milosz in california


His cultural impact has greatly deepened and enriched the American conversation about literature, history, thought. Did we influence him? That’s an even larger topic, and a more interesting one. Nowhere in America would have been home. The Polish landscape of its countryside, the architecture of its towns, the old feuds and old friends, the cafés, and familiar jokes in his native tongue were gone. In America, he would always be the devotée of “some unheard-of tongue.” The density and intensity of a language whose 40 million speakers are concentrated in 121,000 square miles cannot easily be likened to the world’s new Latin, the imperial language with nearly ten times as many native speakers. His 1960 emigration was a game-changer. I speak as an émigré to the same land—the republic of California, a place with trees 30 feet across and waterfalls a thousand feet high, a land with 2,000 species of plants found nowhere else on earth. California is separated from the rest of the continent by a mountain range and uniquely borders Mexico and faces Asia.

more from Cynthia Haven at The Quarterly Conversation here.