Ars Poetica?


Video link.

Czeslaw Milosz reads his poem. This is a different translation from the one he did with Lillian Vallee for the Collected Poems.

I made this thinking I might post it on Moving Poems, but I’m not sure it quite qualifies as “the best video poetry on the web.” Nevertheless, I enjoy matching poems to footage like this, and I happen to think it’s a pretty good fit, assuming I’m correct in reading a fairly light-hearted tone into the poem.

I wholeheartedly concur with the sentiment that “the world is different from what it seems to be / and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings.” The closing assertion, that poems should only be written rarely and reluctantly, strikes me as a rather strong prescription: potentially life-saving for some poets and very dangerous for others. I do love the next-to-last stanza, though (in the canonical translation):

The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

9 Comments


  1. I am sure Czeslaw Milosz would have appreciated the poetry that comes from his reading interplayed with the video. Great post, and as one who had subscribed, for years to the school of thought that “poetry should be written rarely and reluctantly,” I am beginning to come around your view of its inherent dangers. Because there is that chance that in the wide gaps between those rare moments and reluctance, the voice fades and dies away.

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    1. Yes, I think that would be true in my case. And blogging has been key to getting me to overcome my laziness and write regularly, but I know many, many writers are just the opposite, and can’t write in public at all. So one has to be cautious in making blanket prescriptions.

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  2. Interesting. I think Milosz is being arch when he says that “poems should be written rarely and reluctantly.” He sets up poets as mediums, and necromancy could become an unhealthy habit, I guess. (He also claims in the preceding line that his poem is not a poem; he can’t be subject here, after all, to the same spirits that he warns about!)

    I agree with what he fears his readers think: his poem is in part “just one more means / of praising Art with the help of irony.” Not the irony that he refers to and has developed to that point, but the irony that he fully develops by the last stanza when he includes himself and his poem. By that stanza, irony is in full swing, and I don’t believe a word he says. But the whole poem leads well to what is my favorite stanza, too, on the purpose of poetry. (I love this poem.)

    I have no idea why juxtaposing Milosz’s reading with your video works so well. Which is to say it’s a real insight and a lot of fun to experience.

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    1. Great critique, Peter! Thanks. Comments like that add real value to a post.

      The surprising thing about the video too was that I really just edited it to get the good parts — the best and funniest moments of the evening. Adding the little snippet at the beginning — my niece opening the package with the balloon launcher — provided just enough additional run-time to match the length of the reading (which I had already slowed down a bit from the original to make it more comprehensible). So it was a little spooky to have five or six places where the words seem to describe what’s going on in the video at that moment.

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      1. Yeah, my ear and eye perked up when I saw your niece open the present at the same moment Milosz says “exposing” (she even turns her head in thought a moment later as Milosz seems to reconsider his words to add “or reader”), and then when something right phallic develops when Milosz says “something indecent.” From then on, my imagination took over, and I saw all kinds of associations, real or imagined. What fun!

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    1. Hey, thanks for stopping by. Your blog is a great resource.

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  3. wonderful and strange…thank-you

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