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Posts Tagged ‘Czeslaw Milosz’

A Worshipper of Flowing

June 30, 2014 | by

Milosz

A sketch of Miłosz by Zbigniew Kresowaty.

A happy birthday to Czesław Miłosz, who was born today in 1911 and died in 2004. Miłosz nursed a lifelong fascination with science and naturalism, particularly as they were reconciled—or not—with the Catholic teachings of his youth. He outlined the opposition in his 1994 Art of Poetry interview:

INTERVIEWER

What fascinated you about nature?

MILOSZ

Well, my great hero was Linnaeus; I loved the idea that he had invented a system for naming creatures, that he had captured nature that way. My wonder at nature was in large part a fascination with names and naming. But I was also a hunter. So was my father. Today I am deeply ashamed of having killed birds and animals. I would never do that now, but at the time I enjoyed it. I was even a taxidermist. In high school, when I was about thirteen or fourteen, I discovered Darwin and his theories about natural selection. I was entranced and gave lectures about Darwin in our naturalists’ club. But at the same time, even though it was a state school, the priests were very important. So on the one hand, I was learning about religion, the history of the Church, dogmatics, and apologetics; on the other hand, I learned about science, which basically undermines religion. Eventually I turned away from Darwinism because of its cruelty, though at first I embraced it. Nature is much more beautiful in painting, in my opinion.

INTERVIEWER

Can a connection be made between the naturalist’s and the poet’s appreciation of nature?

MILOSZ

David Wagoner has written a poem called “The Author of American Ornithology Sketches a Bird, Now Extinct.” It’s a poem about Alexander Wilson, one of the leading ornithologists in America, shooting and wounding an Ivory-billed woodpecker, which he kept to draw because it was a specimen that was new to him. The bird was slowly dying in his house. Wilson explains that he has to kill birds so that they can live on the pages of his books. It’s a very dramatic poem. So the relation of science to nature, and I suspect also of art to nature, is a sort of a meeting of the minds of both scientist and artist in that they both have a passion to grasp the world …

That passion is in evidence throughout “Rivers,” a prose poem by Miłosz published in our Summer 1998 issue; here the geological and religious meanings of rivers are made to sit—illuminatingly, if not comfortably—next to each other. It’s an appropriately crisp read for a humid summer evening, and it begins:

“So lasting they are, the rivers!” Only think. Sources somewhere in the mountains pulsate and springs seep from a rock, join in a stream, in the current of a river, and the river flows through centuries, millennia. Tribes, nations pass, and the river is still there, and yet it is not, for water does not stay the same, only the place and the name persist, as a metaphor for a permanent form and changing matter. The same rivers flowed in Europe when none of today’s countries existed and no languages known to us were spoken.

Read the whole poem here.

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Staff Picks: Walt Whitman, Air Guitar, Laurie Anderson

July 16, 2010 | by

What we've been reading this week.

Lorin Stein

  • The June issue of the Columbia Journalism Review continues to float around the office. Maureen Tkacik's cover story, on the career facing a young journalist today, is the best thing I've read on the subject.
  • To my shame I had never read Dave Hickey’s Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy until this Monday. The essay “Shining Hours/Forgiving Rhyme” moved me to tears in the barber chair. There are four different friends to whom I want to send my copy of this masterpiece—right now—but I've marked up so many favorite passages, I'll need to copy them out first. Plus I can't decide who needs or deserves it most.
  • I have left a copy of the new Open City in the bathroom that others might discover Samantha Gillison’s wry, wistful story “The Conference Rat.”
  • Also this week I read Stephen Burt's Close Calls with Nonsense, a collection of his reviews. Over the last dozen years, Steve has taught me more than any critic about contemporary poetry. The book is kind, wise (at times, exasperatingly wise) and full of insight. The last pages, a series of aphorisms, made me love it.
  • Caitlin Roper

  • Smithsonian magazine is celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year. I’m enjoying their rich, deep “Forty Things You Need to Know About the Next Forty Years.” The magazine’s founding editor, Edward K. Thompson, said it “would stir curiosity in already receptive minds.” Mission accomplished. Favorite articles include: “6. Oysters Will Save Wolves From Climate Change,” “21. Science Could Enable A Person To Regrow A Limb,” “26. Novelists Will Need A New Plot Device” (poet Rita Dove on the future of literature), and “36. Goodbye, Stereo; Hello, Hyper-Real Acoustics” (Laurie Anderson on the sounds of the future).
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