Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Although it was Czesław Miłosz’s poetry that earned for him the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature, his work in other genres is widely known among the international reading public. One of his most important nonfiction works is the autobiographical volume Rodzinna Europa (1959; Native Realm: A Search for Self-Definition, 1968). Unlike most autobiographies, this volume emphasizes the social and political background of the author’s life at the expense of personal detail. For example, Miłosz makes but two passing references to his wife in the course of the entire work. Despite such lacunae, it is a work of the utmost personal candor and is indispensable for anyone endeavoring to fathom Miłosz’s poetic intent. Similarly helpful is the novel Dolina Issy (1955; The Issa Valley, 1981), the plot of which focuses on a young boy’s rites of passage in rural Lithuania during and after World War I. An understanding of the Manichaean metaphysics which inform this work as well as Native Realm is fundamental to a reading of Miłosz’s poetry.

In an earlier novel, Zdobycie władzy (1953; The Seizure of Power, 1955), Miłosz presented a series of narrative sketches dealing with the suppression of the insurrection in Warsaw by the Germans in 1944, the Red Army’s subsequent advance through Poland, and the eventual seizure of power by pro-Soviet Polish officials. Miłosz also analyzed Communist totalitarianism in a work of nonfiction, Zniewolony umysł (1953; The Captive Mind, 1953). A large part of this book is devoted to the fate of four writers in Communist Poland and provides a moving account of their gradual descent into spiritual slavery under the yoke of Stalinist oppression. Although Miłosz designates these men only by abstract labels—Alpha, the Moralist; Beta, the Disappointed Lover; Gamma, the Slave of History; and Delta, the Troubadour—their real identities are easily surmised by anyone familiar with postwar Polish literature.

Some of...

(The entire section is 840 words.)