“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.”
The lines are from “Consciousness,” collected in Unattainable Earth (1986), translated by its author, Czeslaw Miłosz, and Robert Hass, and read like the Polish poet’s apologia, his moral and literary pledge. He was blessed or cursed to survive much of the worst the twentieth century specialized in producing, but Miłosz was too scrupulous a witness to report only the horrors, for that would have left the report incomplete. His work evolved into a celebration of creation, sometimes in the tones of Walt Whitman (whom he translated into Polish and called “the poet of the great reality”).
I find congenial Miłosz’s notion of writer-as-reporter, though not in a political or otherwise didactic sense. Look around. Pay attention. Study. Read. Write. That’s Miłosz’s message to this writer and one-time newspaper reporter. We celebrate Miłosz’s centenary on June 30, and Cynthia Haven has reported here and here on early festivities in New York City. Another celebrant is Edna O’Doherty in her essay-review “All Things Considered” in the Dublin Review of Books:
“In his early adulthood Miłosz saw the world plunge into evil, but unlike many of his friends and contemporaries he survived that evil and even outlived the repressive political system he had once believed to be an inescapable destiny for his nation. Disagreeing with Adorno, he believed that poetry was possible after Auschwitz and that just as there is the extermination camp, so also there is the flower, the wood, and spring. The flower cannot expunge the camp, and the camp cannot expunge the flower. Life is a burden, but one that sometimes seems worth bearing; and if it can be hard and painful, at least it does not last forever.”
For sheer idiocy, Adorno’s chestnut ranks with Shelley’s “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” In a late poem, “Unde Malum,” addressed to another Polish poet, Tadeusz Rozewicz, Miłosz writes:
“evil disappears from the world
and consciousness with it
"Of course, dear Tadeusz,
evil (and good) comes from man.”