Friday, April 22, 2011

A poetry story

A lovely 'Even Hoshen' edition
Czesław Miłosz and I "met" in late spring of 2006. The days were warm and sunny, the atmosphere carefree and happy. The school year was coming to a close. Our end-of-the-year English unit was poetry, as was our summarizing final project and exam (more details here). I was impressed enough with Miłosz writing to give him the front-centre spot in the project, and enough to remember his name. And yet.
And yet it took me an additional five years to read further Miłosz poems, this time in another language. When an article in the Ha'aretz Book Review (partial English representation here) mentioned a newly published translation of a collection of Miłosz poems, I immediately took note. During the National Book Week, I visited the booth of this publisher (small, independent and almost entirely unknown... sadly). I picked up the book was struck by the beauty of the edition. This was not a simple publication. I could discuss the publishers at length (at a later time), but suffice to say that the edition is positively lovely - heavy paper, a distinct blue font, and specially drawn images scattered throughout the book. A book for a true bibliophile. And Miłosz lover.

I did not immediately dive into It (as the collection is called in this edition). I took my time, occasionally reading a poem here and there. One evening, I sat down to read a few poems before bed. One left a particularly strong impression. "Meaning":

When I die, I will see the lining of the world.
The other side, beyond bird, mountain, sunset.
The true meaning, ready to be decoded.
What never added up will add up,
What was incomprehensible will be comprehended.

And if there is no lining to the world?
If a thrush on a branch is not a sign,
But just a thrush on the branch? If night and day
Make no sense following each other?
And on this earth there is nothing except this earth?

Even if that is so, there will remain
A word wakened by lips that perish,
A tireless messenger who runs and runs
Through interstellar fields, through the revolving galaxies,
And calls out, protests, screams.

(translation Robert Hass)

It's a poem that can impact a reader in two languages (or possibly more). This is why I return to Miłosz, why I do like some poetry. I'm not a huge poetry reader, but poems like this - poems that move a reader enough to read them again and again and again without the words growing old - are the reason I will continue to seek out new poets. And return to the talented ones.

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