Czeslaw Milosz, 1911-2004

Over the weekend, Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz died. He was 93. He was a master poet, full of ambivalence towards a world that could produce the joys and the horrors of the 20th century. His writings on totalitarianism are still salient; His book The Captive Mind is a condemnation of the leftist intellectuals of Western Europe who were rationalizing and philosophizing away Stalin's raping of his homeland. It opens:

"It was only toward the middle of the twentieth century that the inhabitants of many European countries came, in general unpleasantly, to the realization that their fate could be influenced directly by intricate and abtruse books of philosophy. Their bread, their work, their private lives began to depend on this or that decision in disputes on principles [Marxism] to which, until then, they had never paid any attention."

Though he is rightly considered a hero to the resistance movements of Eastern Europe, that is by no means the extent of his genius. He was a funny guy, full of life, and I would easily put him in the top five people I would have really liked to enjoy a drink with. To give you a sense of his humor, please check out the following poem. It was written when he was 89 years old, well after he had seen the Russian occupation of Poland collapse and returned from exile to his first country as a hero. It's called:


For those of you in our audience who get hit on by creepy old polish men (those of you who ride the Chicago El know what I'm talking about), well, that poem above is almost certainly that guy's inner monologue.

Last thought: I really like the idea that I may get to grow up to be a dirty old polish man. I can't describe to you how excited I am by the prospect…no wait. When that time comes, I'll definitely be inappropriately telling you how excited I am. On the bus. In some bar on Chicago Avenue. In the waiting area of John Stroger Jr. Memorial Hospital. And so on.

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