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"I was running through room after room, looking for a last door, " the Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz wrote in his poem "City Without a Name," "but the shape of lips and an apple and a flower pinned to a dress were all that I was permitted to know and take away."

We don't know whether Milosz found that truth which eluded him in life when he passed through his own last door at age 92 in Krakow, Poland, on August 14. We know that in life he found order and peace in "the eternal moment as a gleam on the current of a black river," which his poetry arrested in time.

Over the past two decades, Milosz, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990, wrote often for New Perspectives Quarterly and "Nobel Laureates" column. Below are some excerpts from his essays.
-- Nathan Gardels, editor, Nobel Laureates/NPQ

-- 1999 (from an interview with Nathan Gardels, "Recovering a Reverence for Being")

… When the world is deprived of clear-cut outlines, of up and down, of good and evil, it succumbs to a peculiar nihilization. It loses its colors. Grayness covers all things, the very
flow of time, the minutes, days and years.

… Poetry, if it is good, matters greatly in the face of this deprivation because it looks at the singular, not the general. It cannot look at things of this earth other than honestly, with reverence, as colorful and variegated; it cannot reduce life with all its pain and ecstasy into a unified tonality. By necessity, poetry is on the side of being. Naming is a defense of hope.

… In my both my poetry and essays, I have expressed reverence, even piety. The mindfulness one finds in Buddhism, of which I am respectful, is precisely this feeling of reverence.

… Mindfulness occurs in the moment when time stops. And what is time? Time is suffering. Time is our regrets, our shame. Time contains all things toward which we strive and from which we escape.

… In that moment of time stopped -- in the instant captured by a Dutch still life, by Cezanne or a Japanese haiku -- reality is liberated from suffering. Then, in art, you can have a purified vision of things. Not things in themselves, but things as they are independently of our dirt. Everything that concerns us disappears, is dissolved, and it does not matter whether the eye that looks is that of a beggar or a king.

-- 1986 (from an interview in NPQ, "The Withering Away of Society")

… The greatest asset that my part of Europe (Poland) received in the history of the 20th century, the privilege of our being the avant-garde of inhumanity, is that the question of true and false, good and evil, became operative again. Good and evil, true and false have not been discovered through philosophical discourse, but empirically, like the taste of bread.

… In the (Cold War) West, by contrast, there has been a constant race between disintegration and creativity, creation and destruction. Freedom allows the new to be born at the expense of tradition and history. The West has been racing for a long time in this way -- it gets the prize. But if you look at it from a certain perspective, there is also an indifference to basic values.

… Western civilization has really been hardly surviving from decade to decade. It is as if mankind could cope with the worst possible conditions of completely hopeless decay, decadence, strange and loathsome morals, but somehow survive.

--1990 (from an interview with Nathan Gardels in NPQ, "From the East: A Sense of Responsibility")

What is surprising in the present moment (as the Cold War order collapses) are those beautiful and deeply moving words pronounced with veneration in Prague and Warsaw,
words which pertain to the old repertory of honesty, the rights of man and the dignity of the person.

I wonder at this phenomenon because, maybe, underneath there is an abyss. After all, those ideas have had their foundation in religion, and I am not over-optimistic as to the survival of religion in a scientific-technological civilization. In Eastern Europe, notions that seemed buried forever by communism, like the value of the individual, have been resurrected. But how long can they stay afloat if the bottom is taken out?

-- 1995 "The Fate of the Religious Imagination" by Czeslaw Milosz, NPQ.

… The scientific revolution has been gradually eroding the religious imagination. First came the Copernican blow, toppling the central position of the Earth, and then Newton
introduced the idea of eternal space and eternal time stretching infinitely. A new cosmology has been victoriously replacing the old one, based upon the privileged place of man who was created by God and saved by that very resemblance, i.e., through
the Incarnation.

The new cosmology somehow dissolved man into the immensity of the galaxies, where he became merely a speck arrogantly assigning himself an exceptional role. For
Descartes, animals were living machines; thus the barrier between them and humans, endowed with an immortal soul, was still maintained.

To abolish that barrier the theory of evolution was needed, and the Church immediately sensed the danger of Darwin.
As the difference between the "lower" species and man became blurred, grave questions of moral order appeared. If all life is submitted to certain laws, among them the law
of survival of the fittest, then the tears of moralists and humanitarians are of no avail. It is possible that the crime of genocide characteristic of the 20 th century has been a side effect of view man as a biological entity no less expendable than the myriad of live entities squandered every second by Nature.

… If man is just a speck in the universe, like a bacteria, what does he matter in the scheme of things? Such a view corresponds to the kind of mass killings we've seen in the last century. To kill a million or two million, or 10 million, what does it matter?

This is something completely different from a vision of the world before Copernicus, where man was of central importance. The transformation I sense in the 21st century will restore in some way the anthropocentric vision of the universe. Maybe we will realize we've been on the wrong train. Goethe had an intuition that something was going wrong, that science should not be separated from poetry. Blake also. Maybe we are going to return to a very rich era where poetry is once again alongside science.

c Nobel Laureates Plus. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International
For immediate release. Distributed 8/16/04