Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The ideal task of the poet, Miosz pointed out in his Nobel Prize lecture, “is to contemplate the word ‘is.’ ” In Miosz’s case, this “is” encompasses ontology (over the more fashionable contemporary preoccupation with epistemology), on the one hand, and a preoccupation with “the complexity and richness of the visible world,” on the other. Conceiving the world as indissolubly double—as objective existence and ontological essence—and drawing on Urbanowska’s children’s story about a boy turned into a fly, Miosz embodies in his poem that “basic curiosity about the world” which he, both as “witness to poetry” (the title of his Harvard lectures) and as witness to history (the German occupation of Poland and the rise of the Stalinist state), warns is fast disappearing. About “flying into the center of things” and exploring “reality from various angles, in various guises,” according to the poet, “Bobo’s Metamorphosis” conforms to Miosz’s definition of poetry as “the passionate pursuit of the Real,” but a Real which remains stubbornly, magically unattainable.

Against history’s generalizations and its annihilation of the individual, Miosz posits the sensuous apprehension of the world in all its immediacy as it is experienced, remembered, or contemplated. Although experience and memory act as checks on each other and so would appear to have more or less equal status, memory in fact occupies a special place in...

(The entire section is 447 words.)