To Begin Where I Am
Czeslaw Milosz's literary reputation will rest ultimately in his poetry. However, because he was a witness to the cataclysmic events in twentieth century Europe, his essays are essential reading for Americans unfamiliar with his work. The essays are arranged in three thematic sections with an afterword. The editors have provided extensive endnotes as guidance for readers.
In "These Guests of Mine," Milosz recalls events from his early years and paints incisive portraits of several contemporaries. He is a superb storyteller with a love of nature and a capacity for lifelong friendship. "Against Incomprehensible Poetry" is a sampling of Milosz's incisive literary criticism of such major writers as T.S. Eliot, Boris Pasternak, and Robert Frost, as well as several Polish poets.
"On the Side of Man" records Milosz's struggle with basic philosophical questions, revealing the contradiction between his Roman Catholic faith and his spiritual doubts. Horrified by the evils of the Nazi regime, he was active in the resistance and a witness to the Holocaust and the Warsaw uprising. A dissident during the Russian domination of Poland, he exiled himself to France. His work was banned by the communists from 1946 to 1980, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize. In 1960 he became a professor of Slavic Languages and Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, and an American citizen, but he returns regularly to his native Poland.
Milosz introduces this volume with the sentence: "I am here." He follows with a passionate statement of his urgent need to communicate his lifetime experiences and his moral vision of hope for humanity in the face of incomprehensible evil.