LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 46, No.4 - Winter 2000
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas
Copyright © 2000 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
OSKARAS MILAŠIUS (OSCAR V. de L. MILOSZ),
LITHUANIAN POET, DIPLOMAT AND MYSTIC
Pacifica Graduate Institute
Prof. Aleksis Rannit of Yale University in his analysis of the famous Lithuanian painter and musician M. K. Čiurlionis writes that "there are biographical and non-biographical artists; there are even antibiographical artists. " (Rannit, 1984, p. 61. ) To the last category he attributes Čiurlionis. In my view, the same could be said of Oskaras Milašius. Apparently suppressing his own ego and his own biography, Milašius created poetry and, later, metaphysical writings out of his intense vision, which transcended his personal life and was attuned to primal levels of the collective unconscious.
According to Jung, the works of such artists (creators) are not reducible to their personal complexes, but should be analyzed as symbolic expressions of transpersonal archetypal imagery (Jung, 1966). Yet, it is fascinating to look more precisely into the biography of such persons and to try to understand the extent to which their intellectual and spiritual interests were influenced by early developmental experience. We may also learn something about how personality is transmuted, by seeing, if we can, possible pathological character traits.
My choice of Milašius for this psychobiographical essay was determined by my deep admiration of his poetry and personality since my early student years at Vilnius University. I consider him my favorite Lithuanian poet, although he spent almost all of his life in France and his poetry is written in French. I could read only translations. Milašius seems Lithuanian more by choice than by birth. I feel a strong spiritual connection to the melancholic and intuitive sadness of his poetry, his romantic view of Lithuanian history, and his patriotic devotion and service to the country's present life. Milašius represents for me that part of Lithuanian culture that is open to the world, has a broader intellectual vision, and is able to integrate European cultural tradition with the mysterious and melancholic Lithuanian spirit.
* * *
Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz (Oskaras Milašius is the Lithuanian spelling of his name) was born May 28, 1877, on the estate of Čerėja, on the eastern outskirts of the country known (before it was divided and occupied by Russia and Prussia at the end of the eighteenth century) as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Today, this part of Lithuania belongs to Belorussia. His father was a Lithuanian-Polish nobleman, but his ancestors were not native to the region. According to family legend, they had emigrated there from the very heart of ethnic Lithuania, on the Baltic peninsula. The Miloszes were refugees in this area too. Several centuries earlier, fleeing German pressure, they had left behind their estates in the territory of the Lusatian Serbs, near Frankfurt an der Oder. While Milašius derived his lineage from an aristocratic Serbian family of the Middle Ages, he nonetheless stressed his "Lithuanianness. " Milašius felt a great affiliation to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, whose noblemen his paternal grandparents became. (Kubilius, 1981).
Milašius's paternal grandfather was an officer of the Lithuanian-Polish army and lost a leg during the campaign against the Russians in 1893. He married an Italian singer of great beauty and talent, Natalia Tassistro, the daughter of the conductor of La Scala in Milan. Although the paternal grandfather's marriage was considered mésalliance by contemporary relatives, Milašius felt a special affection for his paternal grandparents and wrote about them with admiration in his autobiographical notes:
I have my grandfather's letters, which show a great heart and a most cultivated spirit. He considered his wife to be the very model of the graces and virtues. My grandfather and grandmother formed an outstanding, beautiful and noble couple. My love for my grandparents is reflected in my person: beauty excepted, I am a sort of physical and moral amalgam of Arthur Milosz and Natalia Tassistro. (quoted in Bamford (Ed. ), 1985, p. 433)
O. Milašius's father, Vladislas Milosz, was born in Vilnius September 11th, 1838. According to the scandalous chronicles of high society of that time, in his youth, Vladislas Milosz was depicted as an "atheist and anarchist, a wealthy man of unrestrained temperament. " (Bamford, 1985, p. 18). He liked to hunt in Africa and was interested in aeronautics. He was in Paris during the year of the Great Exhibition (1889) and was a Sunday passenger on the famous Captive Balloon (Bamford, 1985).
