Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Return” is a poem about a poet and the meaning of his life and work. Therefore, many of the important themes of Miosz’s poetry are at least touched upon in the poem. Miosz is a Metaphysical poet. The greater part of his work in the West has been autobiographical, in which the quintessential challenge has been the question of identity. Miosz has used his own personal experiences as stepping stones in his examination of the value of human existence. In “Return,” this exploration of meaning is linked to another recurrent theme: the analysis of one’s life as it approaches its conclusion. Miosz does not aggrandize the episodes of his life or emphasize hardships or problems. If anything, he deprecates his own history: “Somehow I waded through; I am grateful that I was not submitted to tests beyond my strength.” His, he ironically states, has been “a blindly accomplished destiny.”

Many critics have spoken of the conflict inherent in Miosz’s worldview; the poet himself calls this metaphysical dilemma his “ecstatic pessimism.” This seeming contradiction of terms is colored by the Manichaeanism inherent in Miosz’s philosophy. The world can be beautiful; the poet is fascinated by this beauty, but he knows that it is always contaminated by evil. His pessimistic evaluation in “Return” of the importance of his own life is linked to this same duality. As a poet he re-creates beautiful images, but, given the autobiographical nature of his...

(The entire section is 592 words.)