Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Table of Contents
- Abbreviation List
- Reminders and Motivations
- In the Shadow of the Tree of Knowledge
- The Fall
- The Religious in Literature
- She Was One of My Initiations
- Number and Eros
- Beautiful Lady
- The Consoling One
- Rhythm as Blood Pulsation
- Rhythm versus Spacetime
- The Rhythm of the Pursuit of Reality
- The Rhythm of Thought and Existence
- Universe Like a Crucifixion
- The Fall and Imperfection
- Loss and Purification
- The Temptation of Detachment
- Miłosz – Mickiewicz – Norwid
- Why Mickiewicz?
- A Community of Initiation
- Should We Trust Reason?
- Good Nature and Wicked Man: A Romantic Invention
- Toward Evil
- Questions about the Meaning of History
- Commonness and Innocence
- Simplicity as a Poetic Tool115
- Mindfulness – Understanding – Wisdom
- The Mindfulness of an Exile
- The Wisdom of Imagination
- Index of Names
- Series index
The publication uses the following abbreviations for books by Czesław Miłosz.
Frequently quoted subject literature:
|The Eternal Moment||Aleksander Fiut: The Eternal Moment. Trans. T. S. Robertson. Berkeley 1990.|
|Miłosz jak świat||Jan Błoński: Miłosz jak świat (Miłosz Like the World). Wydanie drugie poszerzone. Kraków 2011.|
|Moment wieczny||Aleksander Fiut: Moment wieczny. Poezja Czesława Miłosza (The Eternal Moment: The Poetry of Czesław Miłosz). Kraków 2011.|
|Poznawanie Miłosza||Poznawanie Miłosza. Studia i szkice o twórczości poety. Pod redakcją naukową J. Kwiatkowskiego. Kraków 1985.|
|Poznawanie Miłosza 2 cz. 1||Poznawanie Miłosza 2 cz. 1: 1980 – 1998. Pod red. A. Fiuta. Kraków 2000.|
|Poznawanie Miłosza 2 cz. 2||Poznawanie Miłosza 2 cz. 2: 1980 – 1998. Pod red. A. Fiuta. Kraków 2001.|
|Poznawanie Miłosza 3||Poznawanie Miłosza 3. 1999 – 2010. Pod red. A. Fiuta. Kraków 2011.|
Aleksander Fiut writes:
With the passage of time it is increasingly clear that through his writing Milosz relates the history of his own disinheritance, and not just his alone. He is reminiscent of Zbigniew Herbert, in whose poetry … the fundamental opposition is that of the “realm of inheritance” (“obszar dziedzictwa”) versus the “realm of disinheritance” (“obszar wydziedziczenia”). … Herbert and Milosz interpret the Fall differently. For Herbert, it is a symbol of the loss of an idyll – personal, patriotic, cultural. For Milosz, it is the image of existential division. Herbert sees himself outside the gates of Paradise; Milosz, in the shadow of the tree of knowledge (The Eternal Moment, p. 159).
Fiut was the first to draw such emphatic attention to the importance of Miłosz’s work attributes to the event of the Fall. The shadow which lingers over the poet’s writings is cast by a tree deprived of one fruit, picked against God’s prohibition. By recalling the shadow of the tree of knowledge metaphor, Fiut emphasizes that in Miłosz’s work, the Fall’s fundamental consequence is the existentially torn person. This division concerns oppositions between nature and culture, history and transcendence, religion and science.
Fiut sheds light on a significant aspect of this issue. In fact, the constant presence in the shadow of the tree of knowledge illustrates a longing for the state before the fruit was picked and the inevitability of the situation that followed. Man affected by sin is condemned to culture, science, and history: in other words, to civilization. Indeed, to Miłosz, the rebellion against God’s prohibition is the founding act of civilization. Man cannot free himself from these oppositions, because he is unable to renounce his focus on what is his own, what he created, what is his sole merit, what satisfies his ambition. At the same time, he remains in the shadow of the tree of knowledge: he longs for the state he lost. This longing does not preclude hope; Fiut considers Miłosz as a poet of hope: “Milosz is a poet of hope, but of a defiant hope, a tragic hope” (The Eternal Moment, p. 194). The tragic nature of this hope takes shape through the perception of reality, marked by the consequences of the Fall, tainted with death.
