Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004) was born on June 30 in Šeteniai, Lithuania, the son of a Polish civil engineer, at a time of great upheaval. He became a Polish-American poet, prose writer, translator, and diplomat, regarded as one of the great poets of the 20th century, and won the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Milosz was in Warsaw when it was bombarded as part of the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, and he joined the underground resistance. In August 1944, he was captured and held in a prisoner transit camp; he was later rescued by a Catholic nun—a stranger to him—who pleaded with the Germans on his behalf. From 1945 to 1951, Miłosz served as a cultural attaché for the newly formed People’s Republic of Poland. He moved from New York City to Washington, D.C., and finally to Paris, organizing and promoting Polish cultural occasions such as musical concerts, art exhibitions, and literary and cinematic events. Although he was a representative of Poland, which had become a Soviet satellite country behind the Iron Curtain, he was not a member of any communist party.
After his refusal to live in Poland or continue working for the Polish regime, he spent most of the 1950s in France, which granted him asylum. In 1960, Miłosz was offered a position as a visiting lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley. He had been Stateless from 1951 until he became an American citizen in 1970. Miłosz died in Kraków, Poland, in 2004.
To read “A Song on the End of the World” by Czeslaw Milosz, click
A Song on the End of the World
by Czeslaw Milosz
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 should always be.
On the day the world ends
Women walk through the 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
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:
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.
– Warsaw, 1944
translated by Anthony Milosz
“A Song on the End of the World” from The Collected Poems 1931-1987 by Czeslaw Milosz, © 1988 by Czeslaw Milosz Royalties, Inc. –HarperCollins Publishers
Painting “Old man in a garden” – by Andrew Conru