Connections with the literary tradition.

What is Milosz's attitude towards the literary tradition? It is differentiated. The traditions of classicism are close to him, whereas he is against the avant-garde, although his debutantes poems were created under its influence.

Against the avant-garde
In Poland, the most popular avant-garde group in the period between the first and the second World War, was the Cracow Avant-garde. Tadeusz Peiper was its theoretician and Julian Przybos - its most interesting poet.
The Cracow Avant-garde Program:
- art should describe the changing reality, the development of civilization,
- break with metaphysics
- break with sentimentalism - impassiveness of feelings
- poetry - it is the construction of beautiful sentences
- use of abbreviations
- intellectual metaphors - force readers to use imagination
In Milosz's poetry one may find much evidence confirming his aversion to the avant-garde. In „Preface" to „Treatise on Poetry" he writes: "And it should contain more than images".
Milosz thinks that art cannot concentrate on itself, cannot focus on aesthetical values, because in his opinion - the duty of art is to serve truth. That is why his turn to classicism seems to be natural.


The present-day neo-classicism is characterized by its connections with the tradition (the Mediterranean culture tradition), with rationalism and stoicism, by the search for the ideal model of human being and as far as form is concerned: by the intentional and careful use of language means;

Milosz, while looking for the ways of expressing the truth and of facing reality, uses classical means of expression: intellectualization of work, irony, clearness and precision of language, logic of syntax, 9-syllable, 11-syllable and 13-syllable verse

Wlodzimerz Maciag, a recognized Polish critic, so describes the idea behind the poem:

“ is the eternal struggle between the individual human being and overwhelming history. This time the former has lost.”


Preface" (Treatise on Poetry)

First, plain speech in the mother tongue.
Hearing it, you should be able to see
Apple trees, a river, the bend of a road,
As if in a flash of summer lightning.

And it should contain more than images.
It has been lured by singsong,
A daydream, melody. Defenseless,
It was bypassed by the sharp, dry world.

You often ask yourself why you feel shame
Whenever you look through a book of poetry.
As if the author, for reasons unclear to you,
Addressed the worse side of your nature,
Pushing aside thought, cheating thought.

Seasoned with jokes, clowning, satire,
Poetry still knows how to please.
Then its excellence is much admired.
But the grave combats where life is at stake
Are fought in prose. It was not always so.

And our regret has remained unconfessed.
Novels and essays serve but will not last.
One clear stanza can take more weight
Than a whole wagon of elaborate pros

The best examples of this technique are poems from the series „A Naive Poem" but one may find the suitable poetical illustrations in all the Nobelist's output. Lets us have a closer look the poem:

Incantation" (City without a Name)

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.

Berkeley 1968

The whole poem is a lofty ode in honor of Reason. The function of the first verse is the thesis: human Reason is the cause of both good and evil. The rest of verses (although not all of them) affirm this opinion. So, one can find out that: thanks to Reason tolerance exists in the world, it is possible to distinguish good from evil. It is Reason which consolidates hope and thanks to it the alliance of good and truth is created. But at some point a problem arises: if the world is governed by Reason, why in the second verse are „pulping of books" or „barbed wire" mentioned?

After all, this is against Reason; besides the most recent history of Europe and the world is commonly known, that is why it is not a secret that such things take place even today.

So, is Milosz - the truth searcher, the advocate of truth in poetry - giving the reins to his imagination? Is he lying? And here the title is very helpful: „Incantation" - it explains everything.- Because the world of the poem is intentional, whereas the lyrical subject knows that violence and contempt win in the world and that Enlightenment ideas, the ideas of classicism exist still in the sphere of dreams, sentences, letters.

The attachment of his poem to classicism is very vivid:

- clear, precise enunciation
- form - ode
- avoiding incomprehensible metaphors
- mentioning values which are considered to be the most important to the European culture

Links:  Milosz - biographies   Milosz poems   Milosz - in the Classroom
The original 1997 version of this page was created by Aleksandra Kolodziejczyk, Iwona Kowalska, and Dariusz Plygawko, students of the Fifth General Education Liceum in Bielsko-Biala. Marcin Tomana and Piotr Kowalski of the School's Informatics faculty and Urszula Zajaczek of the Polish Language faculty, acted as advisors. Linguistic editing of current version by Agata Dybel and Peter K. Gessner.
© 2002 Polish Academic Information Center, University at Buffalo. All rights reserved.


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