As Fiut notes, it is the existential dimension of the Fall that Miłosz considers to be the most important. Not moral, but existential dimension. Not moral guilt, but the quality of being profoundly transformed by sin is the fundamental consequence of what the Book of Genesis vividly portrays as the eating of the forbidden fruit. In consequence, the Last Judgment for Miłosz has “not so much a moral ←11 | 12→meaning as an ontological one. More than a just assessment of human actions, it signifies a change in all reality” (The Eternal Moment, p. 79). Can such a vision of the Last Judgment be a source of hope? Fiut claims it can, and he explains that in Miłosz’s work, the Fall is no fate, as it leaves room for hope, albeit a tragic one. Undoubtedly, this would be a hope infiltrated by the experience of death and its inevitability. If one may speak of the tragic nature of hope in this case, it lies in the unavoidability of death and its tragic irreversibility. At the same time, the ontological, rather than moral, character of the Last Judgment deprives man of any influence on its outcome: in the face of the Last Judgment, he remains helpless. All this makes the Fall a mystery of existence, an inexplicable existential flaw, independent of man’s intentions and actions.
In the shadow of the tree of knowledge means no longer in paradise, but longing after it, with hope, albeit a tragic one. According to Fiut’s interpretation, the existential suspension “in-between” is the fundamental consequence of the Fall in Miłosz’s eyes.
Regarding the issue of the Fall, in Jerzy Szymik interpretation Miłosz’s writings are fraught with the question of the problem of evil, where does evil come from?1 While Fiut states that Miłosz perceives the experience of the Fall primarily in existential categories, Szymik considers the theological aspect to be most important, as being a “vote of no confidence against God.”2 Szymik notes that for Miłosz, the theological interpretation of the Fall constitutes a basis for the understanding of man.3 Of course, this is not to say that one ignores man himself, but theology is the starting point. Szymik focuses on theological categories, including original sin. Although Szymik’s text may be the most exhaustive analysis of the Fall in Miłosz’s work, it is hardly exhaustive from the literary studies viewpoint, due to its theological and analytical perspective. It belongs to the sphere of theology of literature, rather than theology in literature.4
In fact, there exists no comprehensive literary discussion of the problem of the Fall in the extensive literature on Miłosz’s work, although many have approached this subject. This includes the most eminent researchers of Miłosz, such as – apart from Aleksander Fiut – Jan Błoński, Marian Stala, and, slightly later, Joanna Zach.←12 | 13→
According to Marian Stala, the protagonists of Miłosz’s poems “are aware that they lost their primary state of being and original place in the whole of existence. They know that the world is not in harmony, that the Earth is not home to all living beings, that nature is not kind to man. They see and experience the world as exiles from the Garden of Eden.”5 In this view, the consequences of the Fall are, above all, loss and exile; loss of the primary state of being, and exile into the world – foreign and repulsive, hostile and unfriendly. In Stala’s interpretation, it is not a world that is devoid of any hope; nevertheless, the preservation of hope is an indication of naivety, in the meaning expressed in the cycle The World: A Naïve Poem. Stala describes this meaning as “almost religious:” “A “naïve” man is one who comes close to a primary, fundamental connection to the world.”6 This naivety operates as religious imagination, helping to save the meaningfulness of the world from the destructive influence of science, which denies it. To save this meaningfulness is to persist in assuming that a world order exists.
Jan Błoński highlights the inevitability of a post-Fall attitude of rejection of life and hatred for it, present in Miłosz’s artistic stance. This rejection is difficult to avoid, but also necessary, as it is creative and provides the artistic distance necessary for any creative endeavor; it is also inevitably immoral, because an act of the artist’s self-admiration always lies behind it. In Błoński’s interpretation, Miłosz understands the Fall as an event rich in consequences that are significant for man’s creative work. It is through the Fall that “ego, Eros, matter, and poetry are on one side;”7 “under a lyrical cauldron an aggressive, cruel, contemptible ego must light the fire. The Devil adds the coal”8 Without the Fall, an act of elevation of the ego, poetry would be impossible, at least in the form we know.
