The Bigness of Small Poems – # 40 in a Series – The Gift of Czeslaw Milosz

Polish Lithuanian Poet Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004). Photo Credit: AKG Images / East News

Gift

A day so happy
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers
There was nothing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

Berkley, 1971

Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004) from New and Collected Poems (1931-2001), Ecco (HarperCollins), 2003

Life has had its way with me this week and found enough must-do things for me to do that I did not end up featuring any more solstice poems in my blog. And that’s okay. But as it happens the epigraph poem for this blog post began to haunt me a few days ago and wouldn’t let me go.

Surrender is a key word for a poet to understand. And so I surrender to this poem by celebrated Polish Nobel Prize Laureate Czeslaw Milosz. Such a cogent call to peace and serenity. And God knows I need this reminder all the time. Especially these three lines:

There was nothing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.


To get to this place. What a goal. To find this kind of peace. Nothing I want to possess, no one worth envying and hurts and grudges forgotten. But these lines for me are also powerful because of the context. They are said in the context of a moment out of time. A moment of such beauty and the narrator participating in the beauty: I worked in the garden/ Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers…And then the last lines. Milosz’s narrator turns from heady and strong abstract pronouncements to an embodied sense of who he is:

In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

What a grounding for the poem. The narrator back in the garden. So lost inside his work he feels no pain. And then the sheer sense of freedom and release in the last line. One of my favorites. For its simplicity and complexity. Simple in its diction and description. Complex in its in its outward looking to a vast place of possibility. To a place of movement and grace symbolized by the fragment: and sails. Such sense of freedom. Freedom provided by releasing the need to possess, to envy or hold anger and resentment.

Earlier in the week I discovered this line in a reading: Envy is nothing more than a hostile form of self-pity. I had the echo of this line when I thought of Milosz’s poem. My recognition that envy of any kind is an unnecessary burden. And to remember the joy and happiness that arrives when I surrender to the call and example of freedom in Milosz’s poem.

This is such a wonderful reminder on this day, the sixth anniversary of my marriage to my beloved Somae and two days after my 67th birthday. Thank you Czeslaw Milosz.

4 Comments

  1. Posted June 23, 2018 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Love this. Thank you. I am a big fan of Czeslaw M.

  2. Richard Osler
    Posted July 7, 2018 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Thank you. Strange to know that even one of the greats like Milosz could be all we might read and it would be enough.

  3. Donna Friesen
    Posted June 23, 2018 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations to you and Somae Richard! And thanks for this poem. Brought me “to ground” both literally and metaphorically!

  4. Richard Osler
    Posted July 7, 2018 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Thank you. Brings me back to serenity! Fast. Bless you.

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