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Czeslaw Milosz, winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature, reflects upon poetry's testimony to the events of our tumultuous time. From the special perspectives of "my corner of Europe," a classical and Catholic education, a serious encounter with Marxism, and a life marked by journeys and exiles, Milosz has developed a sensibility at once warm and detached, flooded wit Czeslaw Milosz, winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature, reflects upon poetry's testimony to the events of our tumultuous time. From the special perspectives of "my corner of Europe," a classical and Catholic education, a serious encounter with Marxism, and a life marked by journeys and exiles, Milosz has developed a sensibility at once warm and detached, flooded with specific memory yet never hermetic or provincial. Milosz addresses many of the major problems of contemporary poetry, beginning with the pessimism and negativism prompted by reductionist interpretations of man's animal origins. He examines the tendency of poets since Mallarme to isolate themselves from society, and stresses the need for the poet to make himself part of the great human family. One chapter is devoted to the tension between classicism and realism; Milosz believes poetry should be "a passionate pursuit of the real." In "Ruins and Poetry" he looks at poems constructed from the wreckage of a civilization, specifically that of Poland after the horrors of World War II. Finally, he expresses optimism for the world, based on a hoped-for better understanding of the lessons of modern science, on the emerging recognition of humanity's oneness, and on mankind's growing awareness of its own history.


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Czeslaw Milosz, winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature, reflects upon poetry's testimony to the events of our tumultuous time. From the special perspectives of "my corner of Europe," a classical and Catholic education, a serious encounter with Marxism, and a life marked by journeys and exiles, Milosz has developed a sensibility at once warm and detached, flooded wit Czeslaw Milosz, winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature, reflects upon poetry's testimony to the events of our tumultuous time. From the special perspectives of "my corner of Europe," a classical and Catholic education, a serious encounter with Marxism, and a life marked by journeys and exiles, Milosz has developed a sensibility at once warm and detached, flooded with specific memory yet never hermetic or provincial. Milosz addresses many of the major problems of contemporary poetry, beginning with the pessimism and negativism prompted by reductionist interpretations of man's animal origins. He examines the tendency of poets since Mallarme to isolate themselves from society, and stresses the need for the poet to make himself part of the great human family. One chapter is devoted to the tension between classicism and realism; Milosz believes poetry should be "a passionate pursuit of the real." In "Ruins and Poetry" he looks at poems constructed from the wreckage of a civilization, specifically that of Poland after the horrors of World War II. Finally, he expresses optimism for the world, based on a hoped-for better understanding of the lessons of modern science, on the emerging recognition of humanity's oneness, and on mankind's growing awareness of its own history.

30 review for The Witness of Poetry

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mauberley

    'I have defined poetry as the passionate pursuit of the Real.' (25) I recently spent a weekend with this book and I was delighted with Milosz's thoughtful, elegant explorations of a number of themes: the absence of hope from much modern poetry ('The fate of poetry depends on whether a work such as Schiller's and Beethoven's "ode to Joy" is possible'); the poet as a member of the human family vs. the poet as a 'pure artist' who belongs to the elite; progress vs. movement; 'the dictates of the poet 'I have defined poetry as the passionate pursuit of the Real.' (25) I recently spent a weekend with this book and I was delighted with Milosz's thoughtful, elegant explorations of a number of themes: the absence of hope from much modern poetry ('The fate of poetry depends on whether a work such as Schiller's and Beethoven's "ode to Joy" is possible'); the poet as a member of the human family vs. the poet as a 'pure artist' who belongs to the elite; progress vs. movement; 'the dictates of the poetic language' and literary convention vs. 'fidelity to the real'; the strange prominence that Milosz assigns to biology; Milosz's reading of his own poem, 'No More',... In particular, I would recommend this to anyone who has read anything of Milosz's own poetry and if you haven't yet had that pleasure, please rectify that deficiency at the first opportunity. After I finished "Witness to Poetry', I immediately set to re-reading 'Across the River' and I heartily commend that to anyone who seeks humane wisdom obtained in the 'passionate pursuit of the Real.'

