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Archive for the ‘Czeslaw Milosz’ Category

Screen Shot 2015-12-19 at 10.13.07 AMAfter my last post, a depressing take on the holiday season, I feel like Bad Santa or Bad Party Guest, someone who hurries out the door after leaving the toilet clogged. Before December 25 rolls around, I want to clear the air, so to speak, with something more festive.

(Also because I got a concerned email from an old friend, bless her, hoping that my life is turning out okay.)

 

So here’s a picture of a card I got from another friend, the card being every bit as nice as the gift it accompanied. My friend was inspired by the online celebrations of Jane Austen’s birthday to copy down a few choice Austen quotes.

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Merry Christmas and/or Happy New Year to all! Enjoy friends and dancing and Jane Austen if you have time.

 

I’ll leave you with these lines from a Czeslaw Misosz poem (complete poem printed below):

It is true. We have a beautiful time

As long as time is time at all.

My mom, enjoying time

My mom, enjoying time

 

The Mistake

by Czeslaw Milosz

I thought: all this is only preparation
For learning, at last, how to die.
Mornings and dusks, in the grass under a maple
Laura sleeping without pants, on a headrest of raspberries,
While Filon, happy, washes himself in the stream.
Mornings and years. Every glass of wine,
Laura, and the sea, land, and archipelago
Bring us nearer, I believed, to one aim
And should be used with a thought to that aim.

But a paraplegic in my street
Whom they move together with his chair
From shade into sunlight, sunlight into shade,
Looks at a cat, a leaf, the chrome steel on an auto,
And mumbles to himself, “Beau temps, beau temps.”

It is true. We have a beautiful time
As long as time is time at all.

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If I had any sense I’d be in the kitchen right now, chopping and endlessly washing mixing bowls and spatulas. Instead I’m sitting at the computer. I’ll pay for it tomorrow with panic and exhaustion, but meantime, here’s a few poems for Thanksgiving.

 

At the grocery store I left Czeslaw Milosz’s”Encounter” in an empty aisle  where I would encounter no one, next to one of Paul Newman’s products.

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O my love, where are they, where are they going–  sounds like a lovelier version of what my husband and I say to each other after the too-quickly-grown-up kids leave home after the weekend.

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(The words that got cut off in the picture are “at dawn.” Sorry for that.)

 

Outside another grocery store (because one grocery store is never enough for Thanksgiving preparations), I left e.e. cummings’ poem in an abandoned grocery cart. Maybe it was mine. (Poem is to the right of the “Ayar” ad, on the seat of the grocery cart.)

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i thank You God for most this amazing/day could be the start of dinner time grace. Little kids might like the twisty-ness of the lines.

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Still at the grocery store, I put Emily Dickinson’s “I’ll Tell You How the Sun Rose” by a credit card machine at the check-out.

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I’ve long had a few lines of this poem committed to memory

I’ll tell you how the sun rose,–

A Ribbon at a time–

 

and this, one of my favorite images from any poem, ever

The Hills untied their Bonnets–

 

The beauty of that, when I see it and when I read it here, fills me with gratitude for the world as it is and the world as only a poet can see it.

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Finally, I left Wislawa Szymborska’s “Vietnam” at Starbucks. Where I was sitting for over an hour, once again not cooking.

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What does the agony in “Vietnam” have to do with Thanksgiving? It’s a reminder. As we gather with family and friends to enjoy a bounty of food and the comfort of safe shelter, let’s remember those who have none of those things. Let’s give our thanks for what we have and leave space in our hearts for victims of war, for refugees losing hope–

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And in the last few minutes before I give myself over to cooking, let me thank all you dear readers and commentators. I am so grateful for your readership and support.

 

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

 

 

 

 

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poem is on twiggy branch

poem is on twiggy branch

 

This Morning

by Javier Galvez

 

This morning

The sun broke

my window

and came in laughing

 

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Along the same path:

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Poem is in center-right of photo. Poem Elf is in black.

 

Gift

by Czeslaw Milosz

 

A day so happy.

Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.

Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.

There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.

I knew no one worth my envying him.

Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.

To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.

In my body I felt no pain.

When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

 

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I just returned from beautiful New Jersey (yes, beautiful: it’s much more a garden state than an armpit) visiting my sister Wizzie.  All weekend I was charmed watching her children play outside.  A slight chill kept me indoors, observing them through the glass, but spring sunshine made the front yard irresistible to them.  My four-year old niece Emily has a presence somewhere between a fairy and an imp, both creatures most comfortable in open air. I could have watched her play for days on end.  She’d ride her scooter back and forth on the driveway, singing, laughing, sometimes frowning.  Then she’d hop off to examine the dirt or to sit talking to herself.  At one point she knelt on the front stoop, hands folded, eyes closed, praying to the “Mother of God,” as she later admitted, for favors unknown.

