Connections with the literary
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
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
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
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
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:
“ ...it is the eternal struggle between the
individual human being and overwhelming history. This time the former has
First, plain speech in the mother tongue.
it, you should be able to see
Apple trees, a river, the bend of a
As if in a flash of summer lightning.
And it should
contain more than images.
It has been lured by singsong,
daydream, melody. Defenseless,
It was bypassed by the sharp, dry
You often ask yourself why you feel shame
look through a book of poetry.
As if the author, for reasons unclear
Addressed the worse side of your nature,
thought, cheating thought.
Seasoned with jokes, clowning,
Poetry still knows how to please.
Then its excellence is
But the grave combats where life is at stake
fought in prose. It was not always so.
And our regret has
Novels and essays serve but will not
One clear stanza can take more weight
Than a whole wagon of
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:
(City without a Name)
Human reason is beautiful and invincible.
bars, no barbed wire, no pulping of books,
No sentence of banishment can
prevail against it.
It establishes the universal ideas in language,
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,
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.
austere and transparent phrases
From the filthy discord of tortured
It says that everything is new under the sun,
Opens the congealed
fist of the past.
Beautiful and very young are Philo-Sophia
her ally in the service of the good.
As late as yesterday Nature celebrated
The news was brought to the mountains by a unicorn and an
Their friendship will be glorious, their time has no limit.
enemies have delivered themselves to destruction.
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
- clear, precise enunciation
- form - ode
- mentioning values which are considered to be
the most important to the European culture
Links: Milosz - biographies Milosz poems Milosz - in the Classroom
© 2002 Polish Academic Information Center, University at Buffalo. All rights reserved.
|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.|