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jay

    Czselaw Milosz, on his birthday June 30 History interprets the past, while poetry changes the future; the work of Czeslaw Milosz is nothing less than to guide the adaptation and survival of our humanity in times of catastrophic change. To conserve what has sustained us, to embrace what may renew us as we shape ourselves to the future; his twin arts of history and poetry are tools for managing change, wielded with vision and beauty as he takes up the great task of rebuilding civilization from th Czselaw Milosz, on his birthday June 30 History interprets the past, while poetry changes the future; the work of Czeslaw Milosz is nothing less than to guide the adaptation and survival of our humanity in times of catastrophic change. To conserve what has sustained us, to embrace what may renew us as we shape ourselves to the future; his twin arts of history and poetry are tools for managing change, wielded with vision and beauty as he takes up the great task of rebuilding civilization from the ashes. Engage with him in this our common work; write, speak, teach, organize, or help as your abilities allow, for the work of being human is to help one another and ourselves, to become better than we were, and to achieve a free society of equals. For the threats of totalitarianism, of armed authority and the enforcement of sameness, of annihilation and dehumanization, and the end of freedom will arise and must be met with vigilance. It's easier to be evil than to be good; to blame others for our problems, to seize the illusion of power which is the seed of our destruction. Like many others, Czselaw Milosz fought the tyrannies of fascism and communism, and his works are a record and case study of how we may survive the unthinkable and live with all kinds of life changing catastrophic loss. To resist and yield not. One must first read his poetry; New and Collected Poems: 1931-2001 provides a huge trove of glittering treasures to explore, and a good companion reading and guide is The Eternal Moment: The Poetry of Czeslaw Milosz By Aleksander Fiut. The Witness of Poetry, his essays and thoughts on history, identity, poetry, and the purpose of civilization, is an essential work to understanding how the Second World War totalized and reshaped the potentials and futures of human being, meaning, and value. The Land of Ulro, his literary autobiography , is also wonderful and the third of his many works I nominate to the canon of classic world literature for the consideration of all students of becoming human.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Weiner

    I read this for my Senior Symposium class that focuses of Czeslaw Milosz. I did not like this book as much as the others. This book is actually a series of lectures that Milosz gave at Harvard University. I think that is why it was so difficult to read for me. It was dense, but overall an intelligent read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Marcás

    Astonishing! Milosz is an Incarnational Poet, with a sense of place, beguilingly balancing time and eternity. The colourful root of memory is nourished by the rich soil of embodied existence in the present world and stretches toward the light and sound of the future eschaton.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Trey Rogge

    Definitely need to go back and mark this thing up and take notes. What an incredible work that easily translates to today.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Janée Baugher

    Here's what I learned: Not journalism but poetry is the reliable witness. Poetry has the depth of spirit, validity of the Zeitgeist that renders it authentic/genuine. Bravo, CM.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Francesca

    Il libro raccoglie un ciclo di conferenze sulla poesia che Milosz tenne all'Università di Harvard nei primi anni Ottanta. Ciononostante, le riflessioni che vi confluiscono hanno poco della lezione; sembrano piuttosto un ragionamento ad alta voce, il cui procedere non è sempre organico e le cui conclusioni vanno chiarendosi con l'aggiungersi di nuovi spunti, attinti ora dalla storia del Novecento, e della Polonia in particolar modo, ora dai maestri che hanno segnato la formazione culturale del po Il libro raccoglie un ciclo di conferenze sulla poesia che Milosz tenne all'Università di Harvard nei primi anni Ottanta. Ciononostante, le riflessioni che vi confluiscono hanno poco della lezione; sembrano piuttosto un ragionamento ad alta voce, il cui procedere non è sempre organico e le cui conclusioni vanno chiarendosi con l'aggiungersi di nuovi spunti, attinti ora dalla storia del Novecento, e della Polonia in particolar modo, ora dai maestri che hanno segnato la formazione culturale del poeta. Nel ripercorrere la propria storia intellettuale e la genesi della poesia occidentale contemporanea, Milosz racconta magnificamente l'eterna tensione alla base del poetare - quella che oppone la forma alla sostanza, la parola al reale, il passato al presente - e le particolari problematiche del poeta contemporaneo, cui l'autore rivolge un invito: cercare, attraverso un incessante inseguimento "del Reale" e con la sensibilità che gli è propria, di interpretare i profondi mutamenti che il mondo attorno a noi attraversa o ci preannuncia. Perché: "E' probabile che sia in atto una specie di scontro tra l'azione vivificante e quella distruttiva dei batteri della civilità, sin qui capaci di equilibrarsi a vicenda. Quale esito esso avrà in futuro è un'incognita. Non c'è computer capace di calcolare tanti pro e contro, così il poeta con la sua intuizione rimane l'unica , per quanto incerta, fonte di sapere" Invito ancora attualissimo, a mio parere, per il poeta e per la cultura intera!

