On Czesław Miłosz’s Centenary

Czeslaw-Milosz-in-2001-007 Seamus Heaney in The Guardian:

One of the words that recur in Miłosz's prose and poetry is “incantation”, meaning rhythmical language dictated, he would affirm, by a “daimonion”. And from beginning to end the poems do seem to arrive with an unforced certitude, to be touching down into the here and now out of an elsewhere, as if he were “no more than a secretary of the invisible thing”. And that brimming creativity gives credence to his traditional sense of himself as the inspired poet:

Whatever I hold in my hand, a stylus, reed, quill or a ballpoint,
Wherever I may be, on the tiles of an atrium, in a cloister cell, in a hall before the portrait of a king,
I attend to matters I have been charged with.

And yet the poem which opens on these long perspectives (“From the Rising of the Sun”) is suddenly dramatising the displaced person's predicament in an immediate heartfelt idiom:

Never again will I kneel in my small country, by a river,
So that what is stone in me could be dissolved,
So that nothing would remain but my tears, tears.

“I attend to matters I have been charged with”: having outlived many of his Polish contemporaries, having watched the Soviets clamp down in Poland, Lithuania and the other Baltic states, Miłosz saw it as his writerly responsibility to bear in mind the dead who had perished in the uprising and the concentration camps and those others who were still suffering in the gulags. Hence his poem “Dedication” and its much-cited lines, “What is poetry which does not save / Nations or people?”.

He was poised between lyricism and witness.