Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Tuesday Poem--Earth by Czesław Miłosz

My sweet European homeland,
A butterfly lighting on your flowers stains its wings 
                                             with blood,
Blood gathers in the mouths of tulips,
Shines, star-like, inside a morning glory
And washes the grains of wheat.
Your people warm their hands
At the funeral candle of a primrose
And hear on the fields the wind howling
In the cannons ready to be fired.

You are a land where it’s no shame to suffer
For one is served here a glass of bitter liquor
With lees, the poison of centuries.
On your broken evening of wet leaves,
By the waters that carry the rust
Of centurions’ sunken armor,
At the foot of blasted towers,
In the shadow of the spans like aqueducts,
Under the quiet canopy of an owl’s wings.
A red poppy, touched by the ice of tears.
Czesław Miłosz
Washington, DC, 1949


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  2. This poem slays me, John. It contains all the war and carnage from Homer to Dresden. And the destruction has included all the beauty that has been destroyed, and yet it has all been saved by Milosz's broken cry and exquisite lines. I am always astonished by what he can carry within his language.

  3. I was about to offer a comment about the poem, but the above exchange leaves nothing to add. So rich. Thanks to you both — and of course to you, Melissa, for posting another wonder from the master.

  4. Just came to this tonight. I am really amazed how he moves from the opening light feeling of the butterfly through all the varied weightiness of war: blood, shame, funeral gatherings, bitter liquor, poison of centuries, sunken armor, blasted towers... and then, so simply at the end: ice of tears. That image is mysterious and unexpected -- because we always think of tears as hot. But you can feel that poppy heavy and cold. And to see how this poem achieves all that in such a quiet way. It is not a screaming war poem, but gosh all the more effective. I think Timothy summed it up when he called him the master.