  8. 4 out of 5

    John

    "Poetry ...is a more reliable witness than journalism." "...rhetoric often posses for poetry and is its temporary substitute." "Poetry is the act of universalizing individual experiences." "... is non-eschatological poetry possible?" "I have defined poetry as a passionate pursuit of the Real." "Poetry of prisons and concentration camps...behaves like a mute who tries in vain to squeeze some articulate sound out of his throat." "One asks...whether a more perfect poetry would not be a more appropriate m "Poetry ...is a more reliable witness than journalism." "...rhetoric often posses for poetry and is its temporary substitute." "Poetry is the act of universalizing individual experiences." "... is non-eschatological poetry possible?" "I have defined poetry as a passionate pursuit of the Real." "Poetry of prisons and concentration camps...behaves like a mute who tries in vain to squeeze some articulate sound out of his throat." "One asks...whether a more perfect poetry would not be a more appropriate monument than poetry on the level of facts." "What surrounds us here and now is not guaranteed. I could just as well not exist-and so, man constructs poetry out of the remnants foound in ruins." In another essay, Milosz says that it is difficult for Americans to be poets because they have nothing to write about.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kent Winward

    Poetry is the passionate pursuit of the real. I couldn't agree more. Milosz argues for poetry that is accessible and acts as a witness to the events in our lives. Of all the poetry books arguing for a poetic sensibility, this is one of the best I've read. Milosz wants poetry that is accessible and meaningful. He also mentioned that we are all mediocre poets, just trying to give voice to the unspeakable -- which I agree with as well -- even my best poetic efforts always feel like I'm only making Poetry is the passionate pursuit of the real. I couldn't agree more. Milosz argues for poetry that is accessible and acts as a witness to the events in our lives. Of all the poetry books arguing for a poetic sensibility, this is one of the best I've read. Milosz wants poetry that is accessible and meaningful. He also mentioned that we are all mediocre poets, just trying to give voice to the unspeakable -- which I agree with as well -- even my best poetic efforts always feel like I'm only making the barest sketches of what I'm trying to say.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Francesca

    "È, quello di Milosz, un interrogarsi avvincente e appassionato, cadenzato da tanti capitoli quante sono le lezioni (e relativi temi) riportate: sei pezzi non esattamente facili il cui punto d’arrivo, in larga parte raggiunto, consiste nel sistematizzare in forma scritta la spontaneità dei verba, delle parole pronunciate; e, per di più in merito a quesiti di enorme - e sovente insoluta - entità". continua a leggere: articolo completo "È, quello di Milosz, un interrogarsi avvincente e appassionato, cadenzato da tanti capitoli quante sono le lezioni (e relativi temi) riportate: sei pezzi non esattamente facili il cui punto d’arrivo, in larga parte raggiunto, consiste nel sistematizzare in forma scritta la spontaneità dei verba, delle parole pronunciate; e, per di più in merito a quesiti di enorme - e sovente insoluta - entità". continua a leggere: articolo completo

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Though a bit heady at times, Milosz provides insight into the pertinent question (especially pertinent for me, teaching poetry) of why 20th C. poetry so darn depressing. He talks about the loss of connection with community (humanity, really) that poets have experienced (and even chosen) over the past century. He also provides excerpts from Polish poets, which were fun to read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Susannah

    This is best read comprehensively, in that it gains so much more meaning when taken with the sum total of Milosz's work. He can speak to poetry so well because he has lived poetry, and he lived a remarkable life. This wasn't as technically critical as Seamus Heaney's book (The Redress of Poetry) that I finished before this, but fortunately there is more than one way to write about poetry.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    A seminal work. More here: [http://www.robertpeake.com/archives/3...] A seminal work. More here: [http://www.robertpeake.com/archives/3...]

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jim Manis

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

  16. 4 out of 5

    Megan

  17. 5 out of 5

    Esther

  18. 4 out of 5

    Heather

  19. 4 out of 5

    Erin Panjer

  20. 5 out of 5

    Brian

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tiernan

  22. 4 out of 5

    Morgan Huff

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tinderbox Editions

  24. 5 out of 5

    Purpledanny

  25. 4 out of 5

    Robert Delikat

  26. 4 out of 5

    Molly

  27. 4 out of 5

    Emma Helvete

  28. 4 out of 5

    Enzo

  29. 5 out of 5

    Martin Sharry

  30. 4 out of 5

    aimao

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