Rescuing poetry.

The poems collected in the volume "Rescue" concern war time hardship. This volume is radically different from "A Poem on frozen time" and "Three winters".

Realistic portrayas dominate the poem through out, unlike the visionary fears and catastrophical moods of the previous volumes.

Miłosz, in contrast to many poets who wrote during the war, does not introduce martyrological motifs. Even the title "Rescue" points out distinct features of the texts included in it. In "Dedication" the poet wrote:

„That I wanted good poetry without knowning it
That I discovered, late, its salutary aim,
In this and only this: I find salution."

Years later in "Family Europe", he recalled 1943, as the year when he cured himself of "the lyrical pain" and "in spite of ruins, created triumphal poetry".

The poem "In Warsaw" is a new expression of the historical tragedy, rebellion against constant recalling of past sufferings, a very severe artistic irony of giving up sadness.

IN WARSAW (Rescue)

What are you doing here, poet, on the ruins
Of St. John's Cathedral this sunny
Day in spring?

What are you thinking here, where the wind
Blowing from the Vistula scatters
The red dust of the rubble?

You swore never to be
A ritual mourner.
You swore never to touch
The deep wounds of your nation
So you would not make them holy
With the accursed holiness that pursues
Descendants for many centuries.

But the lament of Antigone
Searching for her brother
Is indeed beyond the power
Of endurance. And the heart
Is a stone in which is enclosed,
Like an insect, the dark love
Of a most unhappy land.
I did not want to love so.
That was not my design.
I did not want to pity so.
That was not my design.
My pen is lighter
Than a hummingbird's feather. This burden
Is too much for it to bear.
How can I live in this country
Where the foot knocks against
The unburied bones of kin?

I hear voices, see smiles. I cannot
Write anything; five hands
Seize my pen and order me to write
The story of their lives and deaths.
Was I born to become
a ritual mourner?
I want to sing of festivities,
The greenwood into which Shakespeare
Often took me. Leave
To poets a moment of happiness,
Otherwise your world will perish.

It's madness to live without joy
And to repeat to the dead
Whose part was to be gladness
Of action in thought and in the flesh, singing, feasts
Only the two salvaged words:
Truth and justice.

Warsaw, 1945

translated by Czeslaw Milosz,
Robert Hass and Madeline Levine

The whole text is a dialogue between the lyrical subject (the poet) and he himself. It takes place in Warsaw ruined by the war. The whole text concerns poetry. In the old days (before the war) the hero created his own poetical program, he wanted to create poetry free from martyrology, he was not going to mithologize national defeats, he did not want to be "a virtual mourner".

Unfortunately, the nation survived a tragedy which he cannot neglect. He realizes how difficult it is to write about joy in a country where so many people were killed. This is the cause of his dramatic dilemma: duties versus wish to put his poetic dreams into practice. It may seem that in such a situation his previous program has to be rejected, but it is not really so, after all there is an appeal:

„Leave to poets a moment of happiness,

Otherwise your world will perish"


This page, in its earlier 1997 version (use right mouse to open in new window), was created by Aleksandra Kolodziejczyk, Iwona Kowalska, and Dariusz Plygawko, students of the Fifth General Education Liceum in Bielsko-Biala. Marcin Tomana and Piotr Kowalski of the School's Informatics faculty and Urszula Zajaczek of the Polish Language faculty, acted as advisors. Linguistic editing of current version by Agata Dybel and Peter K. Gessner.


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