Favorite Poem of the Day – “Esse” by Czeslaw Milosz

by DBLevin

I realized just now that I’ve never posted this poem, the last line of which was the original tagline for this blog. It is my favorite poem of all time.

I found this in Czeslaw Milosz’s (Cheh-shwah Mee-lohsh is my impression of how to pronounce it) Nobel Prize portfolio. Milosz is a polish poet who is particularly fond of attempting to describe the indescribable nature of things. He is astonishingly successful at this hilariously ironic enterprise, and captures absolute beauty as he does it. I love him because he has come closer to describing anything than anyone I’ve ever read.

As a lure into more of his work I’m going to quote the last couple lines of his poem “Earth Again” which I read in his book “Unattainable Earth”. These are the lines that first made Milosz one of my favorite writers of all time.

“…for a short moment there is no death
And time does not unreel like a skein of yarn
Thrown into an abyss.”

Also search youtube for videos of him speaking/reading if you want an example of a great poet voice.

If you’re interested in other Polish poets check out Zbigniew Herbert.

Esse

I looked at that face, dumbfounded. The lights of m├ętro stations flew by; I didn’t notice them. What can be done, if our sight lacks absolute power to devour objects ecstatically, in an instant, leaving nothing more than the void of an ideal form, a sign like a hieroglyph simplified from the drawing of an animal or bird? A slightly snub nose, a high brow with sleekly brushed-back hair, the line of the chin – but why isn’t the power of sight absolute? – and in a whiteness tinged with pink two sculpted holes, containing a dark, lustrous lava. To absorb that face but to have it simultaneously against the background of all spring boughs, walls, waves, in its weeping, its laughter, moving it back fifteen years, or ahead thirty. To have. It is not even a desire. Like a butterfly, a fish, the stem of a plant, only more mysterious. And so it befell me that after so many attempts at naming the world, I am able only to repeat, harping on one string, the highest, the unique avowal beyond which no power can attain: I am, she is. Shout, blow the trumpets, make thousands-strong marches, leