Last Poems, The

Czesław Miłosz
Last Poems, The
  • Znak
    Kraków 2006
    152 x 228
    96 pages
    ISBN 83-240-0741-5

In the many collections Miłosz published in the autumn of his long, incredibly industrious and creative life, there appeared poems that come across as a kind of poet's farewell. The reader of these poems sometimes has the impression that the author is speaking from the "other side", at other times he stands more with us mortals and speaks to those somewhere beyond, and with increasing frequency to God himself.  
Thus it is only now that we have before us his true farewell, or if you prefer, his poetic will and testament.
The poems in this collection are somewhat different - they came about in the poet's last two years, some literally in the final months and weeks. Among them are polished works which the author managed to give their final shape, and also those which were only approaching their final form - sometimes preserved in a few variants, which are in some cases a far cry from their completed version.   
The motifs, themes and conundrums that fascinated and disquieted Miłosz the poet virtually from the beginning converge in the five parts of this book, as if in a lens. Thus we return - with a keen awareness that this is to be the last time - to his childhood recollections and youth in Vilnius, we find portaits of friends and relatives, conversations with a daimon, and verses about the mysteries of the poet's profession, meditations on his own fate, the meaning of existence, the spiritual misdirection of contemporary man, and the trappings of the civilization mankind has created. There are also moving personal confessions about sickness and old age, as well as verses which make use of the grotesque, self-irony and caricaturial deformation, unsettling illogicality and the suggestive imagery of dream and vision notations. Some of the incomplete works or images give the impression of notebook sketches. The epic poem Orpheus and Eurydice stands as its own part of the book - this masterpiece was written following the death of his beloved wife Carol, and transforms suffering - in a way not unlike Anna Akhmatova's Requiem - into an affecting [epitaph?] that is both a tribute and pure beauty. Yet the most important pieces in this volume would seem to be the verse-prayers that conclude it; these are requests for forgiveness, and conversations with the "Inexpressible, our Father in heaven," who helped him to glimpse at the "seams of the world" and penetrate the mysteries that are revealed when we "enter the Other, beyond time and space."      
This book is also an exceptional work for another reason: it stands as testimony to a dramatic struggle which pits a restless mind and brave soul against the weakness of the body, failing vision, waves of depression, personal tragedies, approaching darkness, and ultimate solitude.

- Jerzy Illg