LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 23, No.2 - Summer 1977
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas
Copyright © 1977 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
O. V. de L. MILOSZ AND CERTAIN ASPECTS OF HIS WORK
The University of Akron
"In 1939," writes André Blanchet, "In the cemetery of Fontainebleau, an unknown writer was buried; one of the truest poets, one of the highest of our language. One of the most demanding, one of the most complete failures. But a failure like Rimbaud and Verlaine. Like Van Gogh. Pardon me, Milosz! You are of those whom France ignores to the last breath, only to don later destinies all the more moving for the tragic misunderstanding; of those whom she does not hear living and to whom she no longer ceases to listen." 1 Thus wrote A. Blanchet about twenty years ago. However, his words are no less appropriate today. One might ask if Milosz is known today. Milosz, this "inspired one, clairvoyant, prophet," this "poetic genius," 2 who, in the words of Jean Rousselot, is not only one of the very greatest poets of our age, but perhaps one of the very greatest of all ages. 3
Is he known to Lithuania, the land that gave birth to him, the land he passionately loved? Is he known to France, whose literature he enriched with works of deep thought and high esthetic value? and finally, is he known throughout the Western world from which he drew his cultural heritage? It is doubtful whether these questions could be answered affirmatively even though one hundred years have passed from the birth of this great poet.
Milosz, like Sassol Sinibaldi, in his autobiographical novel L'amoureuse initiation who was "predestined to remembrance" did not forget anything, much less the land of his birth, Lithuania. The landscape and soul of its countryside harmoniously blending with the inner landscape of the poet, was always alive in the depths of his being. The author attests to this in the following words which reveal the physical and spiritual image of the land of his birth:
Come, I will lead you in the thought towards a strange country, vaporific, shrouded, murmuring. A stroke of the wing, and we will fly above a land where all things have the dim light of remembrances. A perfume of water lilies, a vapor of mossy forest envelopes us. It's Lietuva, Lithuania, the land of Gediminas and Jogaila. The lukewarm and pale sky of the pensive country which opens itself before us in all its freshness of the glance of primitive races, it ignores the sumptuous sadness of ripening. After the lethargy of seven months of winter, it wakes with a start to the sudden beauty of spring and, from mid-September, the fecund renewal which has not engendered summer, reminds us with the choice of crows of the long winter of seven months. Then the perfume of honey of the Lithuanian summer makes place again to this odor of autumn which is like the soul of Lithuania. . 4
Milosz thus sketched the landscape of his native land, the image of which rose from the depths of his soul where all things are not only shaded in the "hues of remembrances," but also echo the vibrations of his soul. In his unfinished novel Zborowski, undoubtedly containing autobiographical moments, he reveals the soul of an even closer milieu — the home. From it — this home - arises the unceasing melody of memories, sorrows, loneliness and longing.
This is the home of the past - "la maison du passé. - The past, which is so suggestive of this omnipresent childhood in the work of the poet." 5 To the home of the past, which the poet always carries within his soul "an avenue of weeping willows." And then the door. The door, it seems here, has almost a symbolic meaning, through which we enter a world echoing with silence and mystery:
The door, the horrible door poorly whitened of the sepulcher of a race, opened on a dark vestibule, from the first step, the mossy and desolate odor of abandonment grabbed you desperately by the throat.6
Indeed, it is not insignificant when and where a poet is born: whether in the plains inspiring loneliness, or at the foot of a formidable mountain, or on the shores of unremittingly pounding waves. All of that — all of that external world — its sounds and its colors and the depths of its objects affect and form to a greater or lesser degree the character and soul of its creator which is inevitably reflected in his work.
There is no doubt that this home of the past full of silence and mystery, and the landscape of the native land with which he was intimately united to the depths of his soul, had an influence on his being and, by the same token, on his work. In his book La Poetique de I'espace, the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard discusses the influence of the milieu on the writer, stressing particularly the importance, of the home and its spirit. The home "is our corner of the world," he writes. "It is. . . our first universe." 7 It chisels itself deeply, almost physically, into the depths of man's being. It is "one of the great powers of integration for the thoughts, the remembrances and the dreams of man." 8 The spirit of the home impresses itself indelibly upon man's soul in childhood, which according to G. Bachelard, is more than reality: "Childhood is certainly greater than reality." 9
Milosz, who was formed "Between the nostalgia of the past and the aspiration to an unknown beatitude" 10 was extremely sensitive not only to the poetic space of the home, but to nature as well, in which he felt and heard echoes of the divine mystery. He was "attentive to all these movements, almost imperceptible, through which nature comes to affirm that it is covered by a divine shudder." 11
Thus during that childhood, spent in the landscape of his native land and in the spiritual milieu of his home, Milosz's soul did not merely unite with a longing for the past, in it also arose an intimate dialogue of his soul with the external world — the weeping willows, the nettle and the other characters. Somehow, in their outward bearing, there was something familiar to the nostalgia of the poet's soul.
