End of the World and Polish literature

It was a beautiful Saturday yesterday. I was sitting by the canal and eating shrimps and thought to myself: "What a beautiful day for the world to end!".

And a poem came to mind:

Song on the End of the World

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A Fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through fields under their umbrellas
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels' trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet,
Yet is not a prophet, for he's much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world there will be,
No other end of the world there will be.
As we now know, despite the expectations and hopes of thousands, the world didn't end yesterday. It was just a beautiful Saturday and not a Judgement Day after all. The world is going to exist at least until December 2011, when another End of the World is scheduled. Now, with the doomsday suspended for the time being, I thought there will be no better moment to finally inaugurate my 'Polish series'.

The above quoted poem is by Czesław Miłosz, Polish Nobel Prize Winner (however, some might argue he was Lithuanian).

The reason I chose Miłosz to be the first author in my Polish series is because he is the archetypical 'black sheep' of Polish literature and black sheep of Polish literature is what we are interested in.

He very quickly fell out with Polish communists (in 1951 when he sought political asylum in France) and he was banned in Poland during communist period. Not only were his books banned but it was literally illegal to even mention his name! This could have made him friends with the underground opposition, weren't that closely tied to the Polish Catholic Church and Miłosz reviled traditional Polish Catholicism and bigotry.

All of that meant, that Miłosz had very few friends in Poland, therefore he put everyone in a very awkward poistion when he went on and won Nobel Prize in 1980. Polish government reluctantly lifted the ban on mentioning his name and even allowed publishing some of his poems (in their censored versions). And even some more enlightened members of Catholic establishment embraced him.

He moved back to Poland in 1993 after the fall of communism and remained a controversial figure until his death in 2004 (and apparently after his death as well when fights broke out over his burial place).

He is widely translated into various languages and you shouldn't have any problems getting copies of his work.

Penguin Classics published a hefty volume of his New and Collected Poems (1931-2001) which I have bought recently and it is 800 pages of pure delight.


New and Collected Poems

(sadly the above quoted poem is not in this collection)

Penguin has also published his book 'Captive Mind' which is a profound analysis of what happens to people's minds under totalitarian rule


The Captive Mind


Finally, as a part of Penguin's recently launched Central European Classics series you can read: "Proud to be a Mammal", Miłosz's essays on War, Faith and Memory. I love the design of the series, however the pink cover might be a tad misleading.

Proud to be a Mammal


*on an only slightly related note, in the same Central European Classic series you can find 'How I Came to Know Fish' by a Czech author Ota Pavel. It's a wonderful book. Read it.


And that's it, folks. That was the first installment of the Polish series. Thank you for reading and stay tuned because there will be more (probably around the next End of The World).