But I'm determined that my taste should not just be dominated by fiction, specifically novels. So when I saw Selected and Last Poems 1931-2004 by Czeslaw Milosz in Fully Booked 2 weeks ago, I thought that it would add variety to my reading habit. Besides, Milosz was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1980. Just reading 1 collection by this poet is a bragging right in itself.
Here's a book by a Nobel laureate, who was part of the Polish resistance during World War II, defected to France in the 1950s, and then became a professor of poetry in the US in the 1960s onwards. Surely his vast experience would add a rich texture and a profound depth to his poems, yes? Hmmmm.... Quite daunting. This would need a plate of cookies; one cookie for every poem that I finish.
Oy! The subject matter tackled in the different poems are so broad: religion, politics, personal stuff, weird and random stuff, and some other stuff that I can barely comprehend. The poems' lengths have a huge range as well, with some as short as 2 or 3 lines and some as long as 20 pages.
There are some poems that resonate after reading them. Some of my favorites are "A Song on the End of the World," "Sentences," and "After Paradise." I've provided excerpts below.
A Song on the End of the World
On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned, as it always should be.
[excerpt, page 33]
What constitutes the training of the hand?
I shall tell what constitutes the training of the hand.
One suspects something is wrong with transcribing signs
But the hand transcribes only the signs it has learned.
Then it is sent to the school of blots and scrawls
Till it forgets what is graceful. For even the sign of a butterfly
Is a well with coiled poisonous smoke inside.
[excerpt, page 80]
Don't run anymore. Quiet. How softly it rains
On the roofs of the city. How perfect
All things are. Now, for the two of you
Waking up in a royal bed by a garret window.
For a man and a woman. For one plant divided
Into masculine and feminine which longed for each other.
[excerpt, page 179]
The poems collected here were written from as early in the 1930s and up to the early 2000s, when Milosz was already bedridden. Was Milosz a romantic? I think so, for there are some poems of his that deal with love. Was he pragmatic? Maybe.
Milosz's work, for its sheer brilliance, scope, and number, can be quite overwhelming, especially for one whose exposure to poetry is quite limited. But the 200 or so poems collected in Selected and Last Poems 1931-2004 are certainly enough to make you love this poet.
Read this book if:
- You love poetry.
- You'll read anything by a Nobel laureate.
- You want variety in your reading habit.