Happy 100th birthday, Czesław Miłosz!


“The River Neman, not far from its mouth on the Baltic Sea, is fed by several smaller tributaries flowing from the north, out of the very heart of the peninsula. It was on the banks of one of these tributaries, the Niewiaża, that all my adventures began…”

Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz (6/30/1911-8/14/2004), Native Realm

I had the great good fortune in May to visit Czesław Miłosz's birthplace in the rural Lithuanian village of Šeteniai. And yes, it is as idyllic as he said it was. I took this photo with my Droid on the former family estate, overlooking the river. The fishers called out to ask if we had permission to photograph them. Yes, one of us shouted back, there was a journalist in the group. They laughed, thinking it was a joke.


3 Responses to “Happy 100th birthday, Czesław Miłosz!”

  1. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Today is his birthday, June 30, and I filed this post a few minutes after midnight, although the log date shows 11.03 p.m. In its computer brain, the Book Haven seems to keeping Honolulu time.

  2. Gerry Hadden Says:

    Thanks for this. A poem by Czeslaw Milosz was a great source of inspiration to me in my twenties and thirties: Youth. First published (at least in English) by The New Yorker, around 1994. Whenever I was feeling intimidated, inadequate, too caught up in the details of life, I’d go over to my fridge and reread the clipping I’d taped there. Everything would come back into perspective. For the next twenty years that poem was stuck on many refrigerators. I wrote to him a few years ago, before he died, to thank him but didn’t hear back. Cheers, gkh


    by Czeslaw Milosz

    Your unhappy and silly youth.
    Your arrival from the provinces in the city.
    Misted-over windowpanes of streetcars,
    Restless misery of the crowd.
    Your dread when you entered a place too expensive.
    But everything was too expensive. Too high.
    Those people must have noticed your crude manners,
    Your outmoded clothes, and your awkwardness.

    There were none who would stand by you and say,

    You are a handsome boy,
    You are strong and healthy,
    Your misfortunes are imaginary.

    You would not have envied a tenor in an overcoat of camel hair
    Had you guessed his fear and known how he would die.

    She, the red-haired, because of whom you suffer tortures,
    So beautiful she seems to you, is a doll in fire.
    You don’t understand what she screams with her lips of a clown.

    The shapes of hats, the cut of robes, faces in the mirrors,
    You will remember all that unclearly, as something from long ago,
    Or as what remains from a dream.

    The house you approach trembling,
    The apartment that dazzles you—
    Look, on this spot the cranes clear the rubble.

    In your turn you will have, possess, secure,
    Able to be proud at last, when there is no reason.

    Your wishes will be fulfilled, you will gape then
    At the essence of time, woven of smoke and mist,

    An iridescent fabric of lives that last one day,
    Which rises and falls like an unchanging sea.

    Books you have read will be of use no more.
    You searched for an answer but lived without answer.

    You will walk in the streets of southern cities,
    Restored to your beginnings, seeing again in rapture
    The whiteness of a garden after the first night of snow.

  3. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Absolutely dazzling poem, Gerry. I’d missed this one in his “Collected.”