edge of the Alps
And evening streams down to the bays of the sea.


If anyone dies inside the rose,
They carry him down the purple-red road
In a procession of clocks all wrapped in folds.
They light up the petals of grottoes with torches.
They bury him there where color begins,
At the source of the sighing,
Inside the rose.


Let names of months mean only what they mean.
Let the Aurora’s cannons be heard in none
Of them, or the tread of young rebels marching.
We might, at best, keep some kind of souvenir,
Preserved like a fan in a garret. Why not
Sit down at a rough country table and compose
An ode in the old manner, as in the old times
Chasing a beetle with the nib of our pen?

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.

You whom I could not save
Listen to me.
Try to understand this simple speech as I would be ashamed of another.
I swear, there is in me no wizardry of words.
I speak to you with silence like a cloud or a tree.

What strengthened me, for you was lethal.
You mixed up farewell 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 Polish rivers. And an immense bridge
Going into white fog. Here is a broken city,
And the wind throws the screams of gulls on your grave
When I am talking with you.

What is poetry which does not save
Nations or people?
A connivance with official lies,
A song of drunkards whose throats will be cut in a moment,
Readings for sophomore girls.
That I wanted good poetry without knowing it,
That I discovered, late, its 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.

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 toward 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,
If 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, it's late. And the truth is laborious.


Berkeley, 1980.


Trans. Robert Hass and Robert Pinsky

When everything was fine
And the notion of sin had vanished
And the earth was ready
In universal peace
To consume and rejoice
Without creeds and utopias,

I, for unknown reasons,
Surrounded by the books
Of prophets and theologians,
Of philosophers, poets,
Searched for an answer,
Scowling, grimacing,
Waking up at night, muttering at dawn.

What oppressed me so much
Was a bit shameful.
Talking of it aloud
Would show neither tact nor prudence.
It might even seem an outrage
Against the health of mankind.

Alas, my memory
Does not want to leave me
And in it, live beings
Each with its own pain,
Each with its own dying,
Its own trepidation.

Why then innocence
On paradisal beaches,
An impeccable sky
Over the church of hygiene?
Is it because that
Was long ago?

To a saintly man
--So goes an Arab tale--
God said somewhat maliciously:
"Had I revealed to people
How great a sinner you are,
They could not praise you."

"And I," answered the pious one,
"Had I unveiled to them
How merciful you are,
They would not care for you."

To whom should I turn
With that affair so dark
Of pain and also guilt
In the structure of the world,
If either here below
Or over there on high
No power can abolish
The cause and the effect?

Don't think, don't remember
The death on the cross,
Though everyday He dies,
The only one, all-loving,
Who without any need
Consented and allowed
To exist all that is,
Including nails of torture.

Totally enigmatic.
Impossibly intricate.
Better to stop speech here.
This language is not for people.
Blessed be jubilation.
Vintages and harvests.
Even if not everyone
Is granted serenity.

Bees build around red liver,
Ants build around black bone.
It has begun: the tearing, the trampling on silks,
It has begun: the breaking of glass, wood, copper, nickel, silver, foam
Of gypsum, iron sheets, violin strings, trumpets, leaves, balls, crystals.
Poof! Phosphorescent fire from yellow walls
Engulfs animal and human hair.


Bees build around the honeycomb of lungs,
Ants build around white bone.
Torn is paper, rubber, linen, leather, flax,
Fiber, fabrics, cellulose, snakeskin, wire.
The roof and the wall collapse in flame and heat seizes the foundations.
Now there is only the earth, sandy, trodden down,
With one leafless tree.


Slowly, boring a tunnel, a guardian mole makes his way,
With a small red lamp fastened to his forehead.
He touches buried bodies, counts them, pushes on,
He distinguishes human ashes by their luminous vapor,
The ashes of each man by a different part of the spectrum.
Bees build around a red trace.
Ants build around the place left by my body.


I am afraid, so afraid of the guardian mole.
He has swollen eyelids, like a Patriarch
Who has sat much in the light of candles
Reading the great book of the species.


What will I tell him, I, a Jew of the New Testament,
Waiting two thousand years for the second coming of Jesus?
My broken body will deliver me to his sight
And he will count me among the helpers of death:
The uncircumcised.

In Rome on the Campo di Fiori
Baskets of olives and lemons,
Cobbles spattered with wine
And the wreckage of flowers.
Vendors cover the trestles
With rose-pink fish;
Armfuls of dark grapes
Heaped on peach-down.

