The endless, useless urge to look on life comprehensively, to take a bird’s-eye view of ourselves and judge the dimensions of what we have or have not done: this is life as landscape, or life as a résumé. But life is incremental, and though a worthwhile life is a gathering together of all that one is, good and bad, successful and not, the paradox is that we can never really see this one thing that all of our increments (and decrements, I suppose) add up to. “Early we receive a call,” writes Czeslaw Milosz, “yet it remains incomprehensible, and only late do we discover how obedient we were.”
Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer
People near me don’t know how difficult it is to pretend that nothing
happened, that everything is normal.
Czeslaw Milosz, Notebook,
My poetry has been called polyphonic, which is to say that I have always been full of voices speaking; in a way I consider myself an instrument, a medium. My friend Jeanne Hersch, who introduced me to the existentialism of Karl Jaspers, used to say, “I have never seen a person so instrumental,” meaning that I was visited by voices. There is nothing extraterrestrial in this, but something within myself. Am I alone in this? I don’t think so. Dostoyevsky was one of the first writers, along with Friedrich Nietzsche, to identify a crisis of modern civilization: that every one of us is visited by contradictory voices, contradictory physical urges. I have written about the difficulty of remaining the same person when such guests enter and go and take us for their instrument. But we must hope to be inspired by good spirits, not evil ones.
Czeslaw Milosz (InterviewThe Paris Review) From here
What I learned from Jeanne Hersch:
That in our lives we should not succumb to despair because of our errors and our sins, for the past is never closed down and receives the meaning we give it by our subsequent acts.
In his dreams he is running through a dark garden.
His grandfather is there but the pear tree is not where it should be,
And the little gate opens to a breaking wave.
Czeslaw Milosz, A Mirrored Gallery
A young mathematics teacher whom I befriended showed me one of his poems. It was a poem about a man who tries in vain to climb out of a dark well. In the end, it turns out that this man is the son of the one who built the well. Czeslaw Milosz Notebook
He could not control his thoughts. They wandered wherever they liked, and as he observed them, he grew uneasy.
For they were not good thoughts, and, if he were to judge himself by them, there was, deep within him, a lot of cruelty.
He thought that the world was very painful and that human beings didn’t deserve to exist. And he suspected that the
cruelty of his imagination was somehow connected with his creative impulse.
Czeslaw Milosz, Borderlines, (translated from the Polish by the author and Robert Hass)