Last Poems

Czeslaw Milosz

In Honor of Reverend Baka

Oh those flies
Oh those flies
What strange moves they improvise,
Dancing with us,
Mister, Missus,
On the edge of the abyssus.

The abyss has no legs,
It doesn't have a tail,
It's lying on its back
Alongside the trail.

Hey there, fly-girls,
And fly-gentlemen!
Nobody will ever know
About you, so
Do it once again.

On the turds of cows
Or on marmalade
Have you tricks and escapades
Have your escapades.

The abyss gives no milk,
It needs no cup or plate.
What does it do? It waits.





Antegor

By what means did Antegor survive?

Answer: by making a pact with his God.

And he reasoned thus: Our Father, who is in heaven

Cannot be the father of death.

But all of earth, for millions of years, has been in the clutches of death,
      and the lord of death is the devil,

Who is called for this reason the Prince of This World.

Of all religions only Christianity has declared war on death.

God submitted to the diabolical law of necessity,

He incarnated, died, was buried and resurrected.

Thereby overturning universal law.

The dominion of the Prince of This World is still powerful

And everyone, who wants to live like others, bows before it:

To eat, drink, work, to beget children.

In a word to agree that what exists shall continue,

Though he may pray to the Father: Thy Kingdom come.

Antegor considered the sexual act acceptance
of the terms: "You want to live, and so you'll die."

When he took part in dangerous exploits
he was certain that no harm would befall him,
As long as he did not side with life,
Of which the sexual act is a symbol.

For this reason, when facing danger, he imposed on himself long
      periods of abstinence.

And later he kneeled before the Lord, who protected him,

But whose dominion on earth is limited
to very specific cases.





Lord Syruc

The barber stepped to to Lord Syruc's bed
and gave him an enema. This turbulence of the body
Your Lordship bore manly to the end.

Yet it's not so easy to give up the ghost

And fall asleep for ages, until the resurrection.

When the last little bone has scattered into dry dust

And the villages are gone, with the cities.

He will rub his eyes

When he finds none of the familiar names.

Lord Szymon Syruc
judge of Kaunas, sword bearer of Lithuania
with the title of Castellan of Vitebsk
will return to earth.

But not to this transformed region,
for that would probably be unfair.

He will feel beneath his feet the road by the river Niewiaza
he will hail the village of Ginejty and the ferry in Wilajny.

A thousands years hence, summoned to Last Judgment,
Lord Szymon Syruc.

Among people who lived after him. Again friends and relatives,

Deceased like him but bearing names of
Prozor and Zabiellos.

Again the ferry on the Niewiaza and Jasnowojna, Szetejnie,
and the white church in Opitoloki.

And Your Lordship is to be judged for fancying
high offices and honors,

Which mean nothing
when cities and villages are gone.





Goodness

A tenderness so great welled up in him that upon seeing
A wounded sparrow, he was ready to burst into tears.
Beneath the flawless manners of a worldly gentleman he hid
His compassion for all that is living.
Some people perhaps could sense it, but it was certainly known,
In ways mysterious to us, to the small birds
That would perch on his head and hands when he stopped
In a park alley. They would eat from his hands
As if the law that demands that the smaller
Take shelter from the larger,
Lest it be devoured, was suspended.
As if time had turned back, and the paths
Of the heavenly garden shone anew.
I had trouble understanding this man
Since what he said betrayed his knowledge of the horror of the world,
A knowledge at some point known and experienced to the very core.
I thus asked myself how he had managed to quell
His rebellion and bring himself to such humble charity.
Probably because this world, evil but existing,
He thought better than one that did not exist.
But he also believed in the immaculate beauty of the earth
from before the fall of Adam.
Whose free decision had brought death upon humans and animals.
But this was already something my mind didn't know how to accept.

translated from the Polish by Anthony Milosz


With permission from Ecco Press, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Selected and Last Poems 1931-2004 by Czeslaw Milosz is forthcoming as a paperback edition from Ecco Press (November 15, 2011).



Czeslaw Milosz was born in Szetejnie, Lithuania, in 1911. He worked with the Polish Resistance movement in Warsaw during World War II, after which he was stationed in Paris as a cultural attaché from Poland. He defected to France in 1951, and in 1960 he accepted a position at the University of California at Berkeley. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1980, and was a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He died in 2004.

Anthony Milosz is Czeslaw Milosz's son. The translations exceprted here are of his father's last poems before his death; they have never before appeared in English and are included in a revised and updated edition called Selected and Last Poems 1931–2004 by Czeslaw Milosz, forthcoming from Ecco Press.



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