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Poetry and Thought: the Example of Czeslaw Milosz

ISSUE:  Summer 1988


Poetry moves in the element of
saying, and so does thinking.
When we reflect on poetry, we
find ourselves at once in that
same element in which thinking

 Heidegger, “The Nature of Language”

Tiger, the professor of philosophy who figures prominently in Miłosz’s life and in the latter stages of Native Realm, was right in his assessment. Miłosz is a dialectician, a dialectical thinker if we understand by that term a process of thought capable of self-opposition and a method of thinking that seeks higher orders of thought through self-opposition. In Miłosz s poem “Tidings,” which begins by asking a gigantic question, “Of earthly civilization, what shall we say?”, this thinking through self-opposition is carefully developed. Miłosz begins with an aesthetic version of civilization’s glory: “That it was a system of colored spheres cast in smoked glass, / Where a luminescent liquid thread kept winding and unwinding.” But a few lines later he offers an opposing vision: behind “an array of sunburst palaces” there “walked a monstrosity without a face.” Miłosz must tell us the deadly, ritualistic side of history that he has witnessed: “That every day lots were cast, and that whoever drew low/ Was marched there as sacrifice: old men, children, young boys and young girls.”

In “Tidings,” as in much of his recent poetry, it is the vision of a delicate earthly beauty that most fully receives his attention:

Or we may say otherwise: that we lived in a golden fleece,
In a rainbow net, in a cloud cocoon
Suspended from the branch of a galactic tree.
And our net was woven from the stuff of signs,
Hieroglyphs for the eye and ear, amorous rings.
A sound reverberated inward, sculpturing our time,
The flicker, flutter, twitter of our language.

For from what could we weave the boundary
Between within and without, light and abyss,
If not from ourselves, our own warm breath,
And lipstick and gauze and muslin,
From the heartbeat whose silence makes the world die?

Having proposed such a vision, Miłosz undoes it with his ending: “Or perhaps we’ll say nothing of earthly civilization./ For nobody really knows what it was.” Except for the fact that the last line places earthly civilization in the past tense, it would seem that in “Tidings” the process of opposed thought does not yield to a higher order. These two stanzas, however, do more than offer a contented vision of earth and its civilization. The passage is about speech as much as it is about vision. The aesthetic beauty seen in earthly civilization, the “array of sunburst palaces” and the “golden fleece,” is shown to be an artifice of language. Any version of civilization that the poet will present to us comes from “our net.” Woven from signs, hieroglyphs, vision, and sound, that net is language. Heidegger suggests that this net defines us, “For man is man only because he is granted the promise of language, because he is needful to language, that he may speak it,” and he determines that language is our location: “We are, then, within language and with language before all else.” In Miłosz’s poem our existence within language is acknowledged, and the net of language becomes our means for offering versions of earthly civilization. Since his other versions occupy far fewer lines, we may also infer that language itself is the essential measure of our civilization. Most importantly, Miłosz locates language’s source in our own breath and heartbeat, and language’s silence with our own mortality.

Throughout his work, Milosz refuses to settle into a unified system of thought. His poems and his thinking are constructed from balanced antipodes that allow for existence. The poems are as basic as the atom itself, held together by virtue of intense negative and positive charges that are attracted to each other. In “Tidings,” for example, Miłosz gives us opposed versions of history: a golden fleece as well as a monstrous sacrifice, mythic achievement and deadly ritual. The poem itself consists of an answer to its opening question as well as a conclusion which undercuts that answer. Man is seen as a borderline figure, the boundary line between within and without, light and abyss, heartbeat and silence. It is the passion and power of that heartbeat that endure in his poetry.

A careful consideration of Miłosz’s dialectical thought can demonstrate the potential importance of his work to contemporary American poetry. Currently we stand in danger of losing the ability to think in and through poetry. Miłosz’s “On Pasternak Soberly” presents a pertinent analysis:

. . . for us a lyrical stream, a poetic idiom liberated from the chaos of discourse was not enough, the poet should also be a thinking creature; yet in our efforts to build a poem as an “act of mind” we encountered an obstacle: speculative thought is vile and cunning, it eats up the internal resources of a poet from inside. In any case, if modern poetry had been moving away from traditional meter and rhyme, it was not because of fads and fashions but in the hope of elaborating a new style which would restore an equilibrium between emotional and intellectual elements.