When Vladislas Milosz was about forty years old, he met the future mother of the poet, Miriam Rosenthal, the daughter of a Warsaw teacher of Hebrew. She came from a poor but honorable Jewish family. According to the memories of the Lithuanian diplomat, Petras Klimas, Milašius told him that once when his father was riding in his carriage in Warsaw, he caught the sight of a beautiful young Jewish woman. He "stopped his carriage and approached her; without their exchanging a word, she agreed to become his mistress. He took her off to Czereia... " (quoted in Bamford (Ed. ). 1985, p. 434).
Maria Rosalia Milosz converted to Roman Catholicism but, according to rumor, the Sabbath candles were lit every Friday in Czereia. (Kubilius, 1981). Later on, perhaps because of the influence of his mother, Milašius studied Hebrew and integrated many mystical elements of Jewish Kabbalah into his Christian writings.
However, the marriage of his parents was not a happy one. Milašius remembered them as distant and, as he wrote in one of his poems, "coldness and insanity roamed in the house. " As the only child, he was left to the care of nurses and tutors and felt unhappy and lonely.
I have never been able to give free rein to my affection for my parents. My father was violent and ill. My mother's maternalistic and uncomprehending solicitude oppressed me so much that very early I had the habit of hiding myself in the most secret parts of the parks and gardens to escape from the feelings her presence aroused in me. (quoted in Bamford (Ed. ), 1985, p. 435)
It is not clear what feelings the mother's too-affectionate care and love aroused in the young boy but, here it is possible, perhaps to trace the beginnings of future loneliness, melancholia, detachment from life, self-isolation and the constant striving for love and escape from it that followed the poet throughout his life.
If biological predisposition to depression exists, Milašius may have inherited one. His father was depressed and suffered from very acute paranoia. He used to hide in the basement of the old family house with a sharpened axe on his knees. Once he was trying to commit hara-kiri on himself with an ancient sword, and the son remembered running horror stricken through the cold dark halls of the mansion. (Kubilius, 1981). His mother, taken away from her family, her cultural environment and religious background, might have been very depressed too. Milašius himself tried to commit suicide at least twice. Once in the spring of 1899, in Czereia, after a quarrel with his father; and on January 1st, 1901, in Paris. The identification with and the internalization of depressed parents might predispose the child to depression.
In any case, Milašius' experience of early loss of relation to his parents may have affected the development of depressive and schizoid personality traits in his psyche. He may also have inherited a genetic predisposition from his eccentric and paranoid father or other family members of whom little is known.
One of the psychoanalytic hypotheses of the psychological origin of schizoid personality lies in the impinging parent who is overinvolved and boundary transgressing. (Gobbard, 1994). Perhaps this explains Milašius's attempts to escape into the solitude of the park from an intrusive mother. On the other hand, his withdrawal into imagination might be explained by the neglect of a seriously mentally-ill father. It seems, that there was no appropriate boundaries response from caregivers in his early search for objects of relationship and love. There was no other way for Milašius except to withdraw into the inner world, into a world of fantasy. But he did not become psychotic, perhaps, because of the "warm old heart" of his French-Alsatian governess, Marie Weld, who according to Milašius memories "first taught [him] the meaning of 'Mary'. " (Divine-spiritual mother?) (quoted in Bamford (Ed. ), 1985, p. 434). From her, Milašius might have received that "good enough" mothering, in Winnicott's sense, that gave him psychological support and strength in the difficulties of future years.
However primitive the schizoid personality's split could be considered from the perspective of psychological theories, at least in Milašius's case it appears to have also resulted in a sensitivity and rich imagination that produced wonderful works of art: symbolic poetry.
Take my heart, O sister dear, and rock it!
Gardens, rivers, mountains in your eyes I see,
A whole landscape disappearing, growing distant,
A whole kingdom sinking in blue silence.