In Milosz's nostalgia for childhood arose the feeling of loneliness, which, according to Bachelard, is significant from the creative aspect to man's being ". . .these spaces of solitude are constituent." 12 Milosz himself emphasizes the significance of this loneliness upon creativity. This is confirmed by René de Berval in his letter to Silvaire: "It was," he said to me, "in order to make me understand better the importance of solitude, its creative importance which must be fecund through Poetry. The meaning of the latter is exactly this solitude of which it is mother and child at the same time: it creates them while it is being created by it." 13
However, Milosz's solitude is not dramatic. It is rather an inner concentration and somewhat like a center, in which the other main aspects of the poet's soul were formed and from which they radiate. Those are his childhood memories, longing for the past, suffering and love, which transcends to the metaphysical level and becomes a deep longing to meet with God and to rest in him: "It is in the Lord, it is in his peace, that I want to sleep and rest." 14
If childhood which, according to G. Bachelard, is greater than reality, becomes deeply and indelibly embedded in the soul of many a man, then it leaves even more permanent marks in the soul of a sensitive writer bestowing certain tonality upon his works and illuminating all in the light of the innermost self.
Childhood, marked with the spirit of the "home of the past," is deeply reflected in the work of Milosz. It can be affirmed that to our poet, who was truly "predestined to remembrances," childhood was the world which sought his entire life. "All his life," states A. Ðlepetys, "Milosz seeks a port, a calm land and he finds it in this Céréia of memory, full of peace and silence, encircled by sleeping and dense forests." His childhood becomes for him another world, a world which seems to him nearer to his heart, a world of purety, which he strives to reach with all his might. He will not renounce the theme of childhood. Its memoirs will obsess him to his death."15
And indeed that distant but never vanishing world of the past and of childhood reveals itself very often in the poetry of Milosz and echoes in the intimate and subtle vibrations of the poet's soul. In the poem "In the Land of Childhood. . ." from the collection of The Seven Solitudes, Milosz, with sadness and pain arising from his soul, writes about the land of days of childhood, found in the lament: "In the Land of childhood found in tears."
This land of childhood found in tears, this past beyond the boundaries of time —"un passé hors du temps," does not reveal itself as the serenity of the carefree days of childhood and does not echo in the melody of light. In it, as in many of his poems, one senses deep sorrow and suffering. And everything - - that entire external milieu having risen in his soul, is transfigured by the melancholy arising from the depths of his being and colored by the vibrations of his soul. That is deep sorrow, emphasized by the refrain following each paragraph. "But the day rains on the emptiness of everything." It reveals that which has already passed in reality, but still remains within the poet's soul:
What words, what terribly old music
Shuddering in me of your unreal presence,
Somber dove of days far, mild, beautiful,
What melodies in echo in the sleep?
Under what fallen branches of very old solitude.
In what silence, what melody or what
Voice of a sick child can you be found, oh beautiful,
Oh Chaste, o music heard in sleep? —
But the kay rains on the emptiness of everything.16
(Dans un pays d'enfance)
The echoes of the past, of childhood, are often heard as well in his other poems. The horses of the past neigh in his poem "Grincement doux," which reveals the spirit of the evening of the past, — as well as the mood and attitude of its objects. In his poem "The Year was of the times of remembrances," there is the sorrowful melody of everything passing, of hearts being consoled by nothing.
The year was of the time of remembrances
The month was of the moon of roses,
The heart were of those that nothing consoles
(L'anne était du temps des souvenirs, p. 110)
In general, many of Milosz's poems echo either the past or the tones of the spirit of the past — the voice which is like the sound of the moon, in which June's echo comes to quench its thirst:
Your voice is like a moon sound — in the old well
Where the echo, the echo of June comes to drink.