For Joanna Zach, however, to Miłosz the Fall is above all an idea that constitutes the important point of reference in the poet’s dispute with the Enlightenment concept of a rational order founded on the good of human nature. All of Miłosz’s work stems from the discovery of evil – in nature and in man – as a result of the Fall, and from the eschatological hope of the redemption of that evil.9←13 | 14→
Texts that identify Miłosz’s religious perspective with Manicheism also include an indirect interpretation of Miłosz’s understanding of the Fall. Donald Davie is one of those who make such an identification. Manicheism, as reactivated by Miłosz, assumes that “Nature is not directly a divine creation,”10 but the creation of an intermediate deity called Demiurge. The fall of the world is therefore absolute, since reality as we know it is the work of malice, not love. However, Davie notes that Miłosz adds signs of irony to his Manicheism, although he does not specify to which elements of the Manichean doctrine this irony refers.
Łukasz Tischner observes that Miłosz is mainly concerned with the mystery of experiencing evil (German Übel) and, more broadly, metaphysical evil, which is the basic fact of finiteness and limitations in the created world.11 Such a description of Miłosz’s intellectual inclinations is consistent with the evocation of Manicheism as an idea that constitutes an important interpretative context for the problem of evil in his work. Namely, Manicheism focuses on metaphysical evil and treats moral evil as the consequence of the world’s subjugation to the will of the evil Demiurge, independent of man. Miłosz’s relationship with Manicheism is a matter of shared sensitivity to evil, not a simple adoption of the philosophical-religious system.
Kris van Heuckelom also recognizes the important role of Manicheism in Miłosz’s poetic worldview. The Manichean rejection of the Earth’s beauty is, in his opinion, an element of the bipolar construction of Miłosz’s reflections, which we may synthetically classify as “ecstatic pessimism.” The second element of this construction is the ecstatic admiration for the world’s sensual beauty. Here, Heuckelom refers to Fiut’s observation of an unsolved dilemma present in Miłosz’s poetry: “The poetic, and hence childlike and religious, side of Miłosz’s imagination instinctively seeks the “childish earth of illusion,” while another side, rational and infected with the poisons of twentieth-century science, history, and philosophy, scornfully mocks the first” (The Eternal Moment, pp. 60). Therefore, the poetic side of the imagination suggests an ecstatic vision of the world, while the rational a rather pessimistic one; however, Fiut does not attribute Manichean origins to the latter.
In his discussion on the ambivalence of Miłosz’s poetic attitude, Heuckelom refers to a confession of the poet himself from The Land of Ulro, where Miłosz confesses that he is experiencing an internal conflict between an angel and a ←14 | 15→devil. A victory of the former causes one to see the world as beautiful. A victory of the latter leads to a heightened perception of the world’s meaninglessness (see Ulro, p. 246). A fundamental question arises here concerning the legitimacy of seeing Miłosz’s thought as a bipolar construction. A review of the most important opinions on the issue of the Fall in Miłosz’s work shows that there is no consensus among researchers on the bipolarity of Miłosz’s poetic worldview. Not every one of them is as inclined to emphasize this aspect of the discussed work as Fiut. It appears that Stala, Błoński, and Tischner remarks Miłosz’s sensitivity to what is contaminated and desolate in the world, but they do not attribute to this sensitivity a role equal to that of a positive worldview, with tenderness for what is beautiful and hopeful. The difference is subtle yet clear.
