As if Copernicus, Wisława Szymborska, Jan Kochanowski, and John Paul II weren’t intimidating enough…


Hey, I thought that was my chair!

A couple days ago, I described the overwhelming sense of intimidation when delivering a paper in the rooms where Copernicus, John Paul II, and others once walked.  I could have mentioned other notable alums – 16th century poet Jan Kochanowski, for example; 15th century theologian and saint John Cantius; the hero of the Battle of Vienna, John III Sobieski; writer Stanisław Lem; or Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska.

My friend David A. Goldfarb did not think I was intimidated enough.  So he sent me this photo.

That’s right. Czesław Miłosz speaking from the very same chair I sat in, before I went to the podium for the Czesław Miłosz Centenary Festival’s academic conference. David took the picture himself.

“If you can imagine, there were students watching Miłosz in the corridors of Collegium Novum on video monitors set up for the occasion in 1989,” he gloated.  “The hall was only open to University officials, officers of the student Solidarność organization, and staff of the Instytut Filologii Polskiej.”

“I was a stażysta, which was fairly unusual at the time, so they couldn’t decide if I was staff or a student, and they gave me the benefit of the doubt, so I was able to stand at the back of the hall near the center.”

This would have been Miłosz’s second euphoric homecoming, after the fall of Communist rule and the triumph of Solidarity.

(His first euphoric return had been in June 1981, when the poet, then a banned writer, saw his books published for the first time since 1945 – that, however, proved to be a false dawn, and the Communist leaders crushed Poland and instituted martial law in December.)

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