(Et surtout que Denial p. 114)
That past is also conjured "In the wind of the old cemetery". . and in the lamplight, and in the twilight, which always brings "a little of the good old days;"
Don't wake the lamp, this twilight is our friend
It never comes without bringing a little of the good old days.
However, in this nostalgia for the past as well as in the remembrances of the distant childhood, which are so frequent in his poetry and in which echo a quiet sadness and sorrow, there is neither pessimism nor black hopelessness. And that is rightly brought out by Jean Audard in his excellent article "La poete de I'ame" who says that "this remembrance of distant childhood (in space as in time) with this nuance of regret which is nevertheless quite distant from despair:" 17
If was a long lime ago — listen, bitter love of the other world
It was very far, very far — listen well, my sister from here —I
In the native Septentrion where big water lilies of the lakes
Raise an odor of the first times, a vapor of pommeraise of sunken legends
sings Milosz in "The Unfinished Symphony."
Nevertheless, even though we do not feel a black pessimism in Milosz's poetry, we do sense a sadness of an existential nature. A deep sorrow rises from old cemeteries, avenues covered with dead leaves or cupboards, reeking with graves. . . "all that speaks of poverty, of decreptitude, of suffering and of death." 18 And all of that — the poet's nostalgia for childhood days long gone by, and the revelation of the milieu of those days, in which everything is illuminated by the colors of his soul, rises from the home of the past, embedded and still alive in the depths of his being, transfigured in his soul. That is the home of his childhood of which he writes in "The Unfinished Symphony."
That home, where his "father after long voyages had come to die," and which like a never vanishing world of childhood, was forever alive in the poet's soul and in his poetry.
* * *
"To this regret of an almost symbolic childhood, tied to the bittersweet perfume of the vaporific Lithuania, joins itself a feeling — also bittersweet of an irreparable solitude," 19 affirms Jean Audard. Maybe even more so in solitude, whose significance in creativity is emphasized by Milosz himself, in which his longing for childhood and the past in general was revealed.
Solitude followed Milosz all throughout life. According to Armand Godoy, "Solitude was the true mother of Milosz and his incomparable mistress." 20 And the motif of solitude is frequent in his work, and its meaning is deep and significant. In the poem "The symphony of September" from the Seven Solitudes, Milosz longs for solitude, waits for it as for a dear guest, and calls it by the name of mother.
Welcome, you who come to meet me
In the echo of my own footsteps, from depths of the dim and cold corridor of time
Welcome, solitude my mother.
(Symphonie de Septembre)
Milosz projects himself into distant regions of time and space in the poem dedicated to the legendary queen of Thebes Karomana - "My thoughts belong to you, queen Karomana of the very old times." In this past, with a comparison to the sphinx of the desert he reveals his soul, marked with the sign of solitude.
You know without a doubt, o legendary Karomana!
That my soul is old like the song of the sea
And solitary like the sphinx in the desert. . . .,
It is noteworthy that the spiritual solitude of the poet of The Seven Solitudes is present not only in his poetry, not only where it naturally arises from the exterior or milieu, from the attitude of the nature of objects and from their depths - "In the solitary train station," and "where grows my sister nettle, obscure and abandoned." And it is not there alone that is felt in the wind at night "the voice of the wind in the night."It exists as well in the dramatic work of Milosz.
In this respect his mystery Mephiboseth is noteworthy. The main character of this drama, Mephiboseth, has come 17 C from the pages of the Bible into the literature of the Western world. One must point out that Milosz's interpretation of Mephiboseth differs in essence from the biblical concept of this character. The biblical Mephiboseth is actively involved in the political life of that era, whereas in the mystery of Milosz he is primarily a character of solitude.
He lives in Lodebar's solitude, under the care of the blind shepherd Makir. In the winter he would warm himself blowing on embers and would listen to the water boil, and in the summer he would sit in front of the door and watch the woman going to the well and the cloud flying by the sea. And then "when the proud Noon of God would come," he, having uttered: "Blessed be the Eternal One," would lie down between the stones of the road.
Upon Dacid's orders, Tsiba finds Mephiboseth and brings him to the king's palace. However, Mephiboseth is restless here. Having completed his mission - having disclosed David's crime, he resolves to return to the solitude from which he was taken away. As the south wind blows, he feels the longing of Lodebar and the home of the old Makir, and he leaves having stressed with worlds in a rising crescendo the incomparable value of solitude:
Now, I can say that I lived among men. I know how they love, I know how they cry. But nothing equals Solitude.