American poetry stands at the crossroads Miłosz has written about. Our poetry, in its rebellion against Eliot and modernist tradition, or more accurately, against the leaden academic verse written in the forties and fifties in homage to Eliot and the English metaphysical poets, has done what it can to explore the deep image and thus fashion an American brand of surrealism. American poets have learned to detest that “intellectual” poetry which, Miłosz rightly observes, “eats up the internal resources of a poet from the inside.” Our syntax has been simplified and clarified. We have consciously made our poetry more accessible, more tangible, but along the way we may have forgotten how to think.


Miłosz’s poetry and prose could be critical to the development of American poetry because he writes with the clarity we admire, yet he is able to think. If our poetry is to do more than register wonder or record with imaginative freshness the impressions of daily events, it must give serious consideration to Czesław Miłosz and what his work represents. In discussing Pasternak’s strengths and failings, he achieves a formulation crucial to our current poetry. Miłosz argues that “if we assume that those periods where poetry is amputated, forbidden thought, reduced to imagery and musicality, are not the most healthy, then Pasternak’s was a Pyrrhic victoiy. When a poet can preserve his freedom only if he is deemed a harmless fool, a yurodivy holy because bereft of reason, his society is sick.” Whatever the nature of our society’s sickness, it is poetry’s clinging to a lyricism “forbidden thought, reduced to imagery and musicality” which is so pernicious and enervating. This dangerous divorce from thought in our poetry, shyness in the face of hard thinking, requires immediate attention.

Too often, our poetry reflects a unified, self-assured, even smug consciousness, a moment of wonder, discovery, ecstasy, or despair. There is little intellectual tension in our work. Basic assumptions—nature is symbolic of the realm of spirit, didacticism is bad, abstraction is bad, show instead of tell—go unchallenged. Poets talk about taking risks and then get more personal and reveal “private” experiences. Or our poems risk moments of incoherence and nonrepresentational language. Instead, we should consider taking poetry seriously, with head and heart. That is what Miłosz has done. He is to be praised, as Jan Blonski does in “Poetry and Knowledge,” for “the overt identification of poetry with knowledge, the erasing of boundaries between the lyric, the essay and the treatise.”

Miłosz provides a special lesson in his understanding of what it means to be a poet. Though in a different way, his example is every bit as important as Rilke’s and Neruda’s. For Miłosz, the war was the single major catastrophe that produced his new judgments of poetry. As he writes about the Eastern European intellectual,

He has been deceived so often that he does not want cheap consolation which will eventually prove all the more depressing. The War left him suspicious and highly skilled in unmasking sham and pretense. He has rejected a great many books that he liked before the War, as well as a great many trends in painting or music, because they have not stood the test of experience. The work of human thought should withstand the test of brutal, naked reality. If it cannot, it is worthless. Probably only those things are worth while which can preserve their validity in the eyes of a man threatened with instant death.

American poets need not seek out a similar catastrophe for the sake of art. Still, it would be wise to keep in mind Miłosz’s caution “how like a smooth slope any form of art is, and of the amount of effort the artist must expend in order to keep from sliding back to where the footing is easier.”

For Miłosz, self-opposed thinking, rigorous self-questioning, and resistance to any unified scheme of thought assure the difficult footing necessary for great art. In The Captive Mind, one such example of heroic, self-opposed thought is Professor Pavlov:

Professor Pavlov, who originated the theory of conditioned reflexes, was a deeply religious man. Moscow caused him no trouble over this because he was an eminent scientist and because he was old. The creator of the theory of conditioned reflexes—the very theory that constitutes one of the strongest arguments against the existence of some sort of constant called “human nature”! The defenders of religion maintain that this “human nature” cannot change completely; that gods and churches have existed over thousands of years and in all kinds of civilization, and that one can expect this to be true of the future as well. What went on in Professor Pavlov’s head if two systems of concepts, one scientific and one religious, existed simultaneously there?

