I remember him distinctively as he seemed to like visiting us – students of literature… He was a living legend at that moment, living in Krakow and waving friendly at death which was tangibly close…He would face a crowd of admirers in our university auditorium, seat there and read his poems. Czeslaw Milosz – the great illusionist of words – he must have had an immense fun looking on our naive faces and ever greater enjoyment answering our questions about meanings of his poetry…He bore Mona Lisa’s smile when explaining his poems and when he had finished with that we usually knew much less than before daring to ask. From the time perspective I suppose he tried to teach us a lesson that (against the common conviction that there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers) there are questions which shouldn’t be asked at all…that trying to rationalize and to name all in art/poetry/life is not only naive, sometimes thoughtless, but even lethal for the work/issue under explanation…
I was fighting with my Irish experience, when the news about his death in Krakow came (August, 14 2004). It was one of the saddest days… But then I started to use my memory of him and his poetry to keep me responsible for myself, sane and maturing…I guess that’s what he’s always wished for his readers to be…
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.
(translated from Polish by the Author himself)
What is art which doesn’t save nations and people?
Self-absorbed lie for an aesthetic sake? Pretentious showing-off ? Decorative exercise for talented people to keep them busy? Misunderstanding merely ? Or is it simply a post-modernistic experience, unavoidable in a sense…?
Tell me – you who are smarter/more experienced…Or maybe I’m just being fussy and need to shut up…