Take my heart, O sister dear, and rock it!
Our happiness knew the garden of Melancholies.
Ah! Lilia, who knows if tomorrow our thought's lie
Will not be oblivion's reality?
Sweetness reflects only in lagoons of the past...
Our happiness knew the garden of Melancholies.
"Lullaby" from The Poems of Decadences (Bamford (Ed./Trans. ), 1985, p. 69).
Oscar Wilde said: "That is Moreasthe poet. And this is Miloszpoetry itself. " (Kubilius, 1981).
In April, 1889, O. Milašius traveled to Paris with his parents. According to his autobiographical notes, his father was treated there by Dr. Charcot "for a very serious nervous disorder. " In October of that year, his parents returned to Warsaw and Czereia. The twelve year old, future poet, was left in Paris at the Lycée Janson de Sailly, first as a boarding student and later as a day student. Milašius wrote: "My childhood took place in Paris in a unique context and atmosphere. " (quoted in Bamford (Ed. ), 1985, p. 436).
The unique atmosphere to which Milašius referred was Paris of the fin de siècle. There was an abundance of genius and talent in the philosophical, scientific, artistic, and literary realms. But a pessimistic spirit of rich and corrupted decadence prevailed. The Neo-Romantic movement introduced a new symbolist style of literature, with its worship of stylized esthetics and everything unnatural, irrational, and mysterious. According to Ellenberger (1970), one of the versions of the decadence idea was that of " 'aristocratic decay': as a consequence of the universal spread of democracy, superior individuals and families would be swallowed up by the masses. " (p. 281). Jules Romains characterized the period as "collective schizophrenia. " (quoted in Ellenberger, 1970).
There is no doubt that the spirit of the time affected the formation of the esthetic ideas and ideals of the young Milašius. We can hypothesize that the prevailing atmosphere of pessimism and decadence reinforced the depressive and schizoid character traits that seemed to have begun in his lonely childhood. The twelve-year-old boy, left alone in a foreign country and deprived of familiar environment and of his parents, might have suffered serious psychological consequences. Possibly, this encouraged intellectual and imaginary defenses in the young poet as an escape from the unbearable lonely reality of his emotional situation.
According to the Lithuanian philosopher Juozas Girnius, "at the age of thirteen, Milašius was enchanted by Lamartine, the poet of nature and tenderness. At seventeen, he was carried away by Edgar Poe, writer of mystery and imagination; a little later, he adored the mystical desperate poet Baudelaire. " (Bamford (Ed. ), 1985, p. 436).
Milašius was already writing poetry when he finished high school, and he then chose to study the pre-Greek and pre-Roman origins of Mediterranean civilization: Egyptian, Assyrian and Hebrew antiquities. In December, 1899, the first volume of work by Milašius was published in Paris in French Le Poème des decadences (The Poem of Decadences). Milašius became a frequent visitor to the famous literary cafes and the first American bar in Paris, Kalissaya. He was quickly accepted by Parisian literati and his closest friends became Oscar Wilde and Moreas. In 1906, Milašius published his second volume of poetry, Les Sept solitudes (The Seven Solitudes), and in 1911 the third, Les Élements (The Elements). Milašius's early poems were characterized by critics as cynical and sensuous, full of outbursts at the absurdity of existence, and sometimes violent. They could seemingly reflect the stormy developmental processes of the young poet, trying to find meaning and comfort in his poetry for his passionate, vulnerable soul. Milašius's passionate nature felt the emptiness of existence. He was hungry for love and longing for home, but could not find them either in time, or space. Some critics compare Milašius's poetry to that of T. S. Eliot, who also wrote about the solitude of man in the big city. (Bamford (Ed. ), 1985).