What went on in Pavlov is like what goes on in Miłosz, for Miłosz’s mind is that of a doubter who nevertheless believes. When Emerson tells us “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” and when Whitman exclaims, “Do I contradict myself?/ Very well then I contradict myself,” we pat ourselves on the back, assuming that we can leave consistent, rigorous thought to retentive academics and critics. We are missing the point. Contradiction, as Miłosz expresses it through the life of Pavlov and the example of his own writing, implies two well-developed directions of thought and feeling. True contradiction, especially as it entails dialectical thought and self-contradiction, is painful. To live with contradiction is not to escape the responsibilities of thought and reason in favor of feeling and intuition. If our poetry is to have intellectual weight and drama, and it must, we do not need programs, manifestoes, or creeds. We do need to start thinking uncomfortable thoughts again; we should engage in a radical questioning of our own writing.

Miłosz’s prose, particularly in The Captive Mind, illustrates well the process of an artist’s interrogation of his own motives:

My poetry has always been a means of checking on myself. Through it I could ascertain the limit beyond which falseness of style testifies to the falseness of the artist’s position; and I have tried not to cross this line. The war years taught me that a man should not take a pen in his hands merely to communicate to others his own despair and defeat. This is too cheap a commodity; it takes too little effort to produce it for a man to pride himself on having done so. . . . Whoever has not dwelt in the midst of horror and dread cannot know how strongly a witness and participant protests against himself, against his own neglect and egoism.

His concept of stylistic development requires more than a search for the merely new; it involves recurrent self-suspicion. When he offers a characterization of poetry, it is apparent that his perpetual questioning does not lead to cynicism:

Poetry is a constant self-negation; it imitates Heraclitean fluidity. And only poetry is optimistic in the twentieth century, through its sensual avidity, its premonitions of change, its prophecies with many meanings. Even if we leave no immortal works behind us, the discipline itself is worthy of praise.

Miłosz presents a late 20th-century negative capability, one whose modernity lies in its unsentimental disillusionment with history and in the sophistication of its psychological insights. His image of the poet as always keeping a sharp eye out on his own self-deceptions, as well as on those of civilization, contrasts sharply with the self-congratulatory introspection and provinciality of many contemporary American poets.

Miłosz commands admiration for his inclusiveness, heroism, and admission of limitations. He thinks with a rigor that disavows any absolute. “All of us yearn naïvely,” he explains, “for a certain point on the earth where the highest wisdom accessible to humanity at a given moment dwells, and it is hard to admit that such a point does not exist, that we have to rely upon ourselves.” But such an admission does not lead him to the kind of narcissistic, trivial poeticizing that we too often write when we give up that “outmoded” quest for knowledge. In one of the most concise statements of his goals as a poet, Miłosz says: “I endeavored to speak a language deliberately stripped of post-Romantic ornament, and to disentangle my own enigma and ultimately that of my generation.” During the past two decades, American poets have attempted the first half of Miłosz’s task. But this has been mainly, if not exclusively, a stylistic modification. The rest requires that we begin to think.

In Miłosz’s poetry, several specific lessons stand out. The ending of “Encounter,” particularly the last line, teaches how important it is to avoid the easy footing of self-indulgence:

We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was not long ago. Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebble.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

Temporally and emotionally, the poem provides a perfect example of a dialectical movement. Flat, compressed observation in the past tense gives way to a consideration of mortality in the present. The fact of mortality destroys the flat tone of the poem and for two lines, “O my love, where are they, where are they going/ The flash of hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebble,” the poet’s voice becomes emphatically elegiac. The last line of the poem gathers in the flatness of the opening and the pain of the two immediately preceding lines and provides the poem with a new emotional order. The modification of emotion in the last line takes negativity up into a speculation fueled, but not held down, by sorrow. Without this shift, which is arrived at by the poem’s tightly controlled dialectical movement, the poem would be an easy exercise in bitterness over the effects of time.

Of equal importance, there is a mutability of personal identity in Miłosz’s poetry that could be instructive. “A Short Recess,” the fourth canto of “From the Rising of the Sun,” begins:

Life was impossible, but it was endured.
Whose life? Mine, but what does that mean?

During recess, biting into a sandwich wrapped in paper
I stand under the wall in chubby meditation.

And I would have been someone I have never been.
And I would have obtained what I have never obtained.
Jackdaws beyond the window would have been remembered
By another I, not the one in whose words I am thinking now.

