December 3, 2010

O[scar] V[ladislas] de L[ubicz] Milosz

painting of Milosz by Julien Champagne

O.[scar] V.[ladislas] de L.[ubicz] Milosz [Lithuania / France]

Milosz was born in Lithuania in 1877. The country home of his parents and the surrounding landscape of dark forests and ruined châteaux were to have an influence on his writing for the rest of his life. At the age of twelve, his parents sent him to Paris, where he was educated in European languages as well as in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.

His youth was spent in travel, experiences from which he used throughout his writing. His first poems, published in 1899, were collected in Le Poème des Décadences, written out of his experiences as a member of the Paris circle of writers and artists who frequented the Cloiserie des Lilas. Milosz continued to frequent that café for the rest of his life, long after it had lost its special status and had become a place for tourists.

For ten years after World War I, Milosz was minister-resident for Lithuania, and wrote several historical and political treatises on the problems of his home country and the Baltic States. He also gathered three collections of Lithuanian folklore. But in 1930, he became a French citizen. He died on March 2, 1939, the eve of World War II. His poetry is filled with the sense of Paris and pre-World War II Parisian life, sensual, and dark, clearly influenced by the writings of Baudelaire and Gautier. Milosz was also a scholar, and wrote metaphysical tracts and dramas.


Le Poème des Décadences (Paris: Girard et Villerelle, 1899); Les Sept Solitudes (Paris: Henry Jouve, 1906); Les Éléments (Paris: Bibliothèque de L'Occident, 1911); Poèmes (Paris: Éditions Figuière, 1915); Adramandoni (Paris: M. Duncan, 1918); La Confession de Lemuel (Paris: La Connaissance, 1922); Poèmes: 1895-1927 (Paris: J. O. Fourcade, 1929); Dix-sept Poëmes de Milosz (Tunis: Éditions de Mirages, 1937); Poèmes (Paris: Cahiers des Poètes Catholiques, 1938).


Fourteen Poems, trans. by Kenneth Rexroth (Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 1983); The Noble Traveller, edited by Christopher Bamford (Hudson, New York: Lindisfarne Press, 1985).

When she comes...

When she comes─will her eyes be grey or green,
Green or grey on the river?
The hour will be new in a future so old,
New, but not very new...
Old hours where everything has been said, everything seen, everything dreamed!
I pity you if you know it.

There will be today and the city noises,
Just like today and every day─hard problems!─
And smells─depending on the season─of September or April
And a false sky and some clouds in the river;

And some words─depending on the moment─gay or sobbing
Under skies that rejoice or weep,
For we will have lived and feigned so much again and again,
When she comes with her eyes like a rainy river.

There will be (voice of weariness, laughter of impotence)
The senile, the sterile, the dry present moment,
The throbbing of eternity, sister of silence,
The present moment, just like the present.

Yesterday, ten years ago, today, a month from now,
Horrible words, dead thoughts, which mean nothing,
Drink, sleep, die,─we must escape from ourselves
In one way or another...

Translated from the French by Kenneth Rexroth

(from Les Sept Solitudes, 1906)

Monkey Dance

To the tune of a little mocking music, frisking
Breathlessly, and weeping, weeping like the pouring rain,
Jump, jump, my soul, old monkey, to the Barbara organ,
Little old raggmuffin, sly, romantic and tender animal.

With your tail like leafless autumn, pretentiously twisted
In a question mark against the empty twilight sky,
Wipe your tears, gallant monkey, melancholy and ridiculous,
Monkey scabby with dead love, monkey toothless with lost days.

Another tune, give us another tune! You know the low dives,
The leprous slums, the autumn street fairs, the sour fish and chips.
You make the malnourished girls laugh,─o dirty, frightful, skinny,
Piteous, epileptic monkey, animal of pure homesickness.

Give us another tune, too bad it's the last!─And let it be that sordid
Last waltz, the requiem of dead thieves, echoing music
Which says, "Goodbye memory, love and coconuts..."
While the poor rain gurgles in the old and heavy mud.

Translated from the French by Kenneth Rexroth

(from Les Sept Solitudes, 1906)

November Symphony

It will be exactly like this life. The same room.
Yes, my child, the same. At dawn the bird of time in the foliage
Pale as a corpse. Then the servants will get up,
And you will hear the frozen noises, in the hollow basins

Of the fountains. O terrible, terrible youth! O empty heart!
It will be exactly like this life. There will be
The poor voices, the voices of winter in old slums,
The glass mender singing his own duet,

The broken grandmother under a dirty bonnet
Crying out the names of fish, the man with the blue apron
Who spits into a hand worn by the wheelbarrow
And yells nobody knows what, like the Angel of Judgment.

