Czesław Miłosz’s border-crossing genius


James Hopkin in The Guardian:

In Poland, many consider Miłosz's essays to be finer than his poetry, for he was a border-crosser, too, in terms of genres, always on the look out for the next form to carry his abundant ideas (his hybrid prose-poem-quotation collection, Unattainable Earth; the alphabet endeavour of Roadside Dog). Then there's his History of Polish Literature (which he updated in 1993 and which remains a seminal work in English) as well as his anthology, Postwar Polish Poets, in which he introduced a western readership to the work of Zbigniew Herbert, Tadeusz Rozewicz and Wisława Szymborska who went on to win the Nobel in 1993. Miłosz himself translated Walt Whitman, and several Chinese poets into Polish, and published a book on the art of translation.

Miłosz's novel The Issa Valley describes the beauty and cruelty of nature and nascent spirituality as conjured by recollections of childhood, while The Land of Ulro probes history, philosophy, politics and religion, to discover a language that can speak of exile or belonging, a sense of oneself against an ever-changing background.

Steadfastly "against a sentimental mythology and a national morality", the poet wonders, "If nature's law is murder, if the strong survive and the weak perish … where is there room for God's goodness?" Despite believing that one's real moral duty is towards people, and confessing to "wandering on the edge of heresy", he could not give up on God because "I am unable to speak to clouds or rocks".

More here.