On this same square
They burned Giordano Bruno.
Henchmen kindled the pyre
Close-pressed by the mob.
Before the flames had died
The taverns were full again,
Baskets of olives and lemons
Again on the vendors' shoulders.

I thought of the Campo dei Fiori
In Warsaw by the sky-carousel
One clear spring evening
To the strains of a carnival tune.
The bright melody drowned
The salvos from the ghetto wall,
And couples were flying
High in the cloudless sky.

At times wind from the burning
Would driff dark kites along
And riders on the carousel
Caught petals in midair.
That same hot wind
Blew open the skirts of the girls
And the crowds were laughing
On that beautiful Warsaw Sunday.

Someone will read as moral
That the people of Rome or Warsaw
Haggle, laugh, make love
As they pass by martyrs' pyres.
Someone else will read
Of the passing of things human,
Of the oblivion
Born before the flames have died.

But that day I thought only
Of the loneliness of the dying,
Of how, when Giordano
Climbed to his burning
There were no words
In any human tongue
To be left for mankind,
Mankind who live on.

Already they were back at their wine
Or peddled their white starfish,
Baskets of olives and lemons
They had shouldered to the fair,
And he already distanced
As if centuries had passed
While they paused just a moment
For his flying in the fire.

Those dying here, the lonely
Forgotten by the world,
Our tongue becomes for them
The language of an ancient planet.
Until, when all is legend
And many years have passed,
On a great Campo dci Fiori
Rage will kindle at a poet's word.

And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings,
That appeared once, still wet
As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,
And, touched, coddled, began to live
In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up,
Tribes on the march, planets in motion.
“We are, ” they said, even as their pages
Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame
Licked away their letters. So much more durable
Than we are, whose frail warmth
Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.
I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it’s still a strange pageant,
Women’s dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born,
Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.

1
Who will honor the city without a name
If so many are dead and others pan gold
Or sell arms in faraway countries?


What shepherd's horn swathed in the bark of birch
Will sound in the Ponary Hills the memory of the absent—
Vagabonds, Pathfinders, brethren of a dissolved lodge?


This spring, in a desert, beyond a campsite flagpole,
—In silence that stretched to the solid rock of yellow and red mountains—
I heard in a gray bush the buzzing of wild bees.


The current carried an echo and the timber of rafts.
A man in a visored cap and a woman in a kerchief
Pushed hard with their four hands at a heavy steering oar.


In the library, below a tower painted with the signs of the zodiac,
Kontrym would take a whiff from his snuffbox and smile
For despite Metternich all was not yet lost.


And on crooked lanes down the middle of a sandy highway
Jewish carts went their way while a black grouse hooted
Standing on a cuirassier's helmet, a relict of La Grande Armée.


2
In Death Valley I thought about styles of hairdo,
About a hand that shifted spotlights at the Student's Ball
In the city from which no voice could reach me.
Minerals did not sound the last trumpet.
There was only the rustle of a loosened grain of lava.


In Death Valley salt gleams from a dried-up lake bed.
Defend, defend yourself, says the tick-tock of the blood.
From the futility of solid rock, no wisdom.


In Death Valley no hawk or eagle against the sky.
The prediction of a Gypsy woman has come true.
In a lane under an arcade, then, I was reading a poem
Of someone who had lived next door, entitled 'An Hour of Thought.'


I looked long at the rearview mirror: there, the one man
Within three miles, an Indian, was walking a bicycle uphill.


3
With flutes, with torches
And a drum, boom, boom,
Look, the one who died in Istanbul, there, in the first row.
He walks arm in arm with his young lady,
And over them swallows fly.


They carry oars or staffs garlanded with leaves
And bunches of flowers from the shores of the Green Lakes,
As they came closer and closer, down Castle Street.
And then suddenly nothing, only a white puff of cloud
Over the Humanities Student Club,
Division of Creative Writing.


4
Books, we have written a whole library of them.
Lands, we have visited a great many of them.
Battles, we have lost a number of them.
Till we are no more, we and our Maryla.


5
Understanding and pity,
We value them highly.
What else?


Beauty and kisses,
Fame and its prizes,
Who cares?


Doctors and lawyers,
Well-turned-out majors,
Six feet of earth.


Rings, furs, and lashes,
Glances at Masses,
Rest in peace.


Sweet twin breasts, good night.
Sleep through to the light,
Without spiders.