For instance, Błoński’s interpretation is characteristic in that it highlights the perspective of hope. In the conclusion to a well-known essay, “Epifanie Miłosza” (Miłosz’s Epiphanies), he points to the idea of the resurrection of the body as a justification of the hope that poetry will be able to fulfill its redemptive mission.12 This hope refers to poetry: “the work of imagination will not be left for ruination.”13 However, the idea of bodily resurrection also means the victory of being over non-being, existence over nothingness; a victory that undermines the equal role of the positive and negative worldviews. Zach also emphasizes Miłosz’s eschatological hope, “which feeds on the vision of a redeemed world.”14
In his interpretation of the long poem From the Rising of the Sun, Tischner also accentuates Miłosz’s admiration, not doubt, even though it is the latter that prevails in the ending of the poem,15 as Tischner argues that despair is not the last word, for hope hides in admiration.16 Even if the temptation of despair remains alive and admiration is only a matter of the moment – eternal moments17 – the bipolar structure of poetic thought remains shaken.
The question regarding the bipolarity of Miłosz’s poetic worldview is an indirect question on his understanding of the consequences of the Fall. In his poetry, is the world completely immersed in the Fall, or is rather contaminated with its consequences? Whenever there arises the question of doubt caused by the world’s inexorable cruelty, we must take into account the event with which the history of man’s earthly existence begins: man’s and nature’s loss of the paradisiac state.←15 | 16→
Those interpretations of Miłosz’s work in which the Fall is an experience with no religious meaning – a myth that organizes the relationship between man and nature devoid of transcendence – also confirm the usefulness of the Fall category. Agata Bielik-Robson portrays Miłosz’s creative biography as a fall into nature, caused by the rejection of the perspective offered by Marxism: leaving “the house of natural bondage.” One of the consequences of this fall was that Miłosz “wrote the stillborn Treatise on Theology …; which fell from the cycle of Nature, which Miłosz first called after Blake the Great Wheel, a terrible wheel of being, to finally adore it, in a Catholic, Thomas Aquinas’s way.”18 Miłosz is to fall into nature out of fear of Promethean and messianic Marxism, he is to settle on the shallow of the Catholic vision of reality. In Bielik-Robson’s interpretation, the affirmation of being proves an existential and intellectual sluggishness.19
Is Miłosz’s understanding of the problem of the Fall subject to evolution? In his work published in 2011, Zbigniew Kaźmierczyk provides a clearly affirmative answer. The caesura of Miłosz’s artistic and spiritual biography is to be the year 1943 and his publication of The World. Kaźmierczyk states that 1943 closes “the phase of the Gnostic experience of existence.”20 However, did the breakthrough, which Miłosz himself mentions in Native Realm (see Native Realm, pp. 248–249), really concern the poet’s attitude toward Gnosticism, above all else? “I also accepted my none-too-enviable place on earth” (Native Realm, ←16 | 17→p. 248). These words sound like a confession of someone who freed himself from Gnostic hatred for the world. However, is that really the meaning of these words? The transformation Miłosz observed in himself21 – engaged in discussions with Tadeusz Kroński – rather concerns the understanding of the tasks of poetry:22 situated between the ideals of pure and engaged poetry, poetry dares to seek the heart of personal experience to universalize it; with the poet feeling free of any obligations to the community, which no longer count in a tragic historical situation. Indeed, the affirmation of reality accompanies this experience, but it is not at its core; it is not the subject of the poetic clarification of perspective that Miłosz mentions. After all, in his essay on the wartime escapade from Vilnius to Warsaw, he already confesses: “The world was imperturbable, magnificent. I loved it, because with every turn it offered itself to me ever new, ever different” (Native Realm, p. 228). Miłosz was probably never a sufficiently ardent follower of Gnostic ideas for them to act as an interpretative key to his works. He was not a Manichaean in the strict sense of the word, but he always held a deep conviction that the Manichaean component was an important element for his poetic sensitivity (see Ulro, p. 164).
