Apologies for the lateness of the Sunday Poem but the server has been down.
I was really struggling to find a poem for today. I have more than a hundred poetry books, several poems already typed up ready to go and bookmarked pages to jog my memory of verses that catch my attention. Whether it is that I’m tired, or jaundiced or bored, I couldn’t find anything on my poetry shelf that tickled my fancy.
And then I found this one by Czeslaw Milosz. He was born in 1911 in Lithuania, son of a civil engineer, and studied in Wilno, which at the time belonged to Poland. A co-founder of a literary group “Zagary”, he made his literary début in 1930, publishing two volumes of poetry, and he also worked for Polish Radio. During WW2 he spent most of his time in Warsaw working for the underground presses.
After the war he entered the diplomatic service for The People’s Poland, but he broke with the government in 1951 and settled in France where he wrote several books of prose. In 1960, at the invitation of the University of California, he moved to Berkeley and in 1961 became Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures.
And Yet the Books – by Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004 )
(translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Hass)
And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings,
That appeared once, still wet,
As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,
And, touched, coddled, began to live
In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up,
Tribes on the march, planets in motion.
“We are,” they said, even as their pages
Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame
Licked away their letters. So much more durable
Than we are, whose frail warmth
Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.
I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it’s still a strange pageant,
Women’s dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will be there o the shelves, well born,
Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.