6
The sun goes down above the Zealous Lithuanian Lodge
And kindles fire on landscapes 'made from nature':
The Wilia winding among pines; black honey of the Żejmiana;
The Mereczanka washes berries near the Żegaryno village.
The valets had already brought in Theban candelabra
And pulled curtains, one after the other, slowly,
While, thinking I entered first, taking off my gloves,
I saw that all the eyes were fixed on me.


7
When I got rid of grieving
And the glory I was seeking,
Which I had no business doing,


I was carried by dragons
Over countries, bays, and mountains,
By fate, or by what happens.


Oh yes, I wanted to be me.
I toasted mirrors weepily
And learned my own stupidity.


From nails, mucous membrane,
Lungs, liver, bowels, and spleen
Whose house is made? Mine.


So what else is new?
I am not my own friend.
Time cuts me in two.


Monuments covered with snow,
Accept my gift. I wandered;
And where, I don't know.


8
Absent, burning, acrid, salty, sharp.
Thus the feast of Insubstantiality.
Under a gathering of clouds anywhere.
In a bay, on a plateau, in a dry arroyo.
No density. No harness of stone.
Even the Summa thins into straw and smoke.
And the angelic choirs fly over in a pomegranate seed
Sounding every few instants, not for us, their trumpets.


9
Light, universal, and yet it keeps changing.
For I love the light too, perhaps the light only.
Yet what is too dazzling and too high is not for me.
So when the clouds turn rosy, I think of light that is level
In the lands of birch and pine coated with crispy lichen,
Late in autumn, under the hoarfrost when the last milk caps
Rot under the firs and the hounds' barking echoes,
And jackdaws wheel over the tower of a Basilian church.


10
Unexpressed, untold.
But how?
The shortness of life,
the years quicker and quicker,
not remembering whether it happened in this or that autumn.
Retinues of homespun velveteen skirts,
giggles above a railing, pigtails askew,
sittings on chamberpots upstairs
when the sledge jingles under the columns of the porch
just before the moustachioed ones in wolf fur enter.
Female humanity,
children's snots, legs spread apart,
snarled hair, the milk boiling over,
stench, shit frozen into clods.
And those centuries,
conceiving in the herring smell of the middle of the night
instead of playing something like a game of chess
or dancing an intellectual ballet.
And palisades,
and pregnant sheep,
and pigs, fast eaters and poor eaters,
and cows cured by incantations.


11
Not the Last Judgment, just a kermess by a river.
Small whistles, clay chickens, candied hearts.
So we trudged through the slush of melting snow
To buy bagels from the district of Smorgonie.


A fortune-teller hawking: 'Your destiny, your planets.'
And a toy devil bobbing in a tube of crimson brine.
Another, a rubber one, expired in the air squeaking,
By the stand where you bought stories of King Otto and Melusine.


12
Why should that city, defenseless and pure as the wedding necklace of
a forgotten tribe, keep offering itself to me?
Like blue and red-brown seeds beaded in Tuzigoot in the copper desert
seven centuries ago.


Where ocher rubbed into stone still waits for the brow and cheekbone
it would adorn, though for all that time there has been no one.


What evil in me, what pity has made me deserve this offering?


It stands before me, ready, not even the smoke from one chimney is
lacking, not one echo, when I step across the rivers that separate us.


Perhaps Anna and Dora Drużyno have called to me, three hundred miles
inside Arizona, because except fo me no one else knows that they ever
lived.


They trot before me on Embankment Street, two hently born parakeets
from Samogitia, and at night they unravel their spinster tresses of gray
hair.


Here there is no earlier and no later; the seasons of the year and of the
day are simultaneous.


At dawn shit-wagons leave town in long rows and municipal employees
at the gate collect the turnpike toll in leather bags.


Rattling their wheels, 'Courier' and 'Speedy' move against the current
to Werki, and an oarsman shot down over England skiffs past, spread-
eagled by his oars.


At St. Peter and Paul's the angels lower their thick eyelids in a smile
over a nun who has indecent thoughts.


Bearded, in a wig, Mrs. Sora Klok sits at the ocunter, instructing her
twelve shopgirls.


And all of German Street tosses into the air unfurled bolts of fabric,
preparing itself for death and the conquest of Jerusalem.


Black and princely, an underground river knocks at cellars of the
cathedral under the tomb of St. Casimir the Young and under the
half-charred oak logs in the hearth.


