Sunday, January 08, 2017

Czeslaw Milosz

I went through a period about a decade ago of reading a lot of Czeslaw Milosz. Native Realm, especially, stands as a memorable collection of essays, full of powerful meditations on identity, geography, and history. 

Now, for reasons I can't quite explain, I've returned to Milosz. The result of my reading is the same as years ago: a sense of a calm, coupled with a renewed appreciation for reflection and rumination. 

It's interesting, there's a part of Milosz's poetry that's foreign to me, that's fundamentally conservative: focused as it is on faith and stability. In 'Be Like Others,' for instance, Milosz writes of "duties and rituals," of the "patterns of life" made familiar through repetition. Milosz finds solace in these: not least because they afford a sense of permanence in a world overcome by change. 

But there are other parts of Road-Side Dog -- the collection I've just finished -- which move beyond social order, and which attain, I think, a sort of literary transcendence. There are poems here that speak to crimes committed in the name of abstraction. And more: there are brave poems focused on the past and on the origins of those crimes. 

For me, there's one line in particular that stands out from Road-Side Dog, and it comes from a short piece (I hesitate to call it an essay) on the nature of ideas. 

Milosz writes of his consciousness and how it's evolved over time. Indeed, it's that evolution which might be used to mark the passing of time itself. But there's another force in play, he argues, and it's "ignorance." As Milosz ages, his ignorance is different than it was: it's smaller presumably, less pronounced. This, he implies, is the poetry of aging: in our pursuit of knowledge, we plug holes, we fill intellectual gaps -- and in so doing, we leave the world more whole, more complete, than we found it. 

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