Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The overriding and unifying theme of “To Raja Rao” is exile, but exile of a very complex kind. In its simplest form, the exile is personal and cultural. Having lived for two decades in self-imposed exile, first in Paris and then in Berkeley, Miosz has become something of a displaced person. Contrasting the gregariousness that characterizes his European past with the loneliness of his more recent Western and especially American experience, he feels dispossessed, foreign, and, above all, “other.” “Somewhere else,” he believes, there exists the “real presence” that his American life lacks.

The personal dimension of Miosz’s exile borders on the political. The unnamed Poland nostalgically evoked in stanzas 2, 3, and 4 gives way to a more pragmatic realization of the Stalinist tyranny that characterizes the modern Poland Miosz fled in 1951; that, in turn, leads him from nostalgic reverie to futuristic fantasy—the dream of a “permanent polis,” perhaps not unrelated to the “messianic hope” which has long been a part of the Polish national identity and so is a part of the poet’s own identity as well.

Far from curing him of his “malady,” Miosz’s pragmatic accommodation to his new (nominally or at least geographically American) life in fact deepens his predicament as exile, adding psychological and, more importantly, spiritual layers to the cultural and political ones already described. The shame he feels as the result...

(The entire section is 507 words.)