The “I” in Miłosz s poetry is at once personal and universal. His “I” is similar to Eliot’s in its intended universality, but the relativism of Miłosz’s “I” does not, as in the early Eliot, stem from the poet’s sense of his own personal defects and a desire to shield or protect the “real” self. Miłosz’s speaker is a particular witness to human history. His relationship to history is personal: “unless we can relate it [history] to ourselves personally, history will always be more or less of an abstraction, and its content the clash of impersonal forces and ideas.” But, in his typically self-opposed fashion, as in “A Short Recess,” Miłosz acknowledges the unimportance of the specific, actual “I.” The purpose of his universalized “I” is to allow an encounter with history to take place in the poem.


Miłosz’s encounter with history is slightly different from that of the modernist poets. Unlike Pound and Eliot, who, at least in part, sought a coherent version of history, a way of making man at home in history redeemed by vision, Miłosz’s encounter is primarily a questioning one. As “Tidings” demonstrates, there is no single version of history; instead, there is a succession of versions, each beginning with the word “or.” The poem also makes clear that history and its telling is inextricably bound to the mystery of language. A similar relativism can be seen in “From the Rising of the Sun,” which, significantly, begins with the instruments and act of writing:

Whatever I hold in my hand, a stylus, reed, quill or
  a ballpoint,
Wherever I may be, on the tiles of an atrium, in a
  cloister cell, in a hall before the portrait of
  a king,
I attend to matters I have been charged with in the
And I begin, though nobody can explain why and wherefore.

To study history is to study language as well: “It rolls along, it flies by, our speech.” The modernist hope for a coherent version of history gets voiced by the Chorus: “When will that shore appear from which at last we see/ How all this came to pass and for what reason?”

For Miłosz there is no such shore. The modernist quest to consolidate history, to claim what is essential, sacred, and eternal, is treated by him with considerable suspicion. In discussing the Cantos and Pound’s famous definition of an epic as a poem including history, Hugh Kenner writes, “a poem including history will contain not only elements and recurrences but a perceiving and uniting mind that can hope one day for a transfiguring vision of order it only glimpses now.” Miłosz’s encounter with history does not resolve itself into a quest for order and the sacred word. As the ending of “From the Rising of the Sun” suggests, such an order, a vision of the eternal forms, may be possible only at the end of time. Within time, as the Rogue River episode in the second canto of “From the Rising of the Sun” demonstrates, the original name is not retrievable:

The name was given to the river by French trappers
When one of them stumbled into an Indian ambush.
From that time on they called it La Riviére des Coquins,
The River of Scoundrels, or Rogue, in translation.
I sat by its loud and foamy current
Tossing in pebbles and thinking that the name
Of that flower in the Indian language will never be known,
No more than the native name of their river.
A word should be contained in every single thing
But it is not. So what then of my vocation?

The poet must reconsider the goal of his vocation because he discovers that the original names, which would re-create the poetic ideal of a precise correspondence between name and thing, are lost. The substitute name and subsequent translations no longer bear an exact relationship to the thing named.

For Miłosz  the core of history, what Kenner calls “a transfiguring vision of order,” is not finally discoverable. The poet does not master history; “And if they say that all I heard was the rushing of a Heraclitean river/ That will be enough, for the mere listening to it wore me down.” The teacher’s speech in “Over Cities” best states the nature of Miłosz’s encounter with history:

“Yes, it is undeniable that extraordinary fates befell our species, precisely those from which Maximus the Confessor wanted to protect us, suspecting as he did the devilish temptation in the truth of reason. Yet while we hear everyone advising us to understand clearly causes and effects, let us beware of those perfectly logical though somewhat too eager arguments. Certainly, it is distressing not to know where this force that carries us away comes from or where it leads. But let us observe restraint and limit ourselves to statements which in our intention will be statements and nothing else. Let us formulate it thus: yes, the Universal is devouring the Particular, our figures are heavy with Chinese and Assyrian rings, civilizations are as short-lived as weeks of our lives, places which not long ago were celebrated as homelands under oak trees are now no more than states on a map, and each day we ourselves lose letter after letter from our names which still distinguish us from each other.”

