Miłosz, Czesław

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Czesław Miłosz, poet, essayist and Nobel Laureate, was born on June 30, 1911 in Šeteniai (Szetejnie), Lithuania and died on August 14, 2004 in Kraków, Poland, at the age of 93. He married Janina Dłuska (1909-1986) in 1944 and they had two sons: Anthony and John Peter. His second wife Carol Thigpen, whom he married in 1992, died in 2002.

Miłosz grew up in Lithuania amid diverse languages and ethnicities (including Polish, Lithuanian, Russian and Jewish) yet retained a strong attachment to his native country and language throughout his decades of life in Western Europe and the United States. As a child and young adult, Miłosz lived under an unstable series of governments and regimes, witnessing the political and social upheavals of the two world wars and rise of the Eastern Bloc. Miłosz studied law at Stefan Batory University in Vilnius (also known as Vilnius University). It was during this time that he published his first poetry in the University publication Alma Mater Vilnensis (1930), and later in a slim printed collection Poemat o czasie zastygłym (1933). He also co-founded the literary group and journal Żagary in Vilnius. While traveling to Paris in the 1930s he met a distant relative, Oscar V. de Lubicz Milosz, who was to be an important lifelong influence.

After completing his studies Miłosz worked in radio, first for Polish Radio in Vilnius (1936-1937). His second collection of poems Trzy zimy (1936) was published during this time. When he was dismissed, apparently for political reasons (perhaps because he included Jewish authors in his literary programming), he moved to Warsaw and worked for Polish National Radio until the outbreak of the Second World War.

During the war, Miłosz produced several clandestine publications including the anthology Pieśń niepodległa ( Invincible song ) and the collection of his poems Wiersze ( Poems, under the pseudonym Jan Syruć). His war-time poems are ironically juxtaposed to the profound trauma of the war and the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. In Świat ( The World ) Miłosz created defiantly serene portraits of faith, hope, love, fear and recovery that are nevertheless testament to the heaviness of war (and in stark contrast to his earlier poems written in Vilnius). This and other poetry from 1936-1945 is collected in Ocalenie ( Rescue [1945]).

After the Second World War, Miłosz became a cultural attaché for the People's Republic of Poland in New York and Washington, D.C. He then accepted a post in France in 1950. Increasingly estranged from the Polish government, he defected in 1951, obtaining political asylum in France. His defection prompted criticism from leftist intellectuals (Pablo Neruda was among his outspoken critics). As Miłosz struggled with his exile and his role as a Polish-language poet in France, he published his analyses of contemporary political upheaval in numerous prose works and regular contributions to Kultura, the Polish-language literary monthly published in Paris. His first post-emigration volume of poems, Światło dzienne, was published by Institut Literacki in 1953. In Poland, his work was circulated chiefly in clandestine copies between 1951 and 1980 since his writing was censored.

Much of Miłosz's prose writing in the 1950s was semi-autobiographical. His early life in rural Lithuania inspired the characters in the novel Dolina Issy ( The valley of Issa, 1955). Zniewolony umysł ( The captive mind, 1953) and Zdobycie władzy ( The seizure of power, 1955), which thrust him into the international spotlight, examined the moral and psychological pressures of life under a repressive totalitarian regime, providing context for his decision to defect. Rodzinna europa ( Native realm, 1959) explores the difficulties of balancing his Eastern European identity and strong attachment to the Polish language with his life as an émigré.

Miłosz emigrated to the United States in 1960. He initially accepted a temporary lectureship at the University of California, Berkeley and was appointed Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures in 1961. He maintained close ties with the Polish émigré community in Paris, visiting frequently and continuing his association with Instytut Literacki. His works of literary criticism and anthologies of Polish poetry published in the 1960s (including Postwar Polish poetry [1965] and History of Polish literature [1969]) drew increasing attention to Polish literature in Europe and the United States.

In the United States, Miłosz was confronted with the fact that Polish literature was little-known in American circles, referring to himself as "Wrong Honorable Professor Milosz/Who wrote poems in some unheard-of tongue" ( Magic Mountain [1975]). Any trace of self-conceived obscurity vanished in 1980 when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The decision to award Miłosz the prize was made just before the democratic Solidarity labor strikes in Poland became widespread (activity that led to the imposition of martial law in Poland and eventually to the democratic change of government in 1989). These events, together with the appointment of Pope John Paul II two years prior, constituted a dynamic affirmation of Polish culture in the world spotlight.

