Native Realm Essay - Critical Context

Czesław Miłosz

Critical Context

Czesaw Miosz, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980, is considered by many to be Poland’s greatest living poet and one of the major poets of the twentieth century. Miosz’s first work to gain recognition in the West, however, was his study of intellectual capitulation to Stalinism, The Captive Mind. Miosz, who often and scathingly criticized prevailing political ideologies and impartially flayed both East and West, was dismayed to discover that his work was being used as political propaganda by the Right. Having suffered through many of the hells of his time, Miosz distrusted writers who advocated a justified violence for whatever reasons.

Still, protest as he might, Miosz cannot help but be a symbol. His poetry, which deals with recent episodes in Polish history as well as past traditions and memories, has always been tremendously popular in Poland despite the prohibitions of the Polish government. A line from one of Miosz’s poems appears on the monument in Gdansk erected by Polish workers as a memorial to their slain comrades. In 1981, he was allowed to return to Poland and met with Lech Walesa, who acknowledged his debt to the poet.

Although since 1980 more attention has been paid in the West to the literary merits of his work, much of that commentary still centers on Miosz’s political ideas and status as an exile. Critical evaluation of Miosz must pass through a filter of recent events in Poland or the situation of other Eastern European dissidents. In Native Realm, this seems to be precisely Miosz’s goal. He deliberately sets events in his personal life within the greater context of historical events. The essays depict the formation of an intellectual whose voice was that of a dissident. The complex interaction between man and his environment lies at the heart of Miosz’s poetry and prose. In fact, all of his work can be viewed as a protest against a literature not grounded in a sense of history and cultural legacy. His emphasis on a new direction in literary values, away from the hermetic and confessional, is a primary reason why he has been misunderstood by many Western intellectuals.