Tuesday, August 28, 2007


"This" is a 1997 poem of the 1980 Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz. In this, the Pole confesses to an unmentioned backdrop, a silent but overwhelming reality, against which his endearing poetry and stories were for a lifetime written. I think of this in relationship to the newly released letters of Mother Teresa that reveal a 50-year long "dark night of the soul"--an inner spiritual experience of doubt and inner dryness lived simultaneous to an outward ministry of compassion that exemplified the very presence of Jesus. See my previous day's post: "Come Be My Light."

If I could at last tell you what is in me,
if I could shout: people! I have lied by pretending it was not there,
It was there, day and night.

Only thus was I able to describe your inflammable cities,
Brief loves, games disintegrating into dust,
earrings, a strap falling lightly from a shoulder,
scenes in bedrooms and on battlefields.

Writing has been for me a protective strategy
Of erasing traces. No one likes
A man who reaches for the forbidden.

I asked help of rivers in which I used to swim, lakes
With a footbridge over the rushes, a valley
Where an echo of singing had twilight for its companion.
And I confess my ecstatic praise of being
Might just have been exercises in the high style.
Underneath was this, which I do not attempt to name.

This. Which is like the thoughts of a homeless man walking in an alien city in freezing weather.

And like the moment when a tracked-down Jew glimpses the heavy helmets of the German police approaching.

The moment when the crown prince goes for the first time down to the city and sees the truth of the world: misery, sickness, age, and death.

Or the immobile face of someone who had just understood that he's been abandoned forever.

Or the irrevocable verdict of the doctor.

This. Which signifies knocking against a stone wall and knowing that the wall will not yield to any imploration.

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