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Written by Czeslaw Milosz | Create an image from this poem

Child of Europe

 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.
Written by Czeslaw Milosz | Create an image from this poem

A Hall

 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?
Written by Czeslaw Milosz | Create an image from this poem

Unde Malum

 Where does evil come from?
It comes
from man
always from man
only from man
- Tadeusz Rozewicz
Alas, dear Tadeusz,
good nature and wicked man
are romantic inventions
you show us this way
the depth of your optimism
so let man exterminate
his own species
the innocent sunrise will illuminate
a liberated flora and fauna
where oak forests reclaim
the postindustrial wasteland
and the blood of a deer
torn asunder by a pack of wolves
is not seen by anyone
a hawk falls upon a hare
without witness
evil disappears from the world
and consciousness with it
Of course, dear Tadeusz,
evil (and good) comes from man.
Written by Czeslaw Milosz | Create an image from this poem

Incantation

 Human reason is beautiful and invincible.
No bars, no barbed wire, no pulping of books, No sentence of banishment can prevail against it.
It establishes the universal ideas in language, And guides our hand so we write Truth and Justice With capital letters, lie and oppression with small.
It puts what should be above things as they are, Is an enemy of despair and a friend of hope.
It does not know Jew from Greek or slave from master, Giving us the estate of the world to manage.
It saves austere and transparent phrases From the filthy discord of tortured words.
It says that everything is new under the sun, Opens the congealed fist of the past.
Beautiful and very young are Philo-Sophia And poetry, her ally in the service of the good.
As late as yesterday Nature celebrated their birth, The news was brought to the mountains by a unicorn and an echo.
Their friendship will be glorious, their time has no limit.
Their enemies have delivered themselves to destruction.
Written by Czeslaw Milosz | Create an image from this poem

A Poem For the End of the Century

 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.
Written by Czeslaw Milosz | Create an image from this poem

Account

 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, thought 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.
Written by Czeslaw Milosz | Create an image from this poem

Ars Poetica?

 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.
Written by Czeslaw Milosz | Create an image from this poem

I Sleep a Lot

 I sleep a lot and read St.
Thomas Aquinas Or The Death of God (that's a Protestant book).
To the right the bay as if molten tin, Beyond the bay, city, beyond the city, ocean, Beyond the ocean, ocean, till Japan.
To the left dry hills with white grass, Beyond the hills an irrigated valley where rice is grown, Beyond the valley, mountains and Ponderosa pines, Beyond the mountains, desert and sheep.
When I couldn't do without alcohol, I drove myself on alcohol, When I couldn't do without cigarettes and coffee, I drove myself On cigarettes and coffee.
I was courageous.
Industrious.
Nearly a model of virtue.
But that is good for nothing.
I feel a pain.
not here.
Even I don't know.
many islands and continents, words, bazaars, wooden flutes, Or too much drinking to the mirror, without beauty, Though one was to be a kind of archangel Or a Saint George, over there, on St.
George Street.
Please, Doctor, Not here.
No, Maybe it's too Unpronounced Please, Medicine Man, I feel a pain.
I always believed in spells and incantations.
Sure, women have only one, Catholic, soul, But we have two.
When you start to dance You visit remote pueblos in your sleep And even lands you have never seen.
Put on, I beg you, charms made of feathers, Now it's time to help one of your own.
I have read many books but I don't believe them.
When it hurts we return to the banks of certain rivers.
I remember those crosses with chiseled suns and moons And wizards, how they worked during an outbreak of typhus.
Send your second soul beyond the mountains, beyond time.
Tell me what you saw, I will wait.
Written by Czeslaw Milosz | Create an image from this poem

What Does It Mean

 It does not know it glitters
It does not know it flies
It does not know it is this not that.
And, more and more often, agape, With my Gauloise dying out, Over a glass of red wine, I muse on the meaning of being this not that.
Just as long ago, when I was twenty, But then there was a hope I would be everything, Perhaps even a butterfly or a thrush, by magic.
Now I see dusty district roads And a town where the postmaster gets drunk every day Melancholy with remaining identical to himself.
If only the stars contained me.
If only everything kept happening in such a way That the so-called world opposed the so-called flesh.
Were I at least not contradictory.
Alas.
Written by Czeslaw Milosz | Create an image from this poem

On Prayer

 You ask me how to pray to someone who is not.
All I know is that prayer constructs a velvet bridge And walking it we are aloft, as on a springboard, Above landscapes the color of ripe gold Transformed by a magic stopping of the sun.
That bridge leads to the shore of Reversal Where everything is just the opposite and the word 'is' Unveils a meaning we hardly envisioned.
Notice: I say we; there, every one, separately, Feels compassion for others entangled in the flesh And knows that if there is no other shore We will walk that aerial bridge all the same.
Written by Czeslaw Milosz | Create an image from this poem

Dedication

 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.
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At a Certain Age

 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.
"
Written by Czeslaw Milosz | Create an image from this poem

Meaning

 When I die, I will see the lining of the world.
The other side, beyond bird, mountain, sunset.
The true meaning, ready to be decoded.
What never added up will add Up, What was incomprehensible will be comprehended.
- And if there is no lining to the world? If a thrush on a branch is not a sign, But just a thrush on the branch? If night and day Make no sense following each other? And on this earth there is nothing except this earth? - Even if that is so, there will remain A word wakened by lips that perish, A tireless messenger who runs and runs Through interstellar fields, through the revolving galaxies, And calls out, protests, screams.
Written by Czeslaw Milosz | Create an image from this poem

Conversation with Jeanne

 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 Cyth?re, 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.
Written by Czeslaw Milosz | Create an image from this poem

Campo di Fiori

 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.