Nobel Laureate Poet Czeslaw Milosz Dies
Vanessa Gera | Warsaw | August 14
AP -Polish poet and Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz, known for his intellectual and emotional works about some of the worst cruelties of the 20th century, died Saturday, his assistant said. He was 93.
ed. I’ll post excerpts of his work over the course of the weekend
Milosz died at his home in Krakow surrounded by his family, the assistant, Agnieszka Kosinska, told The Associated Press by telephone. The exact cause of death was not immediately known.
“It’s death, simply death. It was his time – he was 93,” Kosinska said.
Milosz had lived in Krakow since the fall of the Iron Curtain allowed him to return home after almost 30 years in exile in France and the United States, a time in which he became a prominent symbol for anti-communist dissidents.
He was awarded the Nobel prize in literature in 1980, an honor that coincided with the emergence of the Solidarity worker protest movement that shook communist rule in Poland.
Milosz’s best-known works include “The Captive Mind,” a study of the plight of intellectuals under communist dictatorship. It brought him international fame in the early 1950s.
Prime Minister Marek Belka called Milosz “a great Pole” Saturday.
“With his heart and pen he showed us the way, explained reality, and prompted us to do good,” Belka told the Polish news agency PAP.
Born to a noble family in what is now Lithuania, Milosz lived through the World War II Nazi regime and the Stalinist tyranny that wiped out the culture in which he grew up.
Once a diplomat for communist Poland, he broke with the regime and emigrated to the United States, coming back to live in his native country only after Poland won freedom in 1989.
He was “a witness to crucial and terrible events of the 20th century, and an original and contrary thinker – and feeler – about them,” said Robert Hass, a University of California at Berkeley professor who translated Milosz’s poetry.
Milosz’s poetry was praised for its enormous range of subject matter and technique, and its mix of sensuousness and references to culture, religion and philosophy.
He described his outlook this way:
“How do you write about suffering and still be able to approve of the world at the same time? If you really think about the horror of the world, the only suitable attitude seems to be to reject it,” Milosz told the Polish weekly Tygodnik Powszechny in 2001.
“I’ve always regretted that I’m made of contradictions. But, if contradiction is impossible to overcome, we have to accept both its ends.”
Milosz also carried the burden of being an intellectual in exile, one whose poems were only published in his native country after he was awarded the Nobel Prize.
“The birth of Solidarity and martial law made Milosz a myth, which he couldn’t entirely shake off – a myth of anti-communist militant, fighter for freedom,” said Milosz biographer Lukasz Stadnicki. “Even if he didn’t want it, he had to face the role of national prophet.”
Exile and the feelings of being a foreigner intensified the theme of memory in his work. He often explored the problem of roots in his writing.
“The Issa Valley,” published in 1955, tells the story of the poet’s childhood. “A View of San Francisco Bay,” published in 1969, traces the poet’s efforts to find his own place in the United States where, in his words, he “remained an outcast.”
Milosz was born on June 30, 1911, in Szetejnie, now Lithuania, and studied law at the University in Vilnius. There, he published his first book of poems, “Three Winters,” in 1936.
The themes of his early poetry were a portent of his later works, a historical perspective combined with individual experience of the world, expressed in simple images of the idyllic and the apocalyptic.
After World War II, Milosz served in communist Poland’s diplomatic service as a cultural attache in New York and Paris. In 1951, he severed ties with the government and sought political asylum in France, entering into cooperation with a Paris-based institute that specialized in Polish emigre literature.
The Cold War peak of the early 1950s was a period of great loneliness for him, during which he said he often thought about suicide. His works, written in Polish, did not reach his native country because of communist censorship, and he was unknown to foreign readers.
In 1960, Milosz left France for California, where he spent more than 20 years as Professor of Slavic Languages and Literature at Berkeley. English-speaking audiences got access to his poetry only in 1973, when some of his work was translated in “Selected Poems.”
At 90, Milosz said he was still up at night writing poems.
“It’s not possible to be sated with the world. I’m still insatiable,” he said. “At my age, I’m still looking for a form, for a language to express the world.”
Milosz is survived by two sons. His first wife, Janina, died in 1986. His second wife, Carol, a U.S.-born historian, died in 2003.
Funeral arrangements were pending.