Beginning with My Streets

This miscellany will be warmly welcomed by longtime Miłosz readers, though some may be dissuaded by the $30.00 price tag. Some of the essays gathered here have been previously published in English (those originally written in Polish have been newly translated for this volume), but the bulk of the collection is appearing in translation for the first time.

Part 1, the title section, focuses on Miłosz’s roots in Lithuania and Poland, and on the distinctive sense of history shaped by the Central European experience. Part 2, “The Garden of Knowledge,” offers a selection of brief meditations from a Polish volume of the same title. Dating from 1974, these meditations typically take as their point of departure a quotation or a group of quotations; Pascal, Simone Weil, William Law, Nietzsche, T.S. Eliot, the Polish poet K.I. Galczynski, Erich Auerbach (from MIMESIS), and Thomas Traherne are among those whose words trigger Miłosz’s reflections on topics ranging from “Reality” to the Seven Deadly Sins. Added to this section is an interview conducted by Rachel Berghash in 1986.

Part 3 includes pieces on individual writers—among them, Dostoevsky, Robinson Jeffers, Gombrowicz, and Aleksander Wat—and on literature. The first essay in this section, “A Poet Between East and West,” is one of Miłosz’s best, a provocative look at the perennial tension between poetry and life. Part 4 consists of two memoirs of friends who have died, recollections rich in human detail. The volume concludes with the Nobel Lecture.

Irony and wit, metaphysical probing, a profound sense of the reality of evil and an equally deep instinct for ecstatic vision: all the qualties that distinguish Miłosz’s poetry animate this collection of essays as well.