Encounter

by Czeslaw Milosz (Translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Lillian Vallee)

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.

His Nobel Lecture is worth reading (english | polish)

…by choosing solitude and giving myself to a strange occupation, that is, to writing poems in Polish while living in France or America, I tried to maintain a certain ideal image of a poet, who, if he wants fame, he wants to be famous only in the village or the town of his birth. (…wybieraj±c samotno¶æ i oddaj±c siê dziwacznemu zajêciu jakim jest pisanie wierszy po polsku, choæ mieszka siê we Francji czy w Ameryce, podtrzymywa³em pewien idealny obraz poety, który je¿eli chce byæ s³awny, to tylko w swojej wiosce czy w swoim mie¶cie.)

[…]

Simone Weil, to whose writings I am profoundly indebted, says: “Distance is the soul of beauty.” Yet sometimes keeping distance is nearly impossible. (Simone Weil, której pismom wiele zawdziêczam, powiada: “Dystans jest dusz± piêkna”. Bywa jednak, ¿e jego uzyskanie jest niemal niemo¿liwo¶ci±.)

His poem “So Little” takes an even darker turn from Encounter:

I said so little.
Days were short.

Short days.
Short nights.
Short years.

I said so little.
I couldn’t keep up.

My heart grew weary
From joy,
Despair,
Ardor,
Hope.

The jaws of Leviathan
Were closing upon me.

Naked, I lay on the shores
Of desert islands.

The white whale of the world
Hauled me down to its pit.

And now I don’t know
What in all that was real.

Milosz passed away in August of 2004 in Krakow, Poland. His writing during postwar Europe is said to have influenced many generations by tackling difficult and inherent contradictions in life.

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