Czeslaw Milosz was a Polish poet and writer who lived in America for the second half of his life. In 1980, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He wrote a number of poems about World War Two that are searingly honest and painful and in places self-critical; no one is spared. Poland was the victim of German aggression but the full story is complex as all stories of war are complex. For example, in the months before the war, Poland participated in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. Poland was completely unprepared for war and was famous for sending horses out against German tanks. On the other hand, France and England entered World War Two because of the attack on Poland but they never came to its aid; soon, they were fighting for their own survival and although the Allies eventually prevailed, the sovereignty of Poland was not fully restored until decades later.
Milosz was in Poland during the duration of the occupation and wrote the following poem in 1945; years later, he translated the poem into English.Dedication
You whom I could not save
Listen to me.
Try to understand this simple speech as I would be ashamed
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
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 officials lies,
A song of drunkards of whose throats will be cut in a moment,
Readings for sophmore 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.
—Czelaw Milosz, 1945
Labels: Friday Night Poetry