Carrying her servant's-basket on her shoulder, Barbara, dressed in
mourning, returns from the Lithuanian Mass at St. Nicholas to the
Romers' house in Bakszta Street.


How it glitters! the snow on Three Crosses Hill and Bekiesz Hill, not
to be melted by the breath of these brief lives.


And what do I know now, when I turn into Arsenal Street and open
my eyes once more on a useless end of the world?


I was running, as the silks rustled, through room after room without
stopping, for I believed in the existence of a last door.


But the shape of lips and an apple and a flower pinned to a dress were
all that one was permitted to know and take away.


The Earth, neither compassionate nor evil, neither beautiful nor atro-
cious, persisted, innocent, open to pain and desire.


And the gift was useless, if, later on, in the flarings of distant nights,
there was not less bitterness but more.


If I cannot so exhaust my life and their life that the bygone crying is
transformed, at last, into harmony.


Like a Noble Jan Dęboróg in the Straszun's secondhand-book shop, I am
put to rest forever between tow familiar names.


The castle tower above the leafy tumulus grows small and there is still
a hardly audible—is it Mozart's Requiem?—music.


In the immobile light I move my lips and perhaps I am even glad not
to find the desired word.

Let us not talk philosophy, drop it, Jeanne.
So many words, so much paper, who can stand it.
I told you the truth about my distancing myself.
I've stopped worrying about my misshapen life.
It was no better and no worse than the usual human tragedies.

For over thirty years we have been waging our dispute
As we do now, on the island under the skies of the tropics.
We flee a downpour, in an instant the bright sun again,
And I grow dumb, dazzled by the emerald essence of the leaves.

We submerge in foam at the line of the surf,
We swim far, to where the horizon is a tangle of banana bush,
With little windmills of palms.
And I am under accusation: That I am not up to my oeuvre,
That I do not demand enough from myself,
As I could have learned from Karl Jaspers,
That my scorn for the opinions of this age grows slack.

I roll on a wave and look at white clouds.

You are right, Jeanne, I don't know how to care about the salvation of my soul.
Some are called, others manage as well as they can.
I accept it, what has befallen me is just.
I don't pretend to the dignity of a wise old age.
Untranslatable into words, I chose my home in what is now,
In things of this world, which exist and, for that reason, delight us:
Nakedness of women on the beach, coppery cones of their breasts,
Hibiscus, alamanda, a red lily, devouring
With my eyes, lips, tongue, the guava juice, the juice of la prune de Cythère,
Rum with ice and syrup, lianas-orchids
In a rain forest, where trees stand on the stilts of their roots.

Death, you say, mine and yours, closer and closer,
We suffered and this poor earth was not enough.
The purple-black earth of vegetable gardens
Will be here, either looked at or not.
The sea, as today, will breathe from its depths.
Growing small, I disappear in the immense, more and more free.

In fear and trembling, I think I would fulfill my life
Only if I brought myself to make a public confession
Revealing a sham, my own and of my epoch:
We were permitted to shriek in the tongue of dwarfs and
demons
But pure and generous words were forbidden
Under so stiff a penalty that whoever dared to pronounce one
Considered himself as a lost man.

We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago.Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

"There where that ray touches the plain
And the shadows escape as if they really ran,
Warsaw stands, open from all sides,
A city not very old but quite famous.

"Farther, where strings of rain hang from a little cloud,
Under the hills with an acacia grove
Is Prague. Above it, a marvelous castle
Shored against a slope in accordance with old rules.

"What divides this land with white foam
Is the Alps. The black means fir forests.
Beyond them, bathing in the yellow sun
Italy lies, like a deep-blue dish.

"Among the many fine cities that are there
You will recogni2e Rome, Christendom's capital,
By those round roofs on the church
Called the Basilica of Saint Peter.

"And there, to the north, beyond a bay,
Where a level bluish mist moves in waves,
Paris tries to keep pace with its tower
And reins in its herd of bridges.

"Also other cities accompany Paris,
They are adorned with glass, arrayed in iron,
But for today that would be too much,
I'll tell the rest another time

Burning, he walks in the stream of flickering letters, clarinets,
machines throbbing quicker than the heart, lopped-off heads, silk
canvases, and he stops under the sky

and raises toward it his joined clenched fists.

Believers fall on their bellies, they suppose it is a monstrance that
shines,

but those are knuckles, sharp knuckles shine that way, my friends.