Isn't it strange? My heart is closer to the stone of the road than to the heart of my brother. But nothing equals Solitude.
I like the morning salutation of man, and the evening song of the spinner and the laughter of the child in the sunlight. But nothing equals the solence of Solitude.
But this solitude, which Mephiboseth had so missed, is not the solitude in which man comes to feel spiritual emptiness. Rather, it is a deep inner concentration, uniting man's soul with the Creator, whose presence is felt everywhere. This is emphasized by Mephiboseth himself, who says that "In all space, there is not solitude. The very air that one breaths is breath of a father."
In the solitude of Lodebar as well as in the stone of the road Mephiboseth experiences the closeness of God. And within it — in the longing for solitude arises the home of remembrances: "we have a beautiful house of remembrances," to which departs Mephiboseth and which is always vitally present in Milosz's soul, in which arose other aspects of the poet's being and work: suffering and love — the two great guides of his path leading to God whom he longed for and desired.
Even though suffering as evil does not belong to the category of being and is not an ontological object, it is nevertheless "an ineradicable part of life" 21 and accompanies man from the cradle to the grave. In suffering, the biblical character Job curses the day of his birth "let the day which saw me born perish," 22 until he finally humbles himself and accepts everything which is destined for him from the hands of the Creator.
Suffering is present in the works of Milosz, particularly in the mystery Mephiboseth where it makes its way into the house of David. "But you were a bad son," Mephiboseth reproaches David, "and the Father sends you a father's pain. Bow your head and pray: for your father's pain has entered the house." And David's words "O Father of our fathers: with what love you love the pain of man," reveals the deep significance of suffering transcends the boundaries of this life and unites suffering man with his Creator through metaphysical mystery.
That is particularly emphasized by Milosz in his philosophical work Les Arcanes. The author of this work states that the mystery of absolute identification of God with sinful mankind will be reached, only when the given dues will be paid for it: "The third phase of the sacrificial mystery. . . will become accessible to our intelligence only when we will have paid all of the prescribed tribute of tears." 23
Suffering, whose meaning transcends the boundaries of this life and which unites man with the metaphysical world arises and blossoms in Milosz's work, even though he does not write about it directly. We sense it in the poet's love for Karomana - "it is ridiculous and sad to love the queen Karomana," it arises from the old graveyard where we hear echoes of the existential footsteps of man's fate. Suffering is particularly revealed in one of his most beautiful poems "All the dead are drunk. . . ," where we recognize our own destiny: "where a part of our being recognizes itself" and where "the destiny finds itself confronted with our transitory existence." 24
Perhaps the most important and the most striking aspect of the writings of Milosz is love. Love "dominates the entire work of our poet." 25 It is also the major signpost to God.
When David asks Mephiboseth who revealed David's secret of crime, this character of solitude of Lodebar answers: "Love, O David: the wise Love, the Unique, the Eternal, the Omnipresent, the Ail-Powerful."
David himself stresses the importance of love in his monologue: "O Love! how necessary you are to me! . . O love! why are you dead? What are we without you?" The love motif is frequent in all of the poetry of Milosz. In the "Unfinished Symphony" he compares love to an inner sun of the land of memory: "I felt that Love like an interior sun was rising upon the old lands of memory," and the terror of human peace without love: "It is the terrible peace of men without love."
However, "this love does not limit itself, not even in the beginning, to the human creature: it reaches out to nature, to the cosmos, to God." 26 This quality of love is stressed by David in the mystery of Mephiboseth. To him woman's love is "like the sun of uncertain days; as soon as a cloud passes in the wind the shadow falls upon the heart."
This love is also reflected in Milosz's novel L'Amoureuse initiation where Comte-Duc search for it is fruitless: "I sought love where I had any hope of finding it; and remained solitary in the midst of a crowd of the blind and the deaf." Love here is "a sort of mystical ascension where the love of woman marvelously transforms itself into cosmic love and finally becomes cosmic Love alone - - the Love of God." 27
The love of woman, transcending into the level of God, is revealed in Milosz's chef-d'oeuvre Miguel Manara, where the sinful paths of the ennobled Don Juan leads to the Highest. Here, in the words of A. Godoy, "The Don Juan of the 'Seven Solitudes' and the one of L'Amoureuse initiation have been transformed there into the ideal donjuanism, the human incarnation of divine love." 28
It is love which Milosz cites as the only reality in the "Psalm of the King of Beauty" "All reality is in the love of the Father." The Father and the Lord, for whom he longed and in whom he sought peace and rest.
