Authors: Czesław Miłosz

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Polish poet, essayist, and memoirist

Author Works

Poetry

Poemat o czasie zastygłym, 1933

Trzy zimy, 1936

Wiersze, 1940 (as J. Syruć)

Ocalenie, 1945

Światlo dzienne, 1953

Traktat poetycki, 1957 (A Treatise on Poetry, 2001)

Król Popiel i inne wiersze, 1962

Gucio zaczarowany, 1964

Wiersze, 1967

Miasto bez imienia, 1969 (Selected Poems, 1973)

Gdzie wschodzi słońce i kędy zapada, 1974

Utwory poetyckie, 1976

Bells in Winter, 1978

Poezje, 1981

Hymn o perle, 1982

The Separate Notebooks, 1984

Nieobjęta ziemia, 1984 (Unattainable Earth, 1986)

The Collected Poems, 1931-1987, 1988

Provinces, 1991

Facing the River: New Poems, 1995

Wieraze wybrane, 1996

Piesek przydrozny, 1997 (Road-side Dog, 1998)

Poezje wybrane–Selected Poems, 1998

To, 2000

New and Collected Poems, 1931-2001, 2001

Long Fiction:

Zdobycie władzy, 1953 (The Seizure of Power, 1955)

Dolina Issy, 1955 (The Issa Valley, 1981)

Nonfiction:

Zniewolony umysł, 1953 (criticism; The Captive Mind, 1953)

Kontynenty, 1958

Rodzinna Europa, 1959 (autobiography; Native Realm: A Search for Self-Definition, 1968)

Człowiek wśród skorpionów, 1962 (criticism)

Widzenia nad zatoką San Francisco, 1969 (Views from San Francisco Bay, 1982)

The History of Polish Literature, 1969, enlarged 1983

Prywatne obowiązki, 1972

Emperor of the Earth: Modes of Eccentric Vision, 1977

Ziemia Ulro, 1977 (The Land of Ulro, 1984)

Ogród nauk, 1979

Świadectwo poezji, 1983 (criticism; The Witness of Poetry, 1983)

Zaczynając od moich ulic, 1985 (Beginning with My Streets: Essays and Recollections, 1991)

Rok myśliwego, 1990 (A Year of the Hunter, 1994)

Abecadlo Miłosza, 1997 (Miłosz’s ABCs, 2001)

Striving Towards Being: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Czesław Miłosz, 1997

To Begin Where I Am: The Selected Prose of Czesław Milosz, 2001

Edited Texts:

Pieśńniepoldlegla, 1942

Postwar Polish Poetry: An Anthology, 1965, revised 1983

With the Skin: Poems of Aleksander Wat, 1989

A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry, 1996

Biography

Czesław Miłosz (MEE-wohsh) is one of the greatest twentieth century Polish poets and essayists and one of the most important figures in world literature of his age. He was born on his family’s estate of Šeteiniai (sometimes spelled Szetejnie) in provincial Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire) on June 30, 1911, the son of the engineer Aleksandr Miłosz and his wife, Weronika (née Kunat). Between 1913 and 1918 the family lived in Siberia, where Aleksandr Miłosz held a job. They returned to Šeteiniai in the year of the rebirth of the independent Polish state (1918), which incorporated this part of Lithuania for the next twenty years.{$I[AN]9810000931}{$I[A]Mi{lstrok}osz, Czes{lstrok}aw[Milosz, Czeslaw]}{$S[A]Syru{cacute}, J.[Syruc, J];Mi{lstrok}osz, Czes{lstrok}aw}{$I[geo]POLAND;Mi{lstrok}osz, Czes{lstrok}aw[Milosz, Czeslaw]}{$I[tim]1911;Mi{lstrok}osz, Czes{lstrok}aw[Milosz, Czeslaw]}

Czesław Miłosz, Nobel Laureate in Literature for 1980.