History’s presence in the poem prevents the complete erasure of identity; memory helps to sustain the particular, even if the act of memory is statement rather than explanation. Miłosz involves history in his poems because he feels we are carried and led by it, though we cannot discover how and why. So he attempts statements, and he cites protective warnings. Even in his limited statements, Miłosz’s poems show “Life was impossible, but it was endured.” The encounter with history must also be included in poetry because the study of history and the study of language, though ultimately incomplete studies, are inseparable.

In contemporary American poetry, the backlash against Eliot’s theory of impersonality has been so severe that, until quite recently, only the most limited and idiosyncratic historical meditations have been possible. Miłosz correctly identifies a peculiarly American failing as “a loss of the sense of history and, therefore, of a sense of the tragic which is only born of historical experience.” It is this historical dimension that may be the most valuable lesson for us in Miłosz’s writing. His sense of history extends beyond, or encompasses more than, personal or national events. History for him entails both memory and the substance of speech itself. As he explained in his Nobel Lecture, “Memory thus is our force; it protects us against a speech entwining upon itself like the ivy when it does not find a support on a tree or a wall.” It would belabor the obvious for me to comment on “speech entwining upon itself” in relation to our own recent poetry.


In “From Experience to Discourse: American Poetry and Poetics in the Seventies,” Charles Altieri posits a dichotomy between a romantic poetry of experience and a model of the poem as intelligent, subtle discourse. Altieri sees two divergent notions of poetry emerging: one branch is the poetry of perception, the image, emotional intensity, and vision; the other branch is the poetry of discourse, tone, statement, and cognition. Miłosz’s poetry, though leaning toward the latter concept, successfully bridges this polarity. Poems such as “Tidings” and “From the Rising of the Sun” contain and assimilate the distinctions that Altieri raises, for Miłosz engages in both vision, subject to skepticism and self-opposition, and discourse, where tone and judgment come into play. Both functions—vision and discourse—are essential to his poems and his poetics.

To a great degree, Miłosz’s importance as a poet rests upon the dialectical method that is at the heart of his work. Opposition and self-questioning in “To Robinson Jeffers” lead to an understanding of the poet’s role. The poem begins with the author “complaining” about the naivete of Slavic poetry; its vision and imagination would be of no use to Robinson Jeffers:

If you have not read the Slavic poets
so much the better. There’s nothing there
for a Scotch-Irish wanderer to seek. They lived in a
prolonged from age to age. For them, the sun
was a farmer’s ruddy face, the moon peeped through a cloud
and the Milky Way gladdened them like a birch-lined road.

Such poetry of the image, with its sun like a farmer’s ruddy face and its moon peeping through a cloud, is a vapid lyricism that would not appeal to the cold, serious Jeffers. This image-based poetry, much like the worst of contemporary American neosurrealism, is seen as excessive, romantic, and naïve, especially from the imagined viewpoint of a thinker like Jeffers, or from Miłosz’s own perspective.

In the poem, he uses Jeffers as a means for defining his own position. The fundamental question that the poet asks Jeffers is “What have I to do with you?” As might be expected, the answer can be found in opposition. Miłosz contradicts Jeffers’ view, affirming his own “naïve” Slavic inheritance. He rebukes Jeffers: “And yet you did not know what I know. The earth teaches/ More than does the nakedness of elements.” His conclusion is emphatic:

Better to carve suns and moons on the joints of crosses
as was done in my district. To birches and firs
give feminine names. To implore protection
against the mute and treacherous might
than to proclaim, as you did, an inhuman thing.

It is the poet’s dialectical method which yields such a conclusion, and thus his affirmation of Slavic folk tradition is quite different from an unquestioned or naïve faith in nature.

Self-contradiction and self-opposition are the cornerstones of Miłosz’s work. His fidelity is to the diversity of being, not to a single encompassing thought, and thus Miłosz is a radically different 20th-century poet from Rilke or Trakl. With these latter two poets in mind, Heidegger offers the following test:

Every great poet creates his poetry out of one single poetic statement only. The measure of his greatness is the extent to which he becomes so committed to that singleness that he is able to keep his poetic Saying wholly within it.

Rather than a single poetic statement, Miłosz’s poetry is committed to dialectical thought. His differences, especially from Rilke, stem from Miłosz’s denials. He refuses to wear the Rilkean cape of holiness. Nor will he allow himself to indulge in the poet-as-priest posture. Every bit as profound and universal as Rilke, he eschews Rilke’s espousal of the poet’s fragility and passivity. Though Miłosz devotes himself to the poet’s lifelong work, Rilke’s motto of toujours travailler, he will not allow himself the persona of mystic nor the grandeur of the Orphic poet.

