Now in his 88th year, Czeslaw Milosz is a wily, Lithuanian-born Polish poet, whose deft book of short prose poems and aphorisms called Roadside Dog (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) was recently published. Milosz, who won the Nobel Prize in 1980 and divides his time between Berkeley and Kraków, has become something of a large-eyebrowed Buddha in a tweed sport coat, assuming his fame as just another Middle European absurdity. How refreshing to encounter a poet of such maturity and resolve, working in his later years as if to square a final ledger.
Witness the following two poems, printed in their entirety.
IS AWARENESS SUFFICIENT?
There was a time when it seemed to me that it would be
enough to be aware to avoid repetition; i.e., to avoid the fate
of other mortals. What nonsense. And yet the separation of the
body from consciousness, assigning a magic power to con-
sciousness--that it was enough to know and the spell would
be broken--that was not stupid.
To believe you are magnificent. And gradually to discover that
you are not magnificent. Enough labor for one human life.
Roadside Dog begins with the title poem, in which the poet reports on a ride he'd taken in a two-horse wagon, early in the century, through villages and past lakes and fields. Although Milosz recalls the people, now, at the end of the century, it is "the generations of dogs accompanying them in their everyday bustle" that interest him most.
Alert as a roadside dog, Milosz, as much as any poet, has witnessed the twisted and inexorable passing of our age. In this book he wrestles elegantly with his findings, and emerges, ultimately, to give thanks:
Cathedral of my enchantments, autumn wind,
I grew old giving thanks.
Would that it be true for the rest of us.
Bart Schneider is editor ofThe Hungry Mind Review and author of the novelBlue Bossa.