In a letter to his friend Christian Gauss, dated November 9th, 1900, Milašius writes:
For some time now I have beendespite the beauty of Parisian life, a beauty so fine from a distancehorribly sad, horribly sad; sad with a sadness that nothing can vanquish. Don't laugh, but nothing, nothing, not even alcohol, not even work can vanquish it. (p. 438)
In his other letters he expressed his deep disgust and disappointment with life and called it "a transitory stay in a room of a not very clean inn. " (p. 466)
It is also known from Milašius's letters that he traveled a lot at that time. He visited England, Germany, Italy, Austria, Poland, Spain and Northern Africa, as well as his native land. He also had amorous involvements that remain a mystery to his biographers, because the women are known in his writings only by their initials. The theme of Don Juanism appeared in his writings. In 1910, Milašius published the strongly autobiographical novel L'Amoureuse initiation (Amorous Initiation). Its action takes place in the Venice of the eighteenth century. It is a story about the love of Count Pinamonte, the thirteenth duke of Brettinoro for a beautiful Venetian courtesan, Clarissa Annalena. Through sensual passion for this woman the hero experiences transformation to celestial love and an all-embracing love for the Creator. In one of the passages from the book, Count Pinamonte confesses:
My childhood never knew love; my youth failed to taste passion's sweet fruit; and, at the gates of age, the prime of life left me without memory of friendship. I have never known any care other than that of filling (with a thousand follies) the empty place that love left in my heart, for the places where gentleness deigns to pause are visited by sores of deceit, madness and horror. My sensual delight has been nothing but a derangement of the imagination... (quoted in Bamford (Ed. ), 1985, p. 63).
A similar platonic theme to that of amorous initiation was repeated in the mystery play Miguel Mañara (1913). Here, the hero is the historical Don Juan. Milašius faithfully followed historical documents of the life of Don Miguel Mañara, who was a debauchee in his youth and later a monk in Seville where, soon after his death, the process of his canonization as a saint started. According to Milašius's version of the story, Don Miguel's decision to enter a monastery was caused by his grief over the death of his young and pure wife Girolama. Here, too, love for an earthly woman brings an initiation into divine, spiritual life that leaves behind the turmoil and passions of human existence.
It is possible to think that Milašius experienced a strong ambivalence about loving and being loved because of early narcissistic injuries and deficits. He felt lonely and bored by his empty, rootless existence, but was afraid of closeness and attachment. In the schizoid personality, fusion with the other in any close relationship brings the danger of losing oneself in the other as the boundaries of the self are fragile and sensitive to intrusion. The common defense is distancing from the other and "real" life into the spiritual, intellectual realm. In Milašius's case, his attempts to find closeness and love in real life were not able to bring satisfaction. Happiness was impossible. "The classic dilemma of the schizoid is that he cannot be in relation nor out of it; he either risks the loss of the object or loss of himself. " (Corbett, 1999). However, the need for connection with the other was so strong that it finally led Milašius to the search for higher meaning and the spiritual love of God.
On December 14th, 1914, Milašius experienced an illumination, a divine vision that he described to one of his friends as "I have seen the spiritual sun. " (Bamford (Ed. ), 1985, p. 449).
As always, in cases like this, it is difficult to say whether this experience of "spiritual sun" was a manifestation of the divine Self or a distorted, hallucinatory vision of psychotic breakdown. But the effect of this vision was that Milašius's poetry became more hermetic but, at the same time, more mature and deep. In 1915, one of the best volumes of his poetry Symphonies was published and in 1922 La Confession de Lemuel (The Confession of Lemuel). At that time, his poetry reached a level of archetypal imagery and symbolism that transcended the literary fashions of the epoch.
Welcome, you who come to meet me
In the echo of my footsteps, from the bottom of the cold, dark corridor of time,
Welcome, solitude, my mother.
When joy walked in my shadow, when birds
Of laughter knocked against the mirrors of the night, when the flowers,
When the terrible flowers of youthful pity choked my love
And when jealousy lowered its head and looked at itself in the wine
I thought of you, solitude, abandoned.
