The Moralist and the Philosopher
Short-story writer and philosopher Milosz’s poetry brings also
thoughts of philosophical and moral character. Put in the foreground one can
find the problem of the disintegration of the Universe based on religion,
constant search for God and peace and inner order
MAGPIETY (King Popiel and Others
The same and not quite the same, I walked
through oak forests
Amazed that my Muse, Mnemosyne,
Has in no way
diminished my amazement.
A magpie was screeching and I said:
What is magpiety? I shall never achieve
A magpie heart, a hairy
nostril over the beak, a flight
That always renews just when coming
And so I shall never comprehend magpiety.
If however magpiety does
My nature does not exist either.
Who would have guessed that,
I would invent the dispute of universals?
translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale
I SLEEP A LOT (Bobo's
I sleep a lot and read St. Thomas
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,
the ocean, ocean, till Japan.
To the left dry hills with white
Beyond the hills an irrigated valley where rice is grown,
the valley, mountains and Ponderosa pines,
Beyond the mountains, desert and
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.
courageous. Industrious. Nearly a model of virtue.
But that is good for
I feel a pain.
not here. Even I don't know.
words, bazaars, wooden flutes,
Or too much drinking to the
mirror, without beauty,
Though one was to be a kind of archangel
Saint George, over there, on St. George Street.
Maybe it's too
Please, Medicine Man, I feel a
I always believed in spells and incantations.
Sure, women have only
one, Catholic, soul,
But we have two. When you start to dance
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.
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
And wizards, how they worked during an outbreak of typhus.
second soul beyond the mountains, beyond time.
Tell me what you saw, I will
translated by Czeslaw
The lyrical subject shows the affirmative attitude to the world.
For him the paradise is the garden where he can work and feel worthy. Birds and
flowers supplement this beauty. As far as the message of the poem is concerned,
it can be placed in classicism; aesthetic defines ethics, that is why the outer
beauty softens the wish of possessing, envy, jealous memory, excessive demands
from oneself, pain. Mood of the poem "An Hour" is similar.
AN HOUR (From The Rising of the
Leaves glowing in the sun, zealous hum of
From afar, from somewhere beyond the river, echoes of lingering
And the unhurried sounds of a hammer gave joy not only to
Before the five senses were opened, and earlier than any
They waited, ready, for all those wh6 would call themselves
So that they might praise, as I do, life, that is,
translated by Gzeslaw Milosz
Not all the text of this thematic circle are cheerful. There is
the poem „Oeconomia divina”
OECONOMIA DIVINA (From The Rising of the
I did not expect to live in such an unusual moment.
When the God of thunders and of
The Lord of hosts, Kyrios Sabaoth,
Would humble people to
Allowing them to act whatever way they wished,
Leaving to them
conclusions, saying nothing.
It was a spectacle that was indeed unlike
agelong cycle of royal tragedies.
Roads on concrete pillars, cities of glass
and cast iron,
Airfields larger than tribal dominions
Suddenly ran short
of their essence and disintegrated
Not in a dream but really, for, subtracted
They could only hold on as do things which should not
Out of trees, field stones, even lemons on the table,
escaped and their spectrum
Proved to be a void, a haze on a
Dispossessed of its objects, space was swarming.
nowhere and nowhere, everywhere.
Letters in books turned silver-pale,
wobbled, and faded
The hand was not able to trace the palm sign, the river
sign, or the sign of ibis.
A hullabaloo of many tongues proclaimed the
mortality of the language.
A complaint was forbidden as it complained to
People, afflicted with an incomprehensible distress,
off their clothes on the piazzas so that nakedness might call
But in vain they were longing after horror, pity, and
Neither work nor leisure
Nor the face, nor the
hair nor the loins
Nor any existence.
translated by Caeslaw Milosz
In this poem Milosz appears as a great moralist. The text is
called „The Apocalipse stopped in time”, the picture of the world which fades
the absolute because he „allowed people to act whatever way they wished”; he
left them to themselves. This way the world was deprived of the sacrum and
because of it the world is getting scattered. Everything is deteriorating,
culture has no values, the volumes of the Bible are out of date, words are no
longer able to describe. Man in such a situation lost his hope, took off his
gown „so that nakedness might call for judgement” Nakedness-this is a culture
sign-in medieval iconography of the Last Judgement the figures are naked. This
nakedness may mean either return to primal instincts or the process of getting
rid of the individuality. The message of the text; respecting God’s rules may
protect against chaos, but if people turn their backs on them, everything loses
its sense and this sense may only come from sacrum. Man has to have something
sacred, a kind of moral support, has to respect the rules, otherwise being
absolutely free - will reap chaos.
Very interesting text is the poem „Meaning” writen in
- When I die, I Will see the lining of the world.
The other side, beyond bird,
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
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
- Even if that is so, there will remain
A word wakened by lips that
A tireless messenger who runs and runs
fields, through the revolving galaxies,
And calls out, protests,
translated by Czealaw Milosz
and Robert Hasa
Here appears the question asked by every person man what happens
after death? Does higher Sense exist ? What is the secret of existence ? The
lyrical subject assumes that there are two possibilities - they are expressed in
metaphorical way. The first of them: the after - life does exist („I will see
the lining of the world”) The other one: the after - life does not exist („And
if there is no lining to the world?” „If night and day make no sense following
each other?” And on this earth there is nothing except this earth? But there is
one thing that may be the defense against the sadness of passing away and
temporariness - poetry. It exists because existential questions exist and are
asked on and on. Word - impermanent (precarious, unstable) - will outlive the
person who uttered it; the spirit is stronger than the matter. The reader does
not receive one definite answer, doubt remains. This fade of the dots over the „i”,
multiplying doubts is characteristic for Milosz’s
This page, in its earlier 1997 version (use right mouse to open in new window), 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 Peter K. Gessner.