Milosz: awareness of tribulation to humanize the song

Seamus Heaney remembers the late, great Czeslaw Milosz for The New Republic:

he was equally emphatic about poetry’s need to descend from its high vantage point and creep about among the nomads on the plain. It was not enough that the poet should be like Venus in Auden’s poem “The Shield of Achilles,” looking over the shoulder of his artifact at a far-off panorama that included everything from kitchen comedy to genocide. The poet had to be down there with the ordinary crowd, at eye level with the refugee family on the floor of the railway station, sharing the smell of the stale crusts that the mother is doling out to her youngsters even as the boots of the military patrol bear down on them, the city is bombarded, and maps and memories go up in flames.

Awareness of the triteness and the tribulations of other people’s lives was needed to humanize the song. It was not enough to be in the salons of the avant-garde.

(Thanks to Carolyn for the tip.)


You might want to subscribe to my free Substack newsletter, Ancestor Trouble, if the name makes intuitive sense to you.