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Czeslaw Milosz


Czeslaw Milosz was born to Weronika and Aleksander Milosz on June 30, 1911, in Szetejnie, Lithuania (then under the domination of the Russian tsarist government). After the outbreak of World War I, Aleksander Milosz was drafted into the Tsar's army, and as a combat engineer he built bridges and fortifications in front-line areas. His wife and son accompanied him in his constant travels throughout Russia. The family returned to Lithuania until 1918, settling in Wilno (then a part of Poland; also called Vilnius or Vilna).

Milosz graduated from high school in 1929, and in 1930 his first poems were published in Alma Mater Vilnenis, a university magazine. In 1931 he cofounded the Polish avant-garde literary group "Zagary"; his first collection of verse appeared in 1933. In 1934 he earned a master of law degree and traveled to Paris on a fellowship from the National Culture Fund. In 1936 he began working as a literary programmer for Radio Wilno. He was dismissed for his leftist views the following year and, after a trip to Italy, took a job with Polish Radio in Warsaw. He spent most of World War II in Nazi-occupied Warsaw working for underground presses.

After the war, he came to the United States as a diplomat for the Polish communist government, working at the Polish consulate first in New York City, then in Washington D. C. In 1950 he was transferred to Paris, and the following year he requested and received political asylum. He spent the next decade in Paris as a freelance writer. In 1953 he published The Captive Mind (Alfred A. Knopf), and his novel, The Seizure of Power (Criterion Books, 1955), received the Prix Littéraire European from the Swiss Book Guild. In 1960 he moved to the United States to become a lecturer in Polish literature at the University of California at Berkeley. He later became professor of Slavic languages and literature. He did not visit Poland again until 1981.

In 1980, Milosz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. His other honors include an award for poetry translations from the Polish PEN Center in Warsaw, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. He has written virtually all of his poems in his native Polish, although his work was banned in Poland until after he won the Nobel Prize. He has also translated the works of other Polish writers into English, and has cotranslated his own works with such poets as Robert Hass and Robert Pinsky. His translations into Polish include portions of the Bible (from Hebrew and Greek) and works by Charles BaudelaireT. S. EliotJohn MiltonWilliam Shakespeare, Simone Weil, and Walt Whitman. He died on August 14, 2004.


Selected Bibliography

Second Space: New Poems (Ecco Press, 2004)
New and Collected Poems, 1931–2001 (Ecco Press, 2001)
Facing the River: New Poems (Ecco Press, 1995)
Provinces (Ecco Press, 1991)
The Collected Poems, 1931–1987 (Ecco Press, 1988)  
Unattainable Earth (Ecco Press, 1986)
Bells in Winter (Ecco Press, 1978)
Selected Poems (Seabury Press, 1973)
The Captive Mind (Alfred A. Knopf, 1953)

To Begin Where I Am: Selected Essays (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001)
The Land of Ultro (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984)
The Witness of Poetry (Harvard University Press, 1983)
Nobel Lecture (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980)
Emperor of the Earth: Modes of Eccentric Vision (University of California Press, 1977)
The Seizure of Power (Criterion Books, 1955)

Czeslaw Milosz

By This Poet



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

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,
and a long row of military trains crawls on the weed-covered tracks.

Wilno, 1931


A Song on the End of the World

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:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.

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