Resonance Ensemble, photo by Krzysztof Penarski

Resonance Ensemble, photo by Krzysztof Penarski

Czesław Miłosz

Czesław Miłosz (June 30, 1911 - August 14, 2004) was a Polish poet, prose writer and translator of Lithuanian origin and subsequent American citizenship. His World War II-era sequence The World, is a collection of 20 "naive" poems. He defected to the West in 1951 and his non-fiction book The Captive Mind (1953) is one of the classics of anti-Stalinism. From 1961 to 1998 he was a professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1980, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Life in Europe
Czesław Miłosz was born on June 30, 1911 in the village of Šeteniai/Szetejnie, Kovno Governorate, Russian Empire (now Kedainiai district, Kaunas County, Lithuania) on the border between two Lithuanian historical regions of Samogitia and Aukštaitija in central Lithuania. He was a son of Aleksander Miłosz (d.1959), a civil engineer, and Weronika, née Kunat (d.1945), descendant of the Siručiai noble family. Milosz was fluent in Polish, Lithuanian, Russian, English and French. His brother, Andrzej Miłosz (1917–2002), a Polish journalist, translator of literature and of film subtitles into Polish, was a documentary-film producer who created Polish documentaries about his brother.
Miłosz emphasized his identity with the multi-ethnic Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a stance that led to ongoing controversies; he refused to categorically identify himself as either a Pole or a Lithuanian. He said of himself: "I am a Lithuanian to whom it was not given to be a Lithuanian.", and "My family in the sixteenth century already spoke Polish, just as many families in Finland spoke Swedish and in Ireland English, so I am a Polish not a Lithuanian poet. But the landscapes and perhaps the spirits of Lithuania have never abandoned me".
Miłosz memorialised his Lithuanian childhood in a 1955 novel, The Issa Valley, and in the 1959 memoir Native Realm. After graduating from Sigismund Augustus Gymnasium in Vilnius, he studied law at Stefan Batory University and in 1931 he travelled to Paris, where he was influenced by his distant cousin Oscar Milosz, a French poet of Lithuanian descent and a Swedenborgian. His first volume of poetry was published in 1934. After receiving his law degree that year, he again spent a year in Paris on a fellowship. Upon returning, he worked as a commentator at Radio Wilno, but was dismissed for his leftist views. Miłosz wrote all his poetry, fiction and essays in Polish and translated the Old Testament Psalms into Polish.
Miłosz spent World War II in Warsaw, under Nazi Germany's "General Government". Here he attended underground lectures by Polish philosopher and historian of philosophy and aesthetics, Władysław Tatarkiewicz. He did not participate in the Warsaw Uprising since he resided outside Warsaw proper. After World War II, Miłosz served as cultural attaché of the communist People's Republic of Poland in Paris. In 1951 he defected and obtained political asylum in France. In 1953 he received the Prix Littéraire Européen (European Literary Prize).

Life in the United States
In 1960 Miłosz emigrated to the United States, and in 1970 he became a U.S. citizen. In 1961 he began a professorship in Polish literature in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1978 he received the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. He retired that same year, but continued teaching at Berkeley. Milosz' personal attitude about living in Berkeley is sensitively portrayed in his poem, "A Magic Mountain," contained in a collection of translated poems entitled Bells in Winter, published by Ecco Press (1985). Having grown up in the cold climates of Eastern Europe, Milosz was especially struck by the lack of seasonal weather in Berkeley and by some of the brilliant refugees from around the world who became his friends at the university.
In 1980 Miłosz received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Since his works had been banned in Poland by the communist government, this was the first time that many Poles became aware of him.[citation needed] When the Iron Curtain fell, Miłosz was able to return to Poland, at first to visit and later to live part-time in Kraków. He divided his time between his home in Berkeley and an apartment in Kraków. In 1989, he received the U.S. National Medal of Arts and an honorary doctorate from Harvard University. During this period in Poland, his work was silenced by government-censored media.
Miłosz's 1953 book The Captive Mind is a study about how intellectuals behave under a repressive regime, a work which he himself later translated into English. Miłosz observed that those who became dissidents were not necessarily those with the strongest minds, but rather those with the weakest stomachs; the mind can rationalize anything, he said, but the stomach can take only so much. Through the Cold War, the book was often cited by US conservative commentators such as William F. Buckley, Jr.