Noteworthy is Fiut’s understanding of the 1943 caesura in Miłosz’s work. Fiut asserts that, above all, 1943 has a strictly poetic sense: after 1943 changes the way Miłosz treats objects in his poetry, singled out and combined to capture one unchanging detail (Moment wieczny, p. 34). However, Fiut does not make this caesura the criterion for ordering the image of the poet’s work. In principle, Fiut captures Miłosz’s work in a synchronic perspective, which does not interfere with occasional diachronic approaches, for instance in the form of his remark that “the suggestion of autobiographism becomes most pronounced in Miłosz ←17 | 18→… in the USA”(Moment wieczny, p. 141). Nevertheless, Fiut contests Ryszard Nycz’s thesis, well-known among Miłosz researchers, that in the 1960s, Miłosz’s conviction about the existence of a hidden order of reality becomes balanced by the fact that reality is perceived as an unrestricted whole:23 “Miłosz worldview sustains a permanent oscillation, a testing of forces, an incessant subversion of certainty.” These fluctuations concern not only epistemological problems but also questions about the ultimate meaning: “agnostic or nihilistic temptation” coexists with “compelling professinos of faith in primordial world order.”
Miłosz’s work, considered as a vision of the world after the Fall and exile, does not call for the emphasis on the caesura of 1943 or any other caesuras possible to establish. It is true that this vision undergoes certain changes; however, Miłosz’s poetic imagination constantly revolves around the theme of the world’s flaws. A difference in its understanding is clearly visible in two works devoted to Miłosz’s secondary school catechist – father Leopold Chomski: “Father Ch.” and “Father Ch., Many Years Later.” Miłosz created them fifty years apart: fifty years of the poet’s life and work. In the former, included in the volume Three Winters, the dominant images are darkness, nothingness, and a sense of destruction (see Wiersze, Vol. 1 pp. 108–109). In the latter (see NCP, pp. 436–440) – from the volume Unattainable Earth, intensely affirmative of the world – dominates a tension between sensual delight in the world’s beauty and a sense of power of the “Great Spirit of Nonbeing.” In both, the former student talks to the catechist about his religious teachings, about “the nothingness of seductive forms” (Wiersze, Vol. 1, p. 108): one time, this truth seems unquestionable, while another time, confronted with the touch of the belly of a beloved woman, or “close-grained pear wood” (NCP, p. 439), unacceptable, but not effectively rejected. The general sense of destruction visible in the former poem is already a plague of nothingness and annihilation of being, lurking at every step, in the latter poem. Yet, in both poems the world is an arena of man’s fight against the forces of darkness, “a bitter, bitter earth,” as Miłosz writes in another poem from Unattainable Earth, “After Paradise.”
Thus, the presence of the theme of the Fall and its intensity remains unchanged in Miłosz. It is the understanding of the consequences of the Fall that is subject to change. However, the changes in this area do not form a clear line of evolution. Rather, the pattern Fiut observed is confirmed here: constant fluctuation. Already in Miłosz’s pre-war works, one can find the heralds of a mature ←18 | 19→affirmation of being. In the essay “Zejście na ziemię” (Descent to the Earth), a sober, although deliberately exaggerated, depressing image of the Warsaw proletariat, viewed from the perspective of the biblical truth about exile: “their every move confessed the grief of Adams, harnessed to a yoke,” becomes a starting point for a more general reflection: “Everything today speaks against the truth of the immortality of individual being” (“Zejście na ziemię,” p. 221). Nevertheless, the “descent to the Earth” is to happen so that this truth can be saved.
The second boundary point in Miłosz’s intellectual and spiritual biography, important for his work – liberating oneself from fascination with historical necessity – is also not a reason for an evolutionary understanding of the Fall, which in Miłosz’s work often proves an experience of the work of the demon of history. Submission to necessity – in its historical and biological variations – is a curse of life after the Fall in Miłosz’s work. However, the poet never treated his fascination with history-immersed thinking as a heritage that deserved an explicit rejection. Rather, he saw in it an opportunity to deepen the understanding of Christian revelation. The influence of Stanisław Brzozowski’s works is clear in this respect. To Miłosz himself, we can refer the comment on the essay’s protagonist: “Brzozowski showed with own example what happens when history is so saturated that it has an ambition to embrace everything. Inevitable then is what it seemed to prevent: a question about the sense of existence of the only historical being – man” (“Człowiek wśród skorpionów,” p. 183). Tomasz Burek’s remark would serve as a confirmation of this comment:
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- Publication date
- 2021 (January)
- Myth of the Fall Modernism Heritage of Romanticism Poetic Imagination Literature and Religion
- Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 418 pp.