He cuts the glowing, yellow buildings in two, breaks the walls into
motley halves;
pensive, he looks at the honey seeping from those huge honeycombs:
throbs of pianos, children's cries, the thud of a head banging against
the floor.
This is the only landscape able to make him feel.

He wonders at his brother's skull shaped like an egg,
every day he shoves back his black hair from his brow,
then one day he plants a big load of dynamite
and is surprised that afterward everything spouts up in the explosion.
Agape, he observes the clouds and what is hanging in them:
globes, penal codes, dead cats floating on their backs, locomotives.
They turn in the skeins of white clouds like trash in a puddle.
While below on the earth a banner, the color of a romantic rose,
flutters,
and a long row of military trains crawls on the weed-covered tracks.

I don’t remember exactly when Budberg died, it was either two years
ago or three.
The same with Chen. Whether last year or the one before.
Soon after our arrival, Budberg, gently pensive,
Said 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.
Where so little changes you hardly notice how time goes by.
This is, you will see, a magic mountain.”


Budberg: a familiar name in my childhood.
They were prominent in our region,
This Russian family, descendants of German Balts.
I read none of his works, too specialized.
And Chen, I have heard, was an exquisite poet,
Which I must take on faith, for he wrote in Chinese.


Sultry Octobers, cool Julys, trees blossom in February.
Here the nuptial flight of hummingbirds does not forecast spring.
Only the faithful maple sheds its leaves every year.
For no reason, its ancestors simply learned it that way.


I sensed Budberg was right and I rebelled.
So I won’t have power, won’t save the world?
Fame will pass me by, no tiara, no crown?
Did I then train myself, myself the Unique,
To compose stanzas for gulls and sea haze,
To listen to the foghorns blaring down below?


Until it passed. What passed? Life.
Now I am not ashamed of my defeat.
One murky island with its barking seals
Or a parched desert is enough
To make us say: yes, oui, si.
'Even asleep we partake in the becoming of the world.”
Endurance comes only from enduring.
With a flick of the wrist I fashioned an invisible rope,
And climbed it and it held me.


What a procession! Quelles délices!
What caps and hooded gowns!
Most respected Professor Budberg,
Most distinguished Professor Chen,
Wrong Honorable Professor Milosz
Who wrote poems in some unheard-of tongue.
Who will count them anyway. And here sunlight.
So that the flames of their tall candles fade.
And how many generations of hummingbirds keep them company
As they walk on. Across the magic mountain.
And the fog from the ocean is cool, for once again it is July.

We wanted to confess our sins but there were no takers.
White clouds refused to accept them, and the wind
Was too busy visiting sea after sea.
We did not succeed in interesting the animals.
Dogs, disappointed, expected an order,
A cat, as always immoral, was falling asleep.
A person seemingly very close
Did not care to hear of things long past.
Conversations with friends over vodka or coffee
Ought not be prolonged beyond the first sign of boredom.
It would be humiliating to pay by the hour
A man with a diploma, just for listening.
Churches. Perhaps churches. But to confess there what?
That we used to see ourselves as handsome and noble
Yet later in our place an ugly toad
Half-opens its thick eyelid
And one sees clearly: "That's me."

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 agonies.

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 blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out
and stood in the light, lashing his tail.

That's why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion,
though its 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're 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've devised just one more means
of praising Art with thehelp of irony.

There was a time when only wise books were read
helping us to bear our pain and misery.
This, after all, is not quite the same
as leafing through a thousand works fresh from psychiatric clinics.

And yet the world is different from what it seems to be
and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings.
People therefore preserve silent integrity
thus earning the respect of their relatives and neighbors.

The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

What I'm saying here is not, I agree, poetry,
as poems should be written rarely and reluctantly,
under unbearable duress and only with the hope
that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.

The road led straight to the temple.
Notre Dame, though not Gothic at all.
The huge doors were closed. I chose one on the side,
Not to the main building-to its left wing,
The one in green copper, worn into gaps below.
I pushed. Then it was revealed:
An astonishing large hall, in warm light.
Great statues of sitting women-goddesses,
In draped robes, marked it with a rhythm.
Color embraced me like the interior of a purple-brown flower
Of unheard-of size. I walked, liberated
From worries, pangs of conscience, and fears.
I knew I was there as one day I would be.
I woke up serene, thinking that this dream
Answers my question, often asked:
How is it when one passes the last threshold?

 
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