“I will oppress you with my strange love”

In Words Without Borders Forum:

Andrzej Franaszek is a literary critic and cultural editor of the Polish weekly Tygodnik Powszechny. He is the author of Ciemne źródło (Dark Spring), which discusses the subject of suffering in the poetry of Zbigniew Herbert (the second edition will be published later in 2008). He is also working on a biography of Czesław Miłosz. He lives in Kraków.

CYNTHIA HAVEN: First of all, thank you for your insightful talk at Columbia University on November 26: “‘I will oppress you with my strange love…’ The Friendship of Czesław Miłosz and Zbigniew Herbert: fascination, disillusionment, and bitterness.” That’s quite a title. Could you summarize briefly the relationship of these two poetry giants?

ANDRZEJ FRANASZEK: I’m afraid it’s rather a long story. Herbert and Miłosz got to known each other during Herbert’s first trip to the West in 1958. They met in Montgeron near Paris, where Miłosz had been living with his family. Miłosz broke with Communist Poland in 1951, choosing an émigré status in France.

Miłosz was 13 years older, and at that time, his intellectual biography was richer—as a young man he identified himself with the pre-war leftist radicalism but soon was disappointed in utopian ideologies. These positions did not annihilate his antipathy to the capitalist way of life and his strong criticism of pre-war Poland. After WW II, he had a sort-of romance with the new government, but in 1951 broke with it. For Herbert pre-war Poland was almost the Arcadia of his youth, which was deluged by historical cataclysm. Unlike Miłosz, he judged the postwar reality completely, or almost completely, negatively.