It will be exactly like this life. The same table.
The Bible, Goethe, the ink and the smell of time,
The paper, white woman who reads thoughts,
The pen, the portrait. My child, my child!

It will be exactly like this life!─The same garden,
Deep, deep, thick, dim. And towards noon
People will enjoy themselves at being reunited there
Who never met and who do not know

One from another. You will have to dress
As if for a party and go in the night
Of the lost, all alone, without love and without lamp.
It will be exactly like this life. The same parkway:

And (in the autumn afternoon), at the turn of the parkway,
There where the beautiful road goes down shyly, like the woman
Who goes to pick the flowers of convalescence─listen, my child,
We shall meet again, here as of old,

And you have forgotten, the color your dress was then,
But I, I have known only little moments of happiness.
You will be garbed in pale violet, beautiful sorrow!
And the flowers of your hat will be small and sad,

And I will not know their names, for in this life I have known
Only the name of one sad small flower, the forget-me-not,
The old sleeper in the ravines of the land of hide and seek,
The orphan flower. Yes, yes, deep heart, like this life.

And the dim path will be there, all damp
In the echo of waterfalls. And I will tell you
About the city upon the water, and about Rabbi Bacharach,
And about the nights of Florence. There will also be

The sinking wall and down there where the smells
Of the old, old rain and the leprous weeds drowse,
Cold and fat, the hollow flowers shake there
In the dumb stream.

─Translated from the French by Kenneth Rexroth

(from Poèmes, 1915)

Psalm of the King of Beauty

From the Isles of Separation and the Empire of the Depths, hear the rising voice of the harps of the suns. Peace flows over our heads. The place where we now stand, Malchut, is the heart of Height.

The fruitful tears pour forth as I think of my Father and the worlds of gold shed a light of beauty on the depths. Royal head yet resting on my heart, what a fear of numbers you decipher in the memory of night! Queen, be truly a woman in supremem compassion. All white with pity for greatness, think of the Creator, most abandoned of all. The spot where we now stand, Malchut, is the heart of Height.

Facing the saintly toil of the constellations, can you not feel your heart torn asunder, Malchut, Malchut, wife, mother too of generations? Space, a swarm of sacred bees, flies towards the Adramand of ecstatic perfumes. The spot where we now stand, Malchut, is the heart of Height.

For the motionless Absolute is the secret desire of that which moves. A solar regent and pious Sower of seed destined to be born and die, I love only what is permanent. I myself, I who am but a small personification, I desire ardently to become transmuted. Here in the abyss, nothing is situated, nothing is situated! All reality exists only in the love of the Father. The place where we now stand, Malchut, is the heart of Height.

Peace on earth, oh my spouse, oh woman! Peace in all the unreal empire, peace for the gentle souls for which you make the seven strings of the rainbow sing! When I contemplate, oh Queen, your overturned face, I have the deep feeling that all my thoughts are born in your sweet heart. The place where we now stand, Malchut, is the heart of Height.

And yet, and yet I would wish to fall asleep on this throne of Time and to fall from the depths to the heights in the divine abyss! To be seated forever motionless among the sages. To forget that the word HERE was lacking in my language. For I, who constantly create in order to deserve the Nothing, I am the desire of the end, Malchut, of the end and of the end of all ends. Oh, to retire to rest, dead spouse, in my heart, and then to be reborn for the Father's eternal day! The place where we now stand, Malchut, is the heart of Height.

Translated from the French by Edouard Roditi


"When she comes...," "Monkey Dance," and "November Symphony"
Reprinted from Fourteen Poems, trans. by Kenneth Rexroth (Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 1983). Copyright ©1952, 1983 by the Kenneth Rexroth Trust. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.

"Psalm of the King of Beauty"
Reprinted from The Noble Traveller, edited by Christopher Bamford (Hudson, New York: Lindisfarne Press, 1985). Copyright ©1985 by The Lindisfarne Press. Reprinted by permission of The Lindisfarne Press.

1 comment:

Bureau of Public Secrets said...

Many of Rexroth's other translations (along with lots of his own writings) are online at