Finally, it is necessary to note that frequently in the same world of poetry or prose there is present not only the dominant theme of love, but the other themes as well: nostalgia for childhood, solitude, sorrow and suffering.
Everywhere we find the same song of the poet's soul which in the words of "Talita Cumi," is "a song of all the dawns of childhood." The basic motifs are heard in "Karomana," in "The Symphony of September," and in "The Unfinished Symphony."
It is also heard in his psalms - "Psalm of the King of Beauty," "Psalm of the Re-integration." Finally it also echoes from "The Cantique of Knowledge," where "all comes to an end in prayer which constitutes the true Certainty." 29
This song of the soul of Milosz and its basic motifs, love in particular, rises from his novel L'Amoureuse initiation and from his mysteries Mephiboseth and Miguel Manam. Love arises from love for woman to the love of God and helps facilitate contact with one's being. Pinamonte experiences this intimate contact: "love made me penetrate into the essence of my being," This love is present in the novel of Milosz; love which does not come from without but from within' reveals truth in Mephiboseth. Finally, everything — sin and love rising to the transcendental heights - - is revealed in his chef-d'ouvre, the mystery Miguel Manara, which, in A. Richter's words, "is the drama of death, of silence, and of solitude before being that of love." 30
Those are the features and some of the aspects of Milosz's creative world, transfigured by his poetic soul. His world echoes with an unceasing nostalgia for the past, for childhood and for solitude. There is the melody of suffering and love, frequently rising from the earth and going into infinity.
This world of his is illuminated not only by the colors of his spiritual tonality, the colors of silence and of time, but also by the colors of his soul and the various nuances of the echoes of his own being. In the world of this great poet and mystic, arise deep existential questions concerning man's destiny.
The entire poetic space of Milosz, this "French poet and writer of Lithuanian origin" is filled with the melody of longing for childhood, of solitude, of suffering and of love. The poet's soul is revealed through words and rhythms that give the exterior world a particular tonality and a certain spiritual life.
Through the magic of the poetic image which "strives towards the infinite," (31) Milosz faces his fate. From this contact poetry is born, which rises above this world and reaches the mystic and transcendental regions.
1 André Blanchet, "Le Destin bizarre du grand Milosz" in Eludes, June, 1959, p. 9.
2 André Silvaire, "Presentation," O. V. de L - Milan. Paris, 1955, p. 9.
3 Jean Rousselot, O. V. de L - Milosz., Paris, 1955, p. 12.
4 Text published introducing the special issue Milosz de poesie, p. 42 (quoted by Jean Rousselot, p. 23).
5 André Silvaire, op, cit., p. 29,
6 Ibid., p. 30.
7 Gaston Bachelard, La Poetique de l'espace, Paris, 1961, p. 24.
8 Ibid., p. 26.
9 Ibid., p. 33.
10 Edmond Jaloux, Introduction aux poemes (tome I de l'edition des Oeuvers Completes de Milosz — L.U.F.) quoted by f. Rousselot, p. 40.
11 Jean Rosselot, po. cit., p. 10.
12 Gaston Bachelard, op. cit., p. 10.
13 André Silvaire, op. cit., p. 22.
15 Aldona Ðlepetys, "Milosz et la Lithuanie" in O. V. de L - Milosz, p. 196.
16 O. V. de L. Milosz, Les Sept Solitudes, in Jean Rousselot's O. V. de L. Milosz, Paris, 1959, p. 10.
17 Jean Audard, "Le Poete de l'ame", in Collection de lettres, Paris, 1959, p. 84.
18 Jean Rousselot, op. cit., p, 26.
19 Jean Audard, op. cit., p. 84.
20 Armand Godoy, Milosz. le poete de I'amaur, Fribourg en uisse, 1944, p. 57.
21 Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, Boston, p, 67.
22 La Sainte Bible, Les Editions du Serf, Paris, 1972, p. 602.
23 O. V.de L. - Milosz, Les Arcanes, Paris, 1948, p. 168.
24 Jean Audard, op, cit., p. 82.
25 A. Godoy, op. cit.. p. 38.
27 Ibid., p. 46
28 Ibid., p. 70.
29 Ibid., p. 121.
30 Anna Richter, Mitosz, Paris, 1965, p. 61.
31 A. Godoy, op. cit., p. 62.