ceslaw milosz Quotes

Ceslaw Milosz Quotes

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Quotes

    • Every poet depends upon generations who wrote in his native tongue; he inherits styles and forms elaborated by those who lived before him. At the same time, though, he feels that those old means of expression are not adequate to his own experience.
    • What is this enigmatic impulse that does not allow one to settle down in the achieved, the finished? I think it is a quest for reality.
    • Only if we assume that a poet constantly strives to liberate himself from borrowed styles in search for reality, is he dangerous. In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot. And, alas, a temptation to pronounce it, similar to an acute itching, becomes an obsession which doesn't allow one to think of anything else. That is why a poet chooses internal or external exile. It is not certain, however, that he is motivated exclusively by his concern with actuality. He may also desire to free himself from it and elsewhere, in other countries, on other shores, to recover, at least for short moments, his true vocation - which is to contemplate Being.
    • During the thirty years I have spent abroad I have felt I was more privileged than my Western colleagues, whether writers or teachers of literature, for events both recent and long past took in my mind a sharply delineated, precise form. Western audiences confronted with poems or novels written in Poland, Czechoslovakia or Hungary, or with films produced there, possibly intuit a similarly sharpened consciousness, in a constant struggle against limitations imposed by censorship. Memory thus is our force, it protects us against a speech entwining upon itself like the ivy when it does not find a support on a tree or a wall.
    • It would be more decorous not to live. To live is not decorous, Says he who after many years Returned to the city of his youth. There was no one left Of those who once walked these streets And now they had nothing, except his eyes. Stumbling, he walked and looked, instead of them, On the light they had loved, on the lilacs again in bloom.
    • Masculinity and femininity, elapsed, met in him And every shame, every grief, every love. If ever we accede to enlightenment, He thought, it is in one compassionate moment When what separated them from me vanishes And a shower of drops from a bunch of lilacs Pours on my face, and hers, and his, at the same time.
    • When I die, I will see the lining of the world. The other side, beyond bird, mountain, sunset.
    • - And if there is no lining to the world? If a thrush on a branch is not a sign, But just a thrush on the branch? If night and day Make no sense following each other?
    • - Even if that is so, there will remain A word wakened by lips that perish, A tireless messenger who runs and runs Through interstellar fields, through the revolving galaxies, And calls out, protests, screams.
    • Evil grows and bears fruit, which is understandable, because it has logic and probability on its side and also, of course, strength. The resistance of tiny kernels of good, to which no one grants the power of causing far-reaching consequences, is entirely mysterious, however. Such seeming nothingness not only lasts but contains within itself enormous energy which is revealed gradually.
    • On the day the world ends A bee circles a clover, A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
    • And those who expected lightning and thunder Are disappointed. And those who expected signs and archangels' trumps Do not believe it is happening now.
    • Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet Yet is not a prophet, for he's much too busy, Repeats while he binds his tomatoes: No other end of the world will there be, No other end of the world will there be.
    • We were permitted to shriek in the tongue of dwarfs and demons But pure and generous words were forbidden Under so stiff a penalty that whoever dared to pronounce one Considered himself as a lost man.
    • It's true that what is morbid is highly valued today, and so you may think that I am only joking or that I've devised just one more means of praising Art with the help of irony.
    • There was a time when only wise books were read helping us to bear our pain and misery. This, after all, is not quite the same as leafing through a thousand works fresh from psychiatric clinics. And yet the world is different from what it seems to be and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings.
    • The purpose of poetry is to remind us how difficult it is to remain just one person, for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors, and invisible guests come in and out at will.
    • What I'm saying here is not, I agree, poetry, as poems should be written rarely and reluctantly, under unbearable duress and only with the hope that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.
    • All was taken away from you: white dresses, wings, even existence. Yet I believe you, messengers. There, where the world is turned inside out, a heavy fabric embroidered with stars and beasts, you stroll, inspecting the trustworthy seams.
    • They say somebody has invented you but to me this does not sound convincing for humans invented themselves as well.
    • I have heard that voice many a time when asleep and, what is strange, I understood more or less an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue:
    • 'On Angels'
    • All my life to pretend this world of theirs is mine And to know such pretending is disgraceful. But what can I do? Suppose I suddenly screamed And started to prophesy. No one would hear me. Their screens and microphones are not for that.
    • I have no wisdom, no skills, and no faith but I received strength, it tears the world apart. I shall break, a heavy wave, against its shores and a young wave will cover my trace.