 

Watching her made me think about how little time I spend outdoors and how disengaged I can be when I am.  Sometimes when I’m outside it’s as if I’m checking off a list: soak up Vitamin D, check; feel gratitude for cumulus clouds, check; raise heart rate hiking up hill, check; detox lungs with cold winter air, check; and so on.  It’s a far more detached experience of nature than I had as a little girl, playing with bugs and shouting in the wind.

 

That’s why I’m so drawn to  “This Morning” and “Gift.”  Both poems describe a communion with the natural world I miss.

 

ImageThe first poem, even though the setting is indoors, captures that childlike delight in the aliveness of everything out of doors.  One of my favorite chapters in the wonderful P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins series covers a similar theme.  Seven-month old twins John and Barbara Banks, the younger siblings of Jane and Michael, lie in their cribs talking to a starling, the wind, the sun, and of course, to Mary Poppins.  The conversation is not a back-and-forth of baby babble and bird warbling, but a fully grammatical and meaningful communication.

 

“How soft, how sweet you are! I love you,” said Barbara, holding out her hands to its shining warmth.

 

“Good girl,” said the sunlight approvingly, and moved up over her cheeks and into her hair with a light caressing movement.  “Do you like the feel of me?” it said, as though it loved being praised.

 

“Dee-licious!” said Barbara, with a happy sigh.

 

Later, the twins are devastated to hear that in just a few months, when they turn one, these conversations will end.  Barbara asks Mary Poppins if she won’t be able to hear the wind anymore once her teeth come in. Mary Poppins answers with what could be a battle cry for poets everywhere:

 

“You’ll hear all right,” said Mary Poppins, “but you won’t understand.’

 

The idea that some joyful knowledge was forgotten in growing up was an entrancing idea for a girl like me who didn’t want to give up fairy tales, who looked at adolescence as loss and adulthood as the end of fun.

 

The poet’s relationship with nature in the second poem, “Gift,” is less one of giddy happiness than equanimity.  The poet works in his garden by the sea with great contentment.  Maybe it’s my age, but I’m beginning to value contentment over happiness.   It’s is the more reliable sister, the one who stays after the party to help with the dishes when happiness has flown out the door for the next gig.

 

Milosz’s contentment has a Buddhist flavor.  He’s content because he’s detached from those things that cause suffering: in order, greed, envy, bitterness, and regret. With the lifting of the fog, his vision is clear.  He’s focused on the present, not on the past or the future. It’s a cliché these days to say every day’s a gift but it probably wasn’t in 1971 when Milosz wrote the poem, and somehow even today he makes that idea as fresh as the New Jersey spring I wish would come to Michigan.

 

I left the poems on a nature trail a block from my sister’s house.  After sticking the poems on tree branches, I sat down to tea and scones with three of my sisters and my mother while my brother-in-law prepared bacon and eggs in the kitchen. I knew how lucky I was.  Like Milosz, I had no desire to be anywhere else or be anybody else.  Our time together was brief and all the more valuable for that.  A day so happy.

 

I found “This Morning” in an old college anthology of my sister’s, but I can’t find out much about poet Javier Galvez. I can only tell you he was born in 1947 and is probably a Mexican poet and wrote a book called Encanto Chicano.  Anyone know anything more?

 

Czeslaw Milosz by Faber BooksI wrote about Czeslaw Milosz in an earlier post.  If you don’t mind, I’ll just copy the biographical sketch I wrote previously:

 

Although Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004) was born in Lithuania, he considered himself a Polish writer, Polish being the language his family spoke for centuries.  He grew up under Csarist rule, and later lived under Nazi occupation, during which time he worked for the resistance, and finally survived Stalinist rule before becoming an American citizen.  Fellow Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney described Milosz as “among those members of humankind who have had the ambiguous privilege of knowing and standing more reality than the rest of us.”

Milosz is considered one of the great minds and poets of the 20th century.  Fluent in five languages, he translated the Old Testament, Shakespeare and Whitman into Polish, taught Slavic languages at Berkley, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. His face has been put on a Polish postage stamp.  He’s honored in a Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem and has a poem inscribed on a memorial to shipyard workers killed by Communists in Gdansk.

