Notes: A Czeslaw Milosz Celebration



Take Note: The English-language edition of Andrzej Franaszek’s award-winning biography of Czeslaw Milosz—the great Polish poet and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980—is forthcoming from Harvard University Press on April 24, 2017. In anticipation of its release, we're counting down to publication with one line a day from Milosz's 1978 poem, "Notes." Read along on Twitter, and don't miss our celebration of University Press Poetry all National Poetry Month long!

Andrzej Franaszek’s award-winning biography of Czeslaw Milosz offers a rich portrait of the writer and his troubled century, providing context for a larger appreciation of his work. This English-language edition, translated by Aleksandra Parker and Michael Parker, contains a new introduction by the translators, along with historical explanations, maps, and a chronology.

Note #30: ON THE NEED TO DRAW BOUNDARIES Wretched and dishonest was the sea.

Note #29: REASON TO WONDER The ruler of what elements gave us song to praise birth?

Note #28: ACCORDING TO HERACLITUS The eternally living flame, the measure of all things, just as the measure of wealth is money.

Note #27: LANDSCAPE Unbounded forests flowing with the honey of wild bees.

Note #26:  LANGUAGE Cosmos, i.e., pain raved in me with a diabolic tongue.

Note #25: SUPPLICATION From galactic silence protect us.

Note #24: JUST IN CASE When I curse Fate, it's not me, but the earth in me.

Note #23: FROM THE STORE OF PYTHAGOREAN PRINCIPLES Having left your native land, don't look back, the Erinyes are behind you.

Note #22: HYPOTHESIS If, she said, you wrote in Polish to punish yourself for your sins, you will be saved.

Note #21: PORTRAIT He locked himself in a tower, read ancient authors, fed birds on the terrace. For only in this way could he forget about having to know himself.

Note #20: CONSOLATION Calm down. Both your sins and your good deeds will be lost in oblivion.

Note #19: DO UT DES He felt thankful, so he couldn't not believe in God.

Note #18: THE PERFECT REPUBLIC Right from early morning--the sun has barely made it through the dense maples--they walk contemplating the holy word: Is.

Note #17: THE TEMPTER IN THE GARDEN A still-looking branch, both cold and living.

Note #16: HARMONY Deprived. And why shouldn't you be deprived? Those better than you were deprived.

Note #15: STRONG OR WEAK POINT You were always ready to fall to you knees! Yes, I was always ready to fall to my knees.

Note #14: WHAT ACCOMPANIES US Mountain stream, footbridge with a rail remembered down to the smallest burr on its bark.

Note #13: THE WEST On straw-yellow hills, over a cold blue sea, black bushes of thorny oak.

Note #12: INSCRIPTION TO BE PLACED OVER THE UNKNOWN GRAVE OF L.F. What was doubt in you, lost, what was faith in you, triumphed.

Note #11: EPITAPH You who think of us: they lived only in delusion, Know that we, the People of the Book, will never die.

Note #10: MEMORY AND MEMORY Not to know. Not to remember. With this one hope: That beyond the River Lethe, there is memory, healed.

Note #9: A GOD-FEARING MAN So God heard my request after all, and allowed me to sin in his praise.

Note #8: AIM IN LIFE Oh to cover my shame with regal attire!

Note #7: MEDICINE If not for the revulsion at the smell of his skin, I could think I was a good man.

Note #6: LONGING Not that I want to be a god or a hero. Just to change into a tree, grow for ages, not hurt anyone.

Note #5: MOUNTAINS Wet grass to the knees, in the clearing, raspberry bushes taller than a man, a cloud on the slope, in the cloud a black forest. And shepherds in medieval buskins were coming down as we walked up.

Note #4: IN REVERSE On the ruins of their homes grows a young forest. Wolves are returning and a bear sleeps secure in a raspberry thicket.

Note #3: MORNING We awoke from a sleep of I don't know how many thousand years. An eagle flew in the sun again but it didn't mean the same.

Note #2: ABUNDANT CATCH (LUKE 5: 4-10) On the shore fish toss in the stretched nets of Simon, James, and John. High above, swallows. Wings of butterflies. Cathedrals.

Note #1: HISTORY OF THE CHURCH For two thousand years I have been trying to understand what it was.

Berkeley, 1978