Death and legacy
Miłosz died in 2004 at his Kraków home, aged 93. His first wife, Janina (née Dłuska), whom he had married in 1944, predeceased him in 1986. They had two sons, Anthony (b. 1947) and John Peter (b.1951 ). His second wife, Carol Thigpen, an American-born historian, died in 2002. Miłosz's body was entombed at Kraków's historic Skałka Church, one of the last to be commemorated there.
Miłosz is honoured at Israel's Yad Vashem memorial to the Holocaust, as one of the "Righteous among the Nations". A poem by Miłosz appears on a Gdańsk memorial to protesting shipyard workers who had been killed by government security forces in 1970. His books and poems have been translated by many hands, including Jane Zielonko, Peter Dale Scott, Robert Pinsky and Robert Hass.

Selected works
Poetry collections:
1936: Trzy zimy (Three Winters); Warsaw: Władysława Mortkowicz
1945: Ocalenie (Rescue); Warsaw: Czytelnik
1954: Światło dzienne (The Light of Day); Paris: Instytut Literacki
1957: Traktat poetycki (A Poetical Treatise); Paris: Instytut Literacki
1962: Król Popiel i inne wiersze (King Popiel and Other Poems); Paris: Instytut Literacki
1965: Gucio zaczarowany (Gucio Enchanted); Paris: Instytut Literacki
1969: Miasto bez imienia (City Without a Name); Paris: Instytut Literacki
1974: Gdzie słońce wschodzi i kedy zapada (Where the Sun Rises and Where it Sets); Paris: Instytut Literacki
1982: Hymn o Perle (The Poem of the Pearl); Paris: Instytut Literacki
1984: Nieobjęta ziemia (The Unencompassed Earth); Paris: Instytut Literacki
1989: Kroniki (Chronicles); Paris: Instytut Literacki
1991: Dalsze okolice (Farther Surroundings); Kraków: Znak
1994: Na brzegu rzeki (Facing the River); Kraków: Znak
2000: To (It), Kraków: Znak
2002: Druga przestrzeń (The Second Space); Cracow: Znak
2003: Orfeusz i Eurydyka (Orpheus and Eurydice); Kraków: WL
2006: Wiersze ostatnie (Last Poems) Kraków: Znak

Prose collections:
1953: Zniewolony umysł (The Captive Mind); Paris: Instytut Literacki
1955: Zdobycie władzy (The Seizure of Power); Paris: Instytut Literacki
1955: Dolina Issy (The Issa Valley); Paris: Instytut Literacki
1959: Rodzinna Europa (Native Realm); Paris: Instytut Literacki
1969: The History of Polish Literature; London-New York: MacMillan
1969: Widzenia nad Zatoką San Francisco (A View of San Francisco Bay); Paris: Instytut Literacki
1974: Prywatne obowiązki (Private Obligations); Paris: Instytut Literacki
1976: Emperor of the Earth; Berkeley: University of California Press
1977: Ziemia Ulro (The Land of Ulro); Paris: Instytut Literacki
1979: Ogród Nauk (The Garden of Science); Paris: Instytut Literacki
1981: Nobel Lecture; New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1981
1983: The Witness of Poetry; Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press
1985: Zaczynając od moich ulic (Starting from My Streets); Paris: Instytut Literacki
1986: A mi Európánkról (About our Europe); New York: Hill and Wang
1992: Szukanie ojczyzny (In Search of a Homeland); Kraków: Znak
1995: Metafizyczna pauza (The Metaphysical Pause); Kraków: Znak
1996: Legendy nowoczesności (Modern Legends, War Essays); Kraków: WL
1997: Zycie na wyspach (Life on Islands); Kraków: Znak
1997: Piesek przydrożny (Roadside Dog); Kraków: Znak
1997: Abecadło Milosza (Milosz's Alphabet); Kraków: WL
1988: Inne Abecadło (A Further Alphabet); Kraków: WL
1999: Wyprawa w dwudziestolecie (An Excursion through the Twenties and Thirties); Cracow: WL
2004: Spiżarnia literacka (A Literary Larder); Kraków: WL
2004: Przygody młodego umysłu; Kraków: Znak
2004: O podróżach w czasie; (On time travel) Kraków: Znak - oficial site of Czesław Miłosz in Polish language

Czesław Miłosz with Helen Vendler, March 26, 1998