    • Only when two times, two forms are drawn Together and their legibility Disturbed, do you see that immortality Is not very different from the present And is for its sake. You pick a fragment Of grenade which pierced the body of a song On Daphnis and Chloe.
    • - How is it, Chloe, that your pretty skirt Is torn so badly by the winds that hurt Real people, you who, in eternity, sing The hours, sun in your hair appearing And disappearing? How is that your breasts Are pierced by shrapnel, and the oak groves burn, While you, charmed, caring not at all, turn To run through forests of machinery and concrete And haunt us with the echoes of your feet?
    • Someone will read as moral That the people of Rome or Warsaw Haggle, laugh, make love As they pass by martyrs' pyres. Someone else will read Of the passing of things human, Of the oblivion Born before the flames have died. But that day I thought only Of the loneliness of the dying, Of how, when Giordano Climbed to his burning There were no words In any human tongue To be left for mankind, Mankind who live on.
    • Those dying here, the lonely Forgotten by the world, Our tongue becomes for them The language of an ancient planet. Until, when all is legend And many years have passed, On a great Campo di Fiori Rage will kindle at a poet's word.
    • Love means to look at yourself The way one looks at distant things For you are only one thing among many. And whoever sees that way heals his heart, Without knowing it, from various ills - A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.
    • I will neither resurrect the past nor return. Sleep, Romeo, Juliet, on your headrest of stone feathers. I won't raise your bound hands from the ashes. Let the cat visit the deserted cathedrals, its pupil flashing on the altars. Let an owl nest on the dead ogive.
    • From life, from the apple cut by the flaming knife, what grain will be saved? My son, believe me, nothing remains, Only adult toil, the furrow of fate in the palm. Only toil, Nothing more.
    • How can I live in this country Where the foot knocks against The unburied bones of kin? I hear voices, see smiles. I cannot Write anything; five hands Seize my pen and order me to write The story of their lives and deaths. Was I born to become a ritual mourner? I want to sing of festivities, The greenwood into which Shakespeare Often took me. Leave To poets a moment of happiness, Otherwise your world will perish.
    • They used to pour millet on graves or poppy seeds To feed the dead who would come disguised as birds. I put this book here for you, who once lived So that you should visit us no more.
    • It isn't pleasant to surrender to the hegemony of a nation which is still wild and primitive, and to concede the absolute superiority of its customs and institutions, science and technology, literature and art. Must one sacrifice so much in the name of the unity of mankind?
    • I have known many Christians - Poles, Frenchman, Spaniards - who were strict Stalinists in the field of politics but who retained certain inner reservations, believing God would make corrections once the bloody sentences of the all-mighties of History were carried out. They pushed their reasoning rather far. They argue that history develops according to immutable laws that exist by the will of God; one of these laws is the class struggle; the twentieth century marks the victory of the proletariat, which is led in its struggle by the Communist Party; Stalin, the leader of the Communist Party, fulfills the law of history or in other words acts by the will of God, therefore one must obey him. Mankind can be renewed only on the Russian pattern; that is why no Christian can oppose the one - cruel, it is true - idea which will create a new kind of man over the entire planet. Such reasoning is often used by clerics who are party tools. 'Christ is a new man. The new man is a Soviet man. Therefore Christ is a Soviet man!' said Justinian Marina, the Rumanian patriarch.
    • Never has there been a close study of how necessary to a man are the experiences which we clumsily call aesthetic. Such experiences are associated with works of art for only an insignificant number of individuals. The majority find pleasure of an aesthetic nature in the mere fact of their existence within the stream of life. In the cities, the eye meets colorful store displays, the diversity of human types. Looking at passers-by, one can guess from their faces the story of their lives. This movement of the imagination when a man is walking through a crowd has an erotic tinge; his emotions are very close to physiological sensations.
    • What is the significance of the lives of the people he passes, of the senseless bustle, the laughter, the pursuit of money, the stupid animal diversions? By using a little intelligence he can easily classify the passers-by according to type; he can guess their social status, their habits and their preoccupations. A fleeting moment reveals their childhood, manhood, and old age, and then they vanish. A purely physiological study of one particular passer-by in preference to another is meaningless. If one penetrates into the minds of these people, one discovers utter nonsense. They are totally unaware of the fact that nothing is their own, that everything is part of their historical formation - their occupations, their clothes, their gestures and expressions, their beliefs and ideas. They are the force of inertia personified, victims of the delusion that each individual exists as a self. If at least these were souls, as the Church taught, or the monads of Leibnitz! But these beliefs have perished. What remains is an aversion to an atomized vision of life, to the mentality that isolates every phenomenon, such as eating, drinking, dressing, earning money, fornicating. And what is there beyond these things? Should such a state of affairs continue? Why should it continue? Such questions are almost synonymous with what is known as hatred of the bourgeoisie.
