THE LAUREATE: Czeslaw Milosz was born in 1911 in Szetejnie, a village in what is now Lithuania. He studied in Paris and returned to Poland before the war started, during which he was a member of the Polish resistance. After the war, he was a Polish cultural attache and later defected to the US. He was a professor at UC Berkeley from 1961-1998. When he died in Krakow in 2004, he was buried with great ceremony, and 2011, the centenary of his birth, was a major event in Poland.
WHAT I’M READING: As much of Collected and Last Poems as I can manage.
REVIEW: The 20th century weighed heavily on Milosz’ mind. As a species, we did horrible things to each other on a large scale and with bureaucratic efficiency inconceivable to previous generations. Ruining and ending human life so expertly exposed the perverse lie of modernity, that the organization of human force and intellect will drastically elevate the lives of every person on the planet. The poems that Milosz selected for this volume, which was only expanded with his final poems in 2011, span his whole life and show a clear progression in his attempts to process the horrors of our century. At first, in the poems during and immediately after World War II, he is angry at the world for allowing Auschwitz, and by analogue the entire Holocaust, to happen. As time passed, though, he was more reconciled to the whole thing, although he was also somewhat surprised that humanity could carry on the way it did, the trauma of the first half of the century fading and even lost on the generations that succeeded his.
WHAT’S NEXT: The Locas Mujeres poems of Gabriela Mistral