I have this afternoon completed the trek through Czesław Miłosz’s frustratingly compelling poem From the Rising of the Sun¸ written in Berkeley in 1973-74, and published in the 1974 book of the same title.
This is an exercise in style.
The pluperfect tense
Of countries imperfective. (VII. Bells in Winter)
… each day we ourselves lose letter after letter from our names which still distinguish us from one another. (IV. Over Cities)
Or a gladiator, a slave
Under an inscription on a level stone:
“i was not, i was, i am not, i do not desire.” (V. A Short Recess)
I tried hard to imagine another earth and could not.
I tried hard to imagine another heaven and could not. (V. A Short Recess)
… like the mermaid from Andersen’s tale
I tried to walk correctly but a thin pain
Reminded me that I was foolish to try to imitate people. (V. A Short Recess)
My most gracious and honourable body,
I, your soul, you declaim, I command you:
It’s time to get up, check the date.
There are many tasks to be done today.
Serve me a little longer, just a bit.
I don’t know what is going on in your dark tunnels,
At what moment you’ll deny and overthrow me,
On what day your cosmos will congeal and collapse. (VI. The Accuser)
Confess, you have hated your body,
Loving it with unrequited love. (VI. The Accuser)
For we lived under the Judgment, unaware. ¶
Which Judgment began in the year one thousand seven hundred fifty-seven.¶
Though not for certain, perhaps in some other year.
It shall come to completion in the sixth millennium, or next Tuesday.
The demiurge’s workshop will suddenly be stilled. Unimaginable silence.
And the form of every single grain will be restored in glory.
I was judged for my despair because I was unable to understand this.
(VII. The Bells of Winter)
A knowledge of Polish and Lithuanian, and a smattering of Byelorussian, attended by an encyclopaedic awareness of central European history, would have been considerable assets to this reader. The very little I know, and it is very little indeed, despite my wife having a Canadian-born aunt of Lithuanian extraction in Montréal, derives from the days in Vancouver when I bought wine from the shop owned by the opera’s double-bass player, who hailed from Kraków. Nonetheless, yesterday afternoon I found myself directed, half subliminally and half unsure of driving directions, to Polonia Sausage & Deli, here in Edmonton, there seeking and receiving an understanding of, and so purchasing, Polish meats and freshly baked cakes—all culturally delicious. And noting from the labels of jars of jam and pickles that in Polish the noun precedes the adjective or descriptive phrase; or so it appeared to this illiterate in Slavic languages. However, I have recently discovered that one of my neighbours is from the Baltic coast near Königsberg, a refugee from either the Hitlerian or Soviet displacements from Prussia. I must engage her in further discussion about the prolix poetry of the world.
For a CulturalRites article on Vietnamese poet Nguyen Chi Thien, see this.