Milosz in the Times Literary Supplement

There’s an article in the Times Literary Supplement this week that focuses on Czeslaw Milosz and his legacy as one of the twentieth centuries great poetic voices. Well worth a read if you’re interested. It’s unusual to have a poet hold such a position of importance in the cultural world as Milosz has, with his work becoming more and more widely read around the world; to quote the article, “Few poets have been feted with such rock-star exuberance as Milosz.”

I was first introduced to his poetry by my wife, who had been an admirer of his work for quite some time. She bought me an edition of his poems, selected by Robert Hass, and once I picked it up I could not put it down. Just this evening I had to pick it up once more to read “A Song On The End Of The World” and “Café”, two poems I particularly love that happen to be on facing pages in the volume. I’m still haunted by the beauty in the image of a bumblebee visiting flower after flower juxtaposed against a backdrop of ending and loss Milosz employs in the former of these two poems. There’s an honesty and precision in his words, something that tells you what you need to know, that you must read.

 

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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