Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Czesaw Miosz’s Bells in Winter is a book of short lyric poems, an extended historical poem, and one long poem made up of six sections. The lyric poems are various, since some deal with nature and religion and others with the social and historical losses of the mid-twentieth century. The long poem goes back to Miosz’s native Lithuania to attempt to come to terms with both the dislocations of the twentieth century and his own history. The earliest poems in the collection were written in 1936 and 1944 in the midst of the destruction of World War II in Eastern Europe. Miosz is a poet who writes in Polish but was born in Lithuania, and he saw the destruction of his country and the slaughter of millions. In this way the context of history frames the rest of the poems, which were written in the 1970’s.
The first poem in the collection is called “Encounter.” It begins with a pastoral landscape with a hare and a man who perceives it. The poem then contrasts that pastoral scene with death and destruction. “Today neither of them is alive,/ Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.” The speaker asks where are they going, but there is no answer. Instead, the sense of loss is modulated by placing it in another emotional context: “I ask not in sorrow, but in wonder.” The poem was written in 1936, a time when the beginnings of World War II were becoming apparent. Wonder is the appropriate emotion to the cataclysm that was to take place;...
(The entire section is 1864 words.)
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