In 1981, Miłosz visited Poland for the first time since his defection thirty years earlier. He was welcomed by immense crowds who celebrated his writing and his recognition as Nobel Laureate. He met with numerous literary and political figures, including Lech Wałęsa (leader of the Solidarity movement and future President of the Republic of Poland).

Miłosz continued to travel extensively after his retirement from teaching in 1978, accepting appointments as a visiting lecturer from, among others, Harvard University and the University of Michigan. He traveled to Poland regularly and his visits were increasingly lengthy until he moved to Kraków in 2000. He continued to publish numerous volumes of poetry and prose works, including translations of his own poetry into English.

Miłosz was a prolific translator to and from Polish and his translations introduced many modern Polish poets (including Aleksander Wat and Anna Świrszczyńska) to English-language readers. He undertook the monumental task of translating portions of the Bible after studying the fifteenth-century Puławski Psalter. His English translations of Polish poetry are are compiled in anthologies such as Czas niepokoju (1958) and Mowa wiązana (1986).

Miłosz received numerous prizes and honors, including the Prix Littéraire Européen (1953), the Neustadt International Prize for Literature (1978), the Nobel Prize for Literature (1980), and a National Medal of Arts (1990). Additional information on Czesław Miłosz is available in standard print and online biographical resources.

From the guide to the Czesław Miłosz papers, 1880-2000, 1940-1989, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Witold Gombrowicz archive, 1902-1998 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Ecco Press records, 1963-1996 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Joseph Brodsky papers, circa 1890-2004, 1972-1996 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Gerald Sykes Papers, ca. 1921-1984 Columbia University. Rare Book an Manuscript Library
creatorOf Czesław Miłosz papers, 1880-2000, 1940-1989 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. records, 1899-2003, 1945-1989 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Aleksander Wat papers, 1915-1988 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Olga Scherer-Virski papers, 1954-1988 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Gary Snyder Papers, 1910-2003;, (1945-2002 bulk) University of California, Davis. General Library. . Dept. of Special Collections
referencedIn Renata Gorczynski papers relating to Czesław Miłosz, 1934-1998 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Tomas Venclova papers, 1909-2005, 1959-2005 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Błoński, Jan. person
associatedWith Brodsky, Joseph, 1940-1996 person
associatedWith Czapski, Józef, 1896-1993 person
associatedWith Ecco Press corporateBody
associatedWith Farrar, Straus, and Giroux corporateBody
associatedWith Giedroyc, Jerzy. person
associatedWith Gombrowicz, Witold. person
associatedWith Gorczynski, Renata. person
associatedWith Goślicki, Jan. person
associatedWith Herbert, Zbigniew. person
associatedWith Hersch, Jeanne. person
associatedWith Hertz, Zofia. person
associatedWith Hertz, Zygmunt, 1908-1979 person
associatedWith Instytut Literacki (Paris, France) corporateBody
associatedWith Jameson, Storm, 1891-1986 person
associatedWith Jeleński, Konstanty A. (Konstanty Aleksander), 1922-1987 person
associatedWith Międzyrzecki, Artur. person
associatedWith Miłosz, Andrzej. person
associatedWith Miłosz, Janina. person
associatedWith Milosz, O. V. de L. (Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz), 1877-1939 person
associatedWith Sadzik, Józef. person
associatedWith Scherer-Virski, Olga. person
associatedWith Snyder, Gary person
associatedWith Stempowski, Jerzy, 1894-1968 person
associatedWith Świrszczyńska, Anna. person
associatedWith Sykes, Gerald, 1903- person
associatedWith Szymborska, Wisława. person
associatedWith Tomaszewicz, Jadwiga. person
associatedWith Vallee, Lillian. person
associatedWith Venclova, Tomas, 1937- person
associatedWith Vincenz, Stanisław, 1888- person
associatedWith Wat, Aleksander. person
associatedWith Wat, Paulina, 1903- person
associatedWith Wydawnictwo Literackie. corporateBody
associatedWith Zagary (Writers' group) corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
Authors, Polish
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