(© The Nobel Foundation)

Miłosz spent his youth, for the most part, in the city of Wilno (sometimes spelled Vilna or Vilnius), where he came to study, in 1921, at the King Zygmunt August High School and then, from 1929 on, at King Stefan Batory University. In the 1930’s Wilno, a largely Polish city with rich traditions and a lively multinational culture, was increasingly affected by economic, political, and ethnic tensions. Miłosz, who majored in law, gravitated toward the left wing of the student community. In 1930 he made his writing debut in a student journal, and a year later, together with several fellow poets and critics, he founded a literary group called Żagary. The group, radically leftist in its political outlook and catastrophist in its shared poetic vision, was soon to be recognized as the most important component of the so-called Second Avant-garde, a larger generational movement that offered a literary response to the crisis of the 1930’s. In 1931 Miłosz made his first trip to Paris, where he met his distant relative the French Symbolist poet Oscar V. de L. Milosz, who was to influence considerably his creative development.

Marked by social protest, Miłosz’s first collection, Poemat o czasie zastygłym (a poem on frozen time), was published in 1933. He graduated from the university in 1934 and spent the next year in Paris; after his return to Poland in 1935, he took a job as an editor in the Wilno office of Polish Radio. In 1936 his second book of poems, Trzy zimy (three winters), was published to critical acclaim. Miłosz’s leftist leanings, however, made him suspect in the eyes of his superiors; in 1937 he lost his Wilno job and moved to Warsaw, where he found shelter in the more liberal central office of Polish Radio and immersed himself in the capital’s literary life.

When World War II broke out, Miłosz escaped from Nazi-bombed Warsaw to Wilno, where he was soon captured by the Soviet army. Only several months later did he manage to return clandestinely to Warsaw, where he stayed for the next several years, making his living with odd jobs while also writing, translating English poetry (among other things, T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, 1922), and publishing his work underground. The Warsaw Uprising of 1944 forced him out of Warsaw. After the imposition of Communist rule, he worked for a while as an editor in Kraków. Between 1945 and 1949, he served as a cultural attaché in Washington, D.C., New York, and Paris. Meanwhile, in 1945 his extensive collection of mostly wartime poems, Ocalenie(rescue), appeared, and in 1948 his long poem “Traktat moralny” (treatise on morals) was published by the literary press. “Traktat moralny” already reflected Miłosz’s growing disappointment with the postwar political order; however, the poems he wrote at this point–some of them overtly critical–remained for the most part unpublished until the appearance in 1953 of his first émigré collection, Światło dzienne (daylight).

Toward the end of 1950, the poet was summoned to Warsaw, where the authorities revoked his passport. It took him weeks to obtain permission to leave Poland for the West to rejoin his family. While in Paris at the beginning of 1951, he decided to ask for political asylum.

The next decade was a particularly difficult period: Distrusted by the conservative Polish émigré community as well as by the largely pro-Stalinist French Left, Miłosz was also viciously slandered by the official media in Poland. The attacks grew particularly rabid after the publication of his study of the capitulation of Eastern European intellectuals to Stalinism, The Captive Mind, and his political novel The Seizure of Power, both in 1953. The Captive Mind in particular was widely translated and discussed. During his ten years in France, Miłosz also produced a nostalgic novel on his Lithuanian childhood, The Issa Valley (an autobiographical work taking his own experience as exemplary of that of Eastern Europe), the autobiographical Native Realm, and a long treatise in verse on poetry’s relations with nature and history, A Treatise on Poetry. Already he was in the process of broadening the immediate concerns of his writing into the all-encompassing system of poetic metaphysics that has been the most striking feature of his work in its later phase.

From 1961 to his retirement in 1978, Miłosz was offered a position as professor of Slavic literatures at the University of California at Berkeley, and he made his permanent home there. After settling in California, he published a number of major books of poems in Polish and a rich variety of prose works, ranging from intellectual autobiography to a textbook on the history of Polish literature; in addition, he became active as a translator. Many of his works, both poetry and prose, have appeared in English translation. Increasingly, Miłosz was recognized as a poet on the international scene, winning the Neustadt International Literary Prize in 1978 and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980. His Nobel Prize worked to restrain to some extent the hostility of the Polish regime: Even though he was still attacked from time to time in Poland’s official media, the censorship ban on most of Miłosz’s books was lifted.

