Bearing Witness

I think that I am here, on this earth,
To present a report on it, but to whom I don’t know.
As if I were sent so that whatever takes place
Has meaning because it changes into memory.

From “Consciousness” — Czeslaw Milosz

To whom do we tell what happened on the earth, for whom do we place everywhere huge mirrors in the hope that they will be filled up and will stay so?

From “Annalena” — Czeslaw Milosz

To find my home in one sentence, concise, as if hammered in metal.  Not to enchant anybody.  Not to earn a lasting name in posterity.  An unnamed need for order, for rhythm, for form, which three words are opposed to chaos and nothingness.

From Unattainable Earth — Czeslaw Milosz

Reading the poetry of Milosz each morning convinces me of the need, as he says so many times, to name.   He struggles over and over to find the words, the language, the form to present this one particular moment, this one particular thing, mysterious and profound in its “-ness.”  He doesn’t want a particular day or woman or sensation of touch on skin to be flattened by time to become every “Day” or every “Woman” or every “Touch.”   Reality as it sweeps in on this moment, this wind, this very now.   So aware of the slippage of time and age, over and over Milosz looks deep into the joy and sorrow of a particular now (he’d lived so many of them), and names it as precisely and lovingly as he can, at the same time knowing he can’t capture it, can’t keep it from fading and moving on to the next now, the next century.   He longs for city evenings to stay, for mundane laughs to hover and heal a bit more, a bit longer.   He wishes for a more essential language, a language of the elements of fire and earth.  He can be shattered by a glance of a woman on a train, a rustle of cloth, or an apple tree in a dream, and how, O how, do you name it?  Both to honor and to prolong?

And so it befell me that after so many attempts at naming the world, I am able only to repeat, harping on one string, the highest, the unique avowal beyond which no powe can attain: I am, she is. Shout, blow the trumpets, make thousands-strong marches, leap, rend your clothing, repeating only: is!

From “Esse” — Czeslaw Milosz

This, I understand…

One Reply to “Bearing Witness”

  1. Jeff—Milosz is one of my heroes and it both suprises and pleases me to see him quoted by such a diverse but spiritually conjoined group of people. For example, both you and Azar Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran)quote the same line from his “Annelena” Milosz is overwhelmed with the fact of our existence…being: as you point out in his poem “Esse” I like the line in “Report” where in 12 words he makes such a profound metaphysical statement” “For to exist on earth is beyond any power to name” In the same poem he states that “It is sweet to think that I was a companion in an expedition that never ceases, though centuries pass away” What a felicitous thought, that we can jorney togehter with the great spiritual and poetic minds over the centuries.

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