From September Symphony (Bamford (Ed. /Trans. ), 1985, p. 109).
He began the esoteric study of alchemy, the Kabbalah, Jacob Boehme, Paracelsus, the history of secret esoteric orders and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. At the same time, he practiced meditation, strictly following the rules of spiritual practice of the Roman Catholic Church. According to his nephew, the Nobel prize winner Czeslaw Milosz, "When French scholars speak of Milosz's moment of illumination, they invoke Pascal's "night of fire. " (Bamford (Ed. ), 1985, p. 24). His spiritual leaders became Goethe, Swedenborg and Blake. Although O. Milašius's metaphysical writings are very complicated and outside the scope of this paper, it is important to note that their main theme was the reunion of spiritual and material, inner and outer through respect and love. He tried to integrate into Christian metaphysics the mystical writings of the Kabbalah, Neoplatonic tradition, and other Hermetic sciences. In this regard, Milašius considered himself the disciple and follower of Renaissance alchemists. In a letter of 1926 to James Chouvet, Milašius confesses that "... studies taught me the only thing they could, namely, that the truth is one and that some respect and love are enough to discover it in the depths of our consciousness. " (Bamford (Ed. ), 1985, p. 39). If Milašius's intellectual attempts to reconcile the spiritual and material are regarded from a psychological perspective, they could be seen as his way to heal his inner split. Thus, the above quote comes very close to the Jungian understanding of the exploration of the unconscious in search of the "only truth"the Self.
However, as C. Milosz writes, nothing would be more mistaken than to imagine Milašius as a mystic totally withdrawn from the world. (Bamford (Ed. ), 1985). At the time he wrote his metaphysical treatises, Ars Magna (1917) and Les Arcanes (The Arcana) (1927), he was also immersed in very intense political and diplomatic activity.
After World War I, new and independent states emerged from the ruins of former empires. Lithuania was one of them. With enthusiasm, Milašius recognized the small, ethnically restricted Republic of Lithuania as the heiress of the glory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Milašius chose it as his homeland. He was a naturalized Frenchman, but always stressed the fact that he was Lithuanian as well. Beginning in 1918, he devoted a lot of energy to defending the new state's interests in many postwar international conferences. His perfect style and knowledge of four languages (German, French, English and Polish) had special value for the new state's international service. On December 1st, 1920, after France had recognized the Republic of Lithuania, Milašius was officially named Lithuanian Chargé d'Affaires and assumed his post at the Lithuanian Legation. This post was sometimes very tiresome for Milašius. He was seriously ill: he suffered from xanthtoma, a kind of skin disease (possible psychosomatic attachment and boundaries problem?). But, he continued on the staff of the Lithuanian Legation in Paris until 1938. O. Milašius's love and devotion for Lithuania and its culture also found expression in his wonderful and poetic translations of Lithuanian fairytales and folk songs into French.
Literary critics often associate the sad, nostalgic and almost transcendental melancholy of Milašius's poetry with the misty, rainy and severe landscape of his northern homeland. But, it seems likely to me, that Milašius's idealization and romanticization of Lithuania was more an expression of his own moody, depressive, restless and noble soul. In a lecture given at the Geographical Society in March, 1919, Milašius described Lithuania as a "strange, misty, veiled, murmuring land..., where all things bear the dull color of memory. " For him it was a dreamland, where his soul could find its spiritual home.
In the Poem La Cantique de la connaissance (Canticle of Knowledge), O. Milašius writes: "I have visited the two worlds. Love led me to the very depth of being. " (Bamford (Ed. ), 1985, p. 177). These words reflect in the most perfect way the inner journey of his soul which, despite the inner split and duality, reached the highest spiritual heights of creativity through love and spiritual devotion and experienced to the full the depths of human existence.
O. Milašius died in 1939 at his house in Paris trying to catch his favorite canary, which did not want to return into its cage that night. He was buried in the cemetery at Fontainebleau.
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