Miłosz became much more than a poet: Within Polish and American literature of the mid-twentieth century he was a one-man institution. His works exerted an incomparable influence in areas of thought stretching from politics to poetics and from modern history to metaphysics. It might even be said that before his Nobel Prize, recognition in the West of his achievement as a poet had been slowed down, ironically, by his early international success as an essayist. Yet he will be remembered, first and foremost, as a magnificent artist of language, one whose verbal art is bold, perspicacious, and versatile enough to address the entirety of human experience. His moral concerns and his role as the epoch’s witness notwithstanding, his paramount theme is the universal essence of the human condition, its complex entanglement in various unresolvable conflicts–in paradoxes of history and society, time and space, nature and divinity, good and evil, experience and communication, existence and cognition.

BibliographyCzarnecka, Ewa, and Aleksander Fiut. Conversations with Czesław Miłosz. Translated by Richard Lourie. New York: Harcourt, 1987. Incredibly eclectic and illuminating set of interviews divided into three parts. Part 1 explores Miłosz’s childhood through mature adulthood biographically, part 2 delves more into specific poetry and prose works, and part 3 looks at Miłosz’s philosophical influences and perspectives on theology, reality, and poetry. It is especially interesting to hear Miłosz’s interpretations of his own poems.Davie, Donald. Czesława Miłosza and the Insufficiency of Lyric. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1986.Dudek, Jolanta. Europejskie korzenie poezji Czesława Miłosza. Cracow: Ksiegarnia Akademicka, 1995. Explores the poetic, philosophical, and religious influences of Miłosz’s mature poetry, focusing on the long poem Gdzie wschodzi słońce i kędy zapada. Draws connections in the poem to William Blake, William Butler Yeats, and James Joyce. In Polish, with a short summary in English.Fiut, Aleksander. The Eternal Moment: The Poetry of Czesław Miłosz. Translated by Theodosia S. Robertson. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990. A comprehensive examination of the artistic and philosophical dimensions of Miłosz’s oeuvre. Fiut analyzes the poet’s search for the essence of human nature, his reflection on the erosion of the Christian imagination, and his effort toward an anthropocentric vision of the world.Ironwood 18 (Fall, 1981). Special Miłosz issue. Published a year after Miłosz received the Nobel Prize, this issue’s self-proclaimed purpose was to “help Americans absorb and assimilate his work.” Offers a broad range of responses to Miłosz’s work from his American and Polish contemporaries, many well-known and admired poets themselves, such as Robert Hass, Zbigniew Herbert, and Stanisław Barańczak.Levine, Madeline G. Contemporary Polish Poetry, 1925-1975. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Situates Miłosz among a selection of modern Polish poets as a poet who “addresses the crucial problems of the twentieth century.” While the article specifically on Miłosz is not particularly in-depth, it does offer a useful chronological overview of some important works and their relation to their historical context.Malinowska, Barbara. Dynamics of Being, Space, and Time in the Poetry of Czesław Miłosz and John Ashbery. New York: P. Lang, 2000. A discussion of poetic visions of reality in the works of two contemporary hyper-realistic poets. In its final synthesis, the study proposes the comprehensive concept of ontological transcendence as a model to analyze multidimensional contemporary poetry. Includes bibliographical references.Mozejko, Edward, ed. Between Anxiety and Hope: The Poetry and Writing of Czesław Miłosz. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1988. Although these seven articles by accomplished poets and scholars are not focused around any one theme, some topics that dominate are catastrophism and the concept of reality in Miłosz’s poetry and his place in Polish literature. Also shows Miłosz’s ties with Canada in an article comparing his artistic attitudes to those of Canadian poets and an appendix describing his visits to Canada.Nathan, Leonard, and Arthur Quinn. The Poet’s Work: An Introduction to Czesław Miłosz. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991. The first book by an American to serve, as Stanisław Barańczak puts it in the foreword, as a “detailed and fully reliable introduction …to the body of Miłosz’s writings.” This work by two of Miłosz’s Berkeley colleagues (Nathan was also a cotranslator with Miłosz of many of his most challenging poems) benefits from the authors’ lengthy discussions of the texts with the poet himself.
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