PROVINCES – POEMS 1987 – 1991 (Poetry)

By Milosz, Czeslaw
Translated by the author and Robert Hass
New York: The Ecco Press, 1991
ISBN # 0-88001=317-6
72 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
September 2012

I have just recently come to know of the poet Czeslaw Milosz, and this first volume I’ve read leaves me utterly delighted, thinking this man is one of the best poets I’ve ever read. This collection is mainly of quite short poems, a page often, perhaps two pages now and again. Each one reflects on and describes some concrete situation and lifts it to the heights of philosophical and moral discussion at the same time.

In the very first poem, Blacksmith Shop, he tells us:

“It seems I was called for this
To glorify things just because they are.”

And that’s what it seems he does. He celebrates the world, yet isn’t much convinced it has any other or so-called “higher” meaning than that the world IS. And humans ARE: are now and living, but Milosz doesn’t believe that humans are anything more than another being among the beings of this planet, and like other beings will be, live, and then, at some time, cease to be. No more no less, and he celebrates the IS which each being is.

In his poem about the early evolutionist, Linnaeus, he writes:

“He would set out with his botanical box
To gather and to name, like Adam in the garden
Who did not finish his task, expelled too early.”

The poet himself, while not a scientist, will do this NAMING in poetry and lived experience.

“And I, who in this bitter age deprived of harmony
Am a wanderer and a gatherer of visible forms
Envying them, bring to him [Linnaeus] my tribute
A verse imitating the classical ode.”

There is a beautiful humility about Milosz. In another poem he presents a portrait of himself as poet:

"Late, the time of humbling reconciliation
With himself, arrived for him.
“Yes” – said – “I was created
To be a poet and nothing more.
I did not know anything else to do.
Greatly ashamed but unable to change my fate.”

The poet: one who constantly thinks of something else.
His absentmindedness drives his people to despair.
Maybe he does not even have any human feelings.

But, after all, why should it not be so?
In human diversity, a mutation, variation
Is also needed. Let us visit the poet
In his little house in a somewhat faded suburb
Where he raises rabbits, prepares vodka with herbs,
And records on tape his hermetic verses."

My favorite poem of the collection is a bit longer than others – A New Province. It is about the aging process, the approach of death. Each stanza, about 13 of them, each 4-8 lines, is an image of a different aspect or attitude toward old aging and death. I’ve read it half dozen times already. Perhaps it’s a bit close to home.

There is an irony is his work in that it is very concrete; he reveals the everyday world of his experience. He SAYS he doubts the notion of philosophy and reflections on larger meanings, yet many of his poems, while set in everyday reality, reveal a view of the world that many would-be philosophers would find exciting. But his own claim to be “just” a describer of his world is beautifully expressed in one of the last poems in the collection: December 1. December 1

"The vineyard country, russet, reddish, carmine-brown this season.
A blue outline of hills above a fertile valley.
It’s warm as long as the sun does not set, in the shade cold returns.
A strong sauna and then swimming in a pool surrounded by trees.
Dark redwood, transparent pale-leaved birches.
In their delicate network, a sliver of the moon
I describe this for I have learned to doubt philosophy
And the visible world is all that remains."

Joyfully I have a second volume of his work which I haven’t yet taken off the shelf. I’m going to wait a bit, reread a few of the poems in this volume, then, when I’m ready I’ll treat myself to the second book of his which I have.

Bob Corbett


Becoming Reading Thinking Journals


Bob Corbett