milosz: a biography

9780674495043-lg-120x179Andrew Motion at the Hudson Review:

“We see the world once, in childhood, the rest is memory.” So says Louise Glück, and her remark is full of wisdom. In Milosz’s case, the sheer eventfulness of his adult existence means that once his childhood was over, “the rest” of his life contained a great deal more than just memory. But there’s no question that the habits and insights of his maturity rest on the foundation of his earliest perceptions. He was born in 1911 to a Polish-speaking family in Szetejnie, Lithuania, which like the adjacent territories of Poland, Latvia and Estonia, was at the time a part of the Russian empire. His family, although not wealthy (his father was an engineer), occupied a somewhat patrician position within this mix of traditions, languages and cultures; despite (and because of) the turbulence produced by the outbreak of the First World War, which resulted in Milosz’s first experience of deracination, he inherited from both his parents a remarkable sense of centeredness. A feeling, that is, not just of why education and high culture mattered, particularly in times of jeopardy, but also of how such things were inextricably bound into the traditions of the Catholic church.

And into the traditions of the countryside. In his entrancing autobiographical novel The Issa Valley, Milosz remembers the landscape around Szetejnie in terms that blend delight in everyday things with the same exalted sense of “something far more deeply interfused” that Wordsworth wrote about in “Tintern Abbey”: “Happy the child,” he says in one typical passage, “who wakes on a summer morning to the oriole’s song outside his window, to a chorus of quacks, cackling, and gaggling from the barnyard, to a steady stream of voices bathed in never-ending light, to appreciate the futility of such musical exertions.

more here.