The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Return,” with thematic divisions consisting of single sentences or short paragraphs, is a meditative poem whose cadence conforms more to the rhythms of prose than to those of verse. The poem is written in the first person and is autobiographical. Although the poet includes the reader in his musings, there is no doubt that the focus is on the poet’s own life experiences. In fact, “Return” can be considered an emotional history of Czesaw Miosz’s life in capsule form.

The poet has returned home to the places of his youth. They, like him, are ostensibly the same and yet not the same. The passage of time has changed all the important details. The man and his homeland are now “incomprehensibly the same, incomprehensibly different.” Standing on the shore of a lake, the poet remembers the sufferings and despair of his younger self standing on this same shore, but the experience of many years has made him realize that such pain was not his alone but the inevitable result of living in a cruel world. However, he honors the boy and all young people who have not grown “sly,” who refuse to acquiesce, and who refuse to “participate for ever.”

The middle section of the poem changes in tone as the poet deals briefly with the gifts of the world, a woman’s body, and the beauty of a lake, but this mood is fleeting as the poet almost immediately asks if it has all been worthwhile. Many of Miosz’s poems written outside his native...

(The entire section is 452 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

At first glance, “Return” seems devoid of any poetic devices or images, but the apparent simplicity of the proselike lines is deceptive. What first attracts the attention is the use of the “I” in the first lines, but as the poet begins to feel the chasm between his younger and older selves, the pronoun shifts to “you” for the boy of his youth and then to “he” and “we” as all are enveloped in the evils of the world. The “I” returns as the poet individually feels the beauty of the world, but the “I” of the older man and the “you” of the boy merge in their appreciation of the gifts of life: “Only for me” and “Only for you.” While separate in suffering, they unite in joy. In the last section, only the “I” of the old man remains as he reflects on what has happened to him since he left this place so many years before.

“Return” is very representative of Miosz’s later work in its almost complete rejection of any poetic devices such as metaphor or symbol. Any attempt at versification or rhyming techniques is also absent. The two-and three-line divisions of the poem are meant to correspond to the natural flow of thought. However, also dominant in Miosz’s poetry is nature imagery, and again “Return” is no exception. What is different because of the theme of the poem (Miosz’s return home) is that all the imagery exists in the present. In other poems, similar sounds, smells, and shapes call forth...

(The entire section is 439 words.)