Yet a poet cannot create an important body of work exclusively out of the act of denial. What then are the tasks Miłosz sets for himself? In “Temptation,” he obliquely suggests his task: “for if not I, then someone else/ Would be walking here, trying to understand his age.” That attempt “to understand his age” is one of a great poet’s tasks, one our own recent poetry would like to dodge. Part of the poet’s vocation, as he describes it in “Diary of a Naturalist,” involves an obligation that he both acknowledges and dreads: “But I will be called to the blackboard, and who can guess when, in what years.” The poet is one who is called to write down what he knows. For Miłosz, the exercise at the blackboard is complicated by the many varieties of knowing that his poetry includes. When the poet is called to the blackboard, as he is in every poem that he writes, he must try to express what he knows at that moment. What Miłosz hopes to write down is the craving of all artists: “Artists crave being, a communion with the divine promise inside creation.” In “The Year,” he comes close to formulating such a communion. He won’t tell what it is, only what it could be:

At the very border of inhabited time the same lessons were being learned, how to walk on two legs and to pronounce the signs traced in the always childish book of our species.
I would have related, had I known how, everything which a single memory can gather for the praise of men.
O sun, o stars, I was saying, holy, holy, holy, is our being beneath heaven and the day and our endless communion.

Naturally, for Milosz, such a statement of faith involves denial: of personal importance, personal superiority, and final achievement. As he states at the end of “With Trumpets and Zithers”:

I was getting rid of my faith so as not to be better than men and women who are certain only of their unknowing.
And on the roads of my terrestrial homeland turning round with the music of the spheres
I thought that all I could do would be done better one day.

His statements of faith, the affirmation of our holy being, are only achieved, as he tells us in “Dedication,” by a fortunate ignorance:

That I wanted good poetry without knowing it,
That I discovered, late, its salutary aim,
In this and only this I find salvation.

In “To Robinson Jeffers,” his conclusion about the poet’s role is Unequivocal: it is better “To implore protection/ against the mute and treacherous might/ than to proclaim, as you did, an inhuman thing.” Such certainty comes from the act of opposition and application of dialectical thinking. Elsewhere, without a worthy opponent, or faced with the seemingly more nebulous task of self-opposition, Miłosz uses his own humility and his awareness of limitations in a way that may at first dissuade us of his importance. But within the framework of his insistent relativity, no other posture than the failure to arrive at ultimate conclusions is possible. For him, there is no “Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata. Shantih shantih shantih.”

Miłosz’s task is one of opposition and attention. As stated in “Tidings,” he attends to “A sound reverberated inward, sculpturing our time.” To understand his particular action of attention, the differences between Rilke and Miłosz are again instructive. Though both attend to that inward sculpturing and, in Miłosz’s words, “the divine promise inside creation,” Rilke’s poetry, especially in Sonnets to Orpheus, ultimately establishes a myth of change, transformation, and thus of hope. The inward sculpturing that Miłosz listens to has more the ring of fact and is less consciously devoted to a beyond. Rather than suggest, as Rilke does, what we will be, Miłosz’s consideration of a divine promise, as seen in “On Angels,” returns us to our current condition.

In “On Angels,” his thinking is tersely dialectical. He is at once able to rein in romantic excess, the figure of the angel, and reempower that romantic conception by grounding it in earthly, human experience:

All was taken from you: white dresses,
wings, even existence.
Yet I believe you,

The way such noble beings are reinvested with their powers is through an epistemological consideration:

They say somebody has invented you
but to me this does not sound convincing
for humans invented themselves as well.

The angels are not seen as “untrue,” but as necessary inventions, as necessary as our invention of ourselves and other supreme fictions. Such inventions properly lie at the center of the inward sculpturing that the poet (and the angels) attend to:

There, where the world is turned inside out,
a heavy fabric embroidered with stars and beasts,
you stroll, inspecting the trustworthy seams.

Especially as it is expressed in dialectical thought, self-questioning, and an encounter with history, the rigor of that attention is the primary lesson that Miłosz s writing holds for contemporary American poets.


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