Monday, November 17, 2008

I Needed Some Milosz Today...

A few selections from, in my opinion, the greatest of the twentieth century poets, Czeslaw Milosz:

A Study of Loneliness
A guardian of long-distance conduits in the desert?
The one-man crew of a fortress in the sand?
Whoever he was.  At dawn he saw furrowed mountains
The color of ashes, above the melting darkness,
Saturated with violet, breaking into fluid rouge,
Till they stood, immense, in the orange light.
Day after day.  And, before he noticed, year after year.
For whom, he thought, that splendor?  For me alone?
Yet it will be here long after I perish.
What is it in the eye of a lizard?  Or when seen by a migrant bird?
If I am all mankind, are they themselves without me?
And he knew there was no use crying out, for none of them would save him.

I saw Milosz read once whilst working my way into complete and utter "disenchantment with it all" at Westminster College in Salt Lake City during the mid 90's.   Westminster was the recipient of a huge grant...or something, which funds the incredible Anne Newman Sutton Weeks Poetry Series, a program that allowed me to see and even learn from the likes of Mark Strand, Adrienne Rich, Agha Shahid Ali, and Mark Doty, all under the brilliant tutelage of the current Utah Poet Laureate, Katherine Coles.  A pretty amazing atmosphere in which to discover you're not a poet.
  The night with Milosz, though, was incredible, and ever since I've collected pretty much anything he's written that I can get my hands on.

We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago.  Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

And one more:

A gentle tongue lapping
Small chubby knees,
Envoys bringing salt
From a billion-year-old-abyss.
Here are violet thistles,
Peached suns of jellyfish,
Here with airplane fins
And skin of graters, sharks
Visit the museum of death
Under water-towers of crystal.
A dolphin shows from a wave
The face of a black boy,
In the liquid cities of the desert
Graze leviathans.

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