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“Dedication,” written soon after the occupation and destruction of Warsaw, is an homage to those who died from one who survived. In it, Miosz acknowledges the difficulty of speaking about the unspeakable, reveals his guilt at having lived to tell the story of those years, and dedicates himself to writing poetry that will grapple with history and memory.

It begins by directly addressing those to whom it is dedicated—“You whom I could not save/ Listen to me”—as if the poet sees them before him and must speak to give their spirits rest. He then confesses his own lack of skill and expresses his decision to abandon the aesthetic of complexity that characterized his prewar writing: “Try to understand this simple speech as I would be ashamed of another./ I swear there is in me no wizardry of words.” In the second stanza, he tries to understand why he survived and fails. All he can say is that, somehow, “What strengthened me, for you was lethal.” He then recalls the excitement of the prewar years, when the catastrophists and other talented young people, now dead, faced anxiety with energy and art. “You mixed up farewell to an epoch with the beginning of a new one./ Inspiration of hatred with lyrical beauty,/ Blind force with accomplished shape.”

The third stanza links the dead with the destroyed city, nearly burned to the ground by the Germans while the Soviet army watched from the opposite bank of the Vistula River. “Here is the valley of shallow Polish rivers. And an immense bridge/ Going into white fog. Here is a broken city.” The white fog literally describes the smoldering city. It also suggests that what lay on the far side of the bridge—the Soviet Army, doing nothing to help—was shrouded in silence in Communist Poland, where official dogma whitewashed the Soviets and made them the city’s saviors.

In the fourth stanza, the elegiac tone of the first three stanzas is replaced by an angrier, tougher voice, a voice that seems to rebuke the poet himself, while insisting that after this destruction poetry can never be the same. “What is poetry which does not save/ Nations or people?” the poet asks. He then quickly and absolutely answers his own question: “A connivance with official lies,/ A song of drunkards whose throats will be cut in a moment,/ Readings for sophomore girls.” The poet clearly speaks from bitter experience. Only now does he see what poetry must be and do. Moreover, while he does not condemn totally his own earlier efforts in a different poetic vein, he strongly feels the need to move beyond them. “That I wanted good poetry without knowing it,/ That I discovered, late, its salutary aim,/ In this and only this I find salvation,” he says. That “late” is a profound self-indictment that echoes throughout the remainder of Miosz’s career—an indictment to which he pleads guilty and of which he will never quite exonerate himself.

In the final, haunting stanza, the young poet who wanted to escape the provinces for the cosmopolitan worlds of Paris and Warsaw (see his 1980 poem, “Bypassing Rue Descartes”) finds himself returning to his roots, as he compares the book that he is dedicating with the village ceremonies of his childhood in Lithuania. “They used to pour millet on graves or poppy seeds,” he recalls. “To feed the dead who would come disguised as birds./ I put this book here for you, who once lived/ So that you should visit us no more.” It proves to be a vain hope. In the other poems in his first postwar book, and in many of the poems that will follow, Miosz is drawn back, again and again, to these same memories of the war and its dead.

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