    • As long as a society's best minds were occupied by theological questions, it was possible to speak of a given religion as the way of thinking of the whole social organism. All the matters which most actively concerned the people were referred to it and discussed in its terms. But that belongs to a dying era. We have come by easy stages to a lack of a common system of thought that could unite the peasant cutting his hay, the student poring over formal logic, and the mechanic working in an automobile factory. Out of this lack arises the painful sense of detachment or abstraction that oppresses the 'creators of culture.'
    • Vulgarized knowledge characteristically gives birth to a feeling that everything is understandable and explained. It is like a system of bridges built over chasms. One can travel boldly ahead over these bridges, ignoring the chasms. It is forbidden to look down into them; but that, alas, does not alter the fact that they exist.
    • Undoubtedly, one comes closer to the truth when one sees history as the expression of the class struggle rather than a series of private quarrels among kings and nobles. But precisely because such an analysis of history comes closer to the truth, it is more dangerous. It gives the illusion of full knowledge; it supplies answers to all questions, answers which merely run around in a circle repeating a few formulas.
    • The pressure of an all-powerful totalitarian state creates an emotional tension in its citizens that determines their acts. When people are divided into 'loyalists' and 'criminals' a premium is placed on every type of conformist, coward, and hireling; whereas among the 'criminals' one finds a singularly high percentage of people who are direct, sincere, and true to themselves.
    • The masses in highly industrialized countries like England, the United States, or France are largely de-Christianized. Technology, and the way of life it produces, undermines Christianity far more effectively than do violent measures.
    • It is impossible to communicate to people who have not experienced it the undefinable menace of total rationalism.
    • Whoever saw, as many did, a whole city reduced to rubble - kilometers of streets on which there remained no trace of life, not even a cat, not even a homeless dog - emerged with a rather ironic attitude toward descriptions of the hell of the big city by contemporary poets, descriptions of the hell in their own souls. A real 'wasteland' is much more terrible than any imaginary one. Whoever has not dwelt in the midst of horror and dread cannot know how strongly a witness and participant protests against himself, against his own neglect and egoism. Destruction and suffering are the school of social thought.
    • Human material seems to have one major defect: it does not like to be considered merely as human material. It finds it hard to endure the feeling that it must resign itself to passive acceptance of changes introduced from above.
    • Grow your tree of falsehood from a small grain of truth. Do not follow those who lie in contempt of reality. Let your lie be even more logical than the truth itself, So the weary travelers may find repose in the lie.
    • He who invokes history is always secure. The dead will not rise to witness against him. You can accuse them of any deeds you like. Their reply will always be silence. Their empty faces swim out of the deep dark. You can fill them with any features desired. Proud of dominion over people long vanished, Change the past into your own, better likeness.
    • He doesn't know birds live In another time than man. He doesn't know a tree lives In another time than birds And will grow slowly Upward in a gray column Thinking with its roots Of the silver of underworld kingdoms.
    • Wherever he steps, there always Endures traced in sand A large-toed footprint Which clamors to be tried out By his childish foot arriving From the virgin forests.
    • For a country without a past is nothing, a word That, hardly spoken, loses its meaning, A perishable wall destroyed by flame, An echo of animal emotions.
    • A man should not love the moon. An ax should not lose weight in his hand. His garden should smell of rotting apples And grow a fair amount of nettles.
    • Long into the night we were walking on the Piazza del Duomo. He: That I was too politicized. And I answered him more or less as follows: If you have a nail in your shoe, what then? Do you love that nail? Same with me. I am for the moon amid the vineyards When you see high up the snow on the Alps.
    • We are a poor people, much afflicted. We camped under various stars, Where you dip water with a cup from a muddy river And slice your bread with a pocketknife. This is a place accepted, not chosen.
    • And here I am walking the eternal earth. Tiny, leaning on a stick. I pass a volcanic park, lie down at a spring, Not knowing how to express what is always and everywhere: The earth I cling to is so solid Under my breast and belly that I feel grateful For every pebble, and I don't know whether It is my pulse or the earth's that I hear, When the hems of invisible silk vestments pass over me, Hands, wherever they have been, touch my arm, Or small laughter, once, long ago over wine, With lanterns in the magnolias, for my house is huge.
