Czesaw Miosz composed “To Raja Rao” immediately following a long theological discussion he had in Berkeley in 1969 with the Indian writer and philosopher Raja Rao, a man whose international stature, literary and philosophical interests, theological bent, and (perhaps most important) bicultural background parallel Miosz’s. It soon becomes apparent, however, that “To Raja Rao” deals less with these parallels than with the quite different ways in which the two writers—one a Catholic Pole, the other a Hindu Indian—deal with the “malady” introduced in line 2, but never specifically defined anywhere in the poem. This absence does not mean that the poem is merely or even chiefly confessional. “To Raja Rao” is Miosz’s attempt to understand and explain the nature and cause of this malady, and in this way define and explain his own essential being to an addressee who, whether Rao or some other reader, shares his general predicament, though not necessarily his background or his understanding of what that predicament means and what it entails.
Looking back, Miosz characterizes his life in self-exile in terms of displacement, unreality, and restless longing, his “hope of moving on.” (Miosz asked for and was granted political asylum by France in 1951; he accepted a teaching position at the University of California at Berkeley in 1960 and became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1970). Conflating the psychological and the...
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