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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Songs of Adrian Zielinski (a Czeslaw Milosz poem)

Songs of Adrian Zielinski audiofile (9:01).

I haven't gotten around to setting my scanner back up since I moved, so, unfortunately, I can't provide the text of this poem at the moment. I will do that in the next couple of days. Meanwhile, here's an essay on Czeslaw Milosz.

Songs of Adrian Zielinski

The fifth spring of war is beginning.
A young girl is weeping for her lover.
Snow is melting in the Warsaw streets.

I thought my youth would last forever,
That I would always be the same.
And what remains? Fear in the early hours,
I peer at myself as at a plaque of blank, gray stone,
Looking for something I have known.

A carousel drones in the little square.
Somebody is shooting at somebody out there.
A light squall blows from the torpid river.

But what is all that to me?
I am like a child unable to tell a yellow dandelion
From a star. This isn't the wisdom
That I bargained for. What are centuries,
What is history? I hack out each day
And it's a century to me.

0 Lord, throw me a tiny plume of your pity.

When I go to the fields, to the stunted forest,
To any stretch of wasted land
And observe how the first spring flowers
Are pushed up by a subterranean hand,
I want to bore a tunnel to the center of the earth
So that I can see Hell.
I want to pierce, for what it's worth,
That blue lake of the sun's rays
And have a look at Heaven.

And the heart of the earth, heavy with liquid gold,
And the cold void of whirling spheres
Would be all I'd find. There are no abysses.
Without end or beginning, Nature breeds
Nothing, except this: there is life, there is death,
It's over. There are no abysses.

If only the poorest of devils, Hell's bellhop,
Showed his horns from under the primrose leaf,
If only the angel in Heaven who chops wood
By beating his little wings waved down from a cloud.

Please, understand how hard it is when man alone
Must invent a new Heaven and Hell on earth.

First, people and trees: very big.
Then, people and trees: not so big.
Until the whole earth, fields and houses,
People, plants, animals, birds,
Have shrunk to the size of a May leaf,
Like wet clay squeezed in the hand.

You cannot even see yourself
Or your crooked path through the world.
Even the dead cannot be found.
They lie like cramped, black ants
In the sandy, amber-colored ground,
And no eye can pick them out.

Everything is so small that a real dog
Or a real bush of wild roses
Would be as immense as the pyramids,
The city gates to a boy just come
From a distant backwoods village.

I will not find a real rose,
Real moth, real stone, round and shiny.
For me, always, there will be this earth: tiny.

Somewhere there are happy cities.
Somewhere there are, but not for certain.
Where, between the market and the sea,
In a spray of sea mist,
June pours wet vegetables from baskets
And ice is carried to a cafk terrace
Sprinkled with sunlight, and flowers
Drop onto women's hair.

The ink of newspapers new every hour,
Disputes about what is good for the republic.
The teeming cinemas smell of orange peels
And a mandolin hums long into the night.
A bird flicking the dew of song before sunrise.

Somewhere there are happy cities,
But they are of no use to me.
I look into life and death as into an empty winecup.
Glittering buildings or the route of ruins.
Let me go away in peace.
There is a whisper of night that breathes in me.

They are dragging a guy by his stupid legs,
The calves in silk socks,
The head trailing behind.
And a stain in the sand a month of rain won't wash away.
Children with toy automatic pistols
Take a look, resume their play.

To see this or to enter an almond orchard
Or to stand with guitar at a sculpted gate.
Let me go away in peace.
This is not the same; possibly, it is the same.

The round ass of a girl passing by
Is a planet carved by sunlight's hand
For poor astronomers who watch the sky
As they sit with their bottle on the sand.

When they glimpse how the deep blue spreads
Across the sky, they are terrified.
Under that vastness, they hang their heads,
To them, the whole thing feels too wide.

They see the ass as it sways away:
Venus in their telescopes, warm as blood.
And spring's green shimmers like waves that play
Under bright Venus after the flood.

There is a whisper of night that breathes in me,
Little voices like cats lapping at my
And my profound subjugated storms
Erupt in a song of gratitude and praise.

What a wise man you are, Adrian.
You could be a Chinese poet,
You needn't care what century you're in.
You look at a flower
And smile at what you see.

How wise you are, how undeluded
By folly of history or passions of the race.
You walk serenely, the light, occluded,
Eternal, softening your face.

Peace to the house of the sage.
Peace to his prudent wonder.
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

O black treason, black treason—

Czeslaw Milosz, Warsaw, 1943-1944


Humble Servant said...

I can't put my finger on it, but there is something about the essay that I don't much like--maybe it is simplistic? Humorless?

The reading was neat.

John said...

If you mean the essay's straining towards a profound and gravid spiritual tone succeeding only in an earnest and relatively shallow mysticism, then, yeah, I think it's a lack of humour you're noticing.

Humble Servant said...

That's it!

Also, been reading Nabokov lately, and he tees off on literati who think that their work has to somehow serve the public good, which is what the essay (if not Milosz himself?) seems to want. The alternative is "art for art's sake" or, as a sympathetic critic put it, "art for life's sake." I disagree that lit should reject all "purposefulness," but for damn sure any purposefulness should be internally directed, not externally dictated--the essay was muddled I think on these points.

Let me see if I can come up with a Nabokov poem for you to read--for contrast probably something worldly--but blessedly without sex!

John said...

I've never read any Nabokov -- none, not even Lolita -- so sure, find me one, and I'll take a crack at it.

(The text of Zielinski will be up tomorrow or Saturday.)

Humble Servant said...

Nabokov did a lot of his English poems for The New Yorker, so they often have some humor. Here's one I liked enough to copy out:

A Literary Dinner

Come here, said my hostess, her face making room
for one of those pink introductory smiles
that link, like a valley of fruit trees in bloom,
the slopes of two names.
I want you, she murmured, to eat Dr. James.

I was hungry. The Doctor looked good. He had read
the great book of the week and had liked it, he said,
because it was powerful. So I was brought
a generous helping. His mauve-bosomed wife
kept showing me, very politely, I thought,
the tenderest bits with the point of her knife.
I ate--and in Egypt the sunsets were swell;
The Russians were doing remarkably well;
had I met a Prince Poprinsky, whom he had known
in Caparabella, or was it Mentone?
They had traveled extensively, he and his wife;
her hobby was People, his hobby was Life.
All was good and well cooked, but the tastiest part
was his nut-flavored, crisp cerebellum. The heart
resembled a shiny brown date,
and I stowed all the studs on the edge of my plate.

There's another good one about one of his lectures to a ladies club: "An Evening of Russian Literature."

The translated Russian poems I've read didn't impress.

He did a 1,000 line epic poem, really quite good ("I was the shadow of the waxwing slain by the false azure in the window pane"), as the central gimmick in Pale Fire--a book in the form of a pretend scholarly commentary on the poem by a not-quite-stable critic and exiled king.

Nabokov's prose itself reads like poetry--but if you ever decide to read him, start with Pnin first--goes down much easier than Lolita.

Anonymous said...

No pun intended, I hope...

Humble Servant said...

Nope, though noted before posting--leaving stuff like that alone kinda gives the chaos a safety valve, no?