Synopses & Reviews
Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz's most recent collection Second Space
marks a new stage in one of the great poetic pilgrimages of our time. Few poets have inhabited the land of old age as long or energetically as Milosz, for whom this territory holds both openings and closings, affirmations as well as losses. "Not soon, as late as the approach of my ninetieth year, / I felt a door opening in me and I entered / the clarity of early morning," he writes in "Late Ripeness." Elsewhere he laments the loss of his voracious vision -- "My wondrously quick eyes, you saw many things, / Lands and cities, islands and oceans" -- only to discover a new light that defies the limits of physical sight: "Without eyes, my gaze is fixed on one bright point, / That grows large and takes me in."
Second Space is typically capacious in the range of voices, forms, and subjects it embraces. It moves seamlessly from dramatic monologues to theological treatises, from philosophy and history to epigrams, elegies, and metaphysical meditations. It is unified by Milosz's ongoing quest to find the bond linking the things of this world with the order of a "second space," shaped not by necessity, but grace. Second Space invites us to accompany a self-proclaimed "apprentice" on this extraordinary quest. In "Treatise on Theology," Milosz calls himself "a one day's master." He is, of course, far more than this. Second Space reveals an artist peerless both in his capacity to confront the world's suffering and in his eagerness to embrace its joys: "Sun. And sky. And in the sky white clouds. / Only now everything cried to him: Eurydice! / How will I live without you, my consoling one! / But there was a fragrant scent of herbs, the low humming of bees, / And he fell asleep with his cheek on the sun-warmed earth."
"The title's second space comprises heaven and hell, which have 'vanished forever'; without them the blessed cannot 'meet salvation' and the damned 'find suitable quarters.' In mourning, the poet exhorts: 'Let us implore that it be returned to us,/ That second space.' The Nobel laureate, who died this past summer in Krakw at 93, is preoccupied in this collection with establishing that space through words, but also finds it in carnality and in 'the unattainable Now.' The opening section of summative short lyrics on themes familiar from late Milosz (memory, salvation, place) is followed by four long poems. 'Father Severinus' is an eponymous 11-poem dramatic monologue of a priest (who shares one of the names of medieval philosopher Boethius) in whom there is 'only a hope of hope.' Next comes 'Treatise on Theology' ('A young man couldn't write a treatise like this,/ Though I don't think it is dictated by fear of death'), followed by 'Apprentice,' a beautiful autobiography in verse (with extensive prose annotations by Milosz) and finally a stunning, short 'Orpheus and Eurydice': 'His lyre was silent and in his dream he was defenseless./ He knew he must have faith and he could not have faith./ And so he would persist, for a very long time,/ Counting his steps in a half-wakeful torpor.' The terrors, torpors and partial redemptions of this collection feel wholly earned." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[Milosz's] curiosity about intellectual questions and about the endurance of memory had that particular quality of persistence that is itself a branch of genius....[O]ur job reading [his work] is among the most rewarding ones imaginable." The New York Times Book Review
Concerned with questions of aging and mortality, A Second Space furthers 93-year-old Nobel laureate Milosz's reputation as 'arguably the greatest living poet' (Edward Hirsch, New York Times Book Reviews).
About the Author
Czeslaw Milosz was born in Szetejnie, Lithuania, in 1911. He witnessed the devastation of Lithuania and Poland by the Nazi and Stalinist tides, survived World War II in German-occupied Warsaw with his wife, Janina, publishing his poetry in the underground press. After the war, he was stationed in New York, Washington, and Paris as a cultural attaché from Poland. He defected to France in 1951, and in 1960 he accepted a position at the University of California at Berkeley. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1980, and is a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He died on August 14, 2004, at his home in Krakow, Poland.