    • Who can consent to see in the mirror the mere face of man?
    • I liked beaches, swimming pools, and clinics for there they were the bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. I pitied them and myself, but this will not protect me. The word and the thought are over.
    • And the city stood in its brightness when years later I returned, My face covered with a coat though now no one was left Of those who could have remembered my debts never paid, My shames not eternal, base deeds to be forgiven. And the city stood in its brightness when years later I returned.
    • I am only a man: I need visible signs. I tire easily, building the stairway of abstraction. Many a time I asked, you know it well, that the statue in church lift its hand, only once, just once, for me. But I understand that signs must be human, therefore call one man, anyone on earth, not me - after all I have some decency - and allow me, when I look at him, to marvel at you.
    • You are a tongue of the debased, of the unreasonable, hating themselves even more than they hate other nations, a tongue of informers, a tongue of the confused, ill with their own innocence. But without you, who am I? Only a scholar in a distant country, a success, without fears and humiliations. Yes, who am I without you? Just a philosopher, like everyone else.
    • I was left behind with the immensity of existing things. A sponge, suffering because it cannot saturate itself; a river, suffering because reflections of clouds and trees are not clouds and trees.
    • Greece had to lose, her pure consciousness had to make our agony only more acute. We needed God loving us in our weakness and not in the glory of beatitude.
    • Leaves glowing in the sun, zealous hum of bumblebees, From afar, from somewhere beyond the river, echoes of lingering voices And the unhurried sounds of a hammer gave joy not only to me. Before the five senses were opened, and earlier than any beginning They waited, ready, for all those who would call themselves mortals, So that they might praise, as I do, life, that is, happiness.
    • Tell me, as you would in the middle of the night When we face only night, the ticking of a watch, the whistle of an express train, tell me Whether you really think that this world Is your home? That your internal planet That revolves, red-hot, propelled by the current Of your warm blood, is really in harmony With what surrounds you? Probably you know very well The bitter protest, every day, every hour, The scream that wells up, stifled by a smile, The feeling of a prisoner who touches a wall And knows that beyond it valleys spread, Oaks stand in summer splendor, a jay flies And a kingfisher changes a river to a marvel.
    • And space, what it is like? Is it mechanical, Newtonian? A frozen prison? Or the lofty space of Einstein, the relation Between movement and movement? No reason to pretend I know. I don't know, and if I did, Still my imagination is a thousand years old.
    • Now I am not ashamed of my defeat. One murky island with its barking seals Or a parched desert is enough To make us say: yes, oui, si.
    • If I am all mankind, are they themselves without me?
    • The death of a man is like the fall of a mighty nation That had valiant armies, captains, and prophets, And wealthy ports and ships all over the seas.
    • When I curse Fate, it's not me, but the earth in me.
    • A weak human mercy walks in the corridors of hospitals and is like a half-thawed winter.
    • Earth, what have I to do with thee? With your meadows where dumb beasts Grazed before the deluge without lifting their heads? What have I to do with your implacable births? So why this gracious melancholia? Is it because anger is no use?
    • Under various names, I have praised only you, rivers! You are milk and honey and love and death and dance. From a spring in hidden grottoes, seeping from mossy rocks, Where a goddess pours live water from a pitcher, At clear streams in the meadow, where rills murmur underground, Your race and my race begin, and amazement, and quick passage.
    • We go down with the bells ringing in all the sunken cities. Forgotten, we are greeted by the embassies of the dead, While your endless flowing carries us on and on; And neither is nor was. The moment only, eternal.
    • Our memory is childish and it saves only what we need.
    • I still think too much about the mothers And ask what is man born of woman. He curls himself up and protects his head While he is kicked by heavy boots; on fire and running, He burns with bright flame; a bulldozer sweeps him into a clay pit. Her child. Embracing a teddy bear. Conceived in ecstasy.
    • I think that I am here, on this earth, To present a report on it, but to whom I don't know. As if I were sent so that whatever takes place Has meaning because it changes into memory.
    • How it should be in Heaven I know, for I was there. By its river. Listening to its birds. In its season: in summer, shortly after sunrise. I would get up and run to my thousand works And the garden was superterrestrial, owned by imagination.
    • But where is our, dear to us, mortality? Where is time that both destroys and saves us? This is too difficult for me. Peace eternal Could have no mornings and no evenings, Such a deficiency speaks against it.
    • I knew that I would speak in the language of the vanquished No more durable than old customs, family rituals, Christmas tinsel, and once a year the hilarity of carols.
    • ceslaw milosz

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