 

Because the poem has Buddhist overtones to me, I was interested (as I always am) in the poet’s spiritual side.  He was Catholic, but did not want to be considered a Catholic poet.  For those interested in his Catholicism, you can read his discussion of belief here.  The essay is from 1982, long before the abuse scandals, so when he writes of the “remarkable successes of American Catholicism,” he’s not being sarcastic.

 

 

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“Tomber amoureux. To fall in love. Does it occur suddenly or gradually? If gradually, when is the moment “already”? I would fall in love with a monkey made of rags. With a plywood squirrel. With a botanical atlas. With an oriole. With a ferret. With a marten in a picture. With the forest one sees to the right when riding in a cart to Jaszuny. With a poem by a little-known poet. With human beings whose names still move me. And always the object of love was enveloped in erotic fantasy or was submitted, as in Stendhal, to a “cristallisation,” so it is frightful to think of that object as it was, naked among the naked things, and of the fairy tales about it one invents. Yes, I was often in love with something or someone. Yet falling in love is not the same as being able to love. That is something different.

— Falling in Love, Czeslaw Milosz

 

I was urging my husband to try on a pair of suede saddle shoes when I made my most recent discovery about men: “adorable” is not a word they want to be associated with.  Perhaps the word calls up embarrassing memories of the last time they let their mothers dress them.

 

But there’s not a better label for a man carrying a poem in his wallet, so at the risk of offending the owner of the thumb in the picture above and all carriers of wallet poems, I say, is this adorable or what? Adorable that the poem means so much to this man that he carries it close to his person, and from the looks of it and the date the poem was first published in the New Yorker (2004), he has carried it around for years.

 

Here he is with his wife, my friend Lynn.  I won’t say the offensive word, but how can you not think it when you look at the two of them together, beaming after 24 years of marriage?

 

Lynn and Marc

I spoke with Marc at a book reading of another friend (you can link to her site here), and while we were discussing my poem-elfing habits (I swear I’m not such an insufferable bore that I brought it up), he lifted this delicate, creased paper from his wallet to show me.  What he was most taken with was the end:

Yet falling in love is not the same as being able to love.

 

I can see why the line deserves wallet space.  It’s almost an aphorism and could serve as a mirror, a compass or guideline. I can’t follow the whole of this prose poem—I’m lost on the frightfulness of the object as it was and what it means to submit to Stendhal’s crystallization–but I can trail close enough behind to arrive at Milosz’s destination:

falling in love is not the same as being able to love. That is something different.

 

After the feverish list of all the objects and people Milosz has fallen in love with in his life, the calm certainty of the final lines settles and focuses the whole piece.

 

Here’s an entertaining exercise: list everything you’ve ever fallen in love with, and notice that falling in love with people and falling in love with things are in the same category, as in Milosz’s list. The manmade silly love objects like a plywood squirrel, and the lovelier natural things like a forest seen from a cart, are on the same level as falling in love with a person.  Falling in love with either people or things happens passively. We’re struck by whimsy, charm or beauty, and we fall.  While I have never fallen in love with a ferret, just yesterday I met a beautiful young girl at a café and fell in love with her name:  Sophia Cinnamon (This could be a phonetic spelling, but I prefer it.) Nothing is required of me in my enjoyment of her name.  Sophia Cinnamon!  But being able to love is a quality that will require action.

 

The perspective that comes from separating falling in love from being able to love comes as a relief.  It’s a relief to let superficial feelings come and go. This perspective reminds me of conversations I’ve had with my teens about their moods and love dramas.  Don’t worry so much about it, I say.  Things pass.  It’s normal.  Milosz has a Zen-like, meditative sensibility that allows swooning feelings but doesn’t invest in them.

CZESLAW MILOSZ by RINO BIANCHI

Milosz's brain power seems to have fried his eyebrows

 

Although Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004) was born in Lithuania, he considered himself a Polish writer, Polish being the language his family spoke for centuries.  He grew up under Csarist rule, and later under Nazi occupation, during which time he worked for the resistance, and finally under Stalinist rule before becoming an American citizen.  Fellow Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney described Milosz as “among those members of humankind who have had the ambiguous privilege of knowing and standing more reality than the rest of us.”

 

Milosz is considered one of the great minds and poets of the 20th century.  Fluent in five languages, he translated the Old Testament, Shakespeare and Whitman into Polish, taught Slavic languages at Berkley, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. His face has been put on a Polish postage stamp.  He’s honored in a Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem and has a poem inscribed on a memorial to shipyard workers killed by Communists in Gdansk.

 

Most relevant to this poem, however, is the fact that he was married to his first wife for 42 years before she died.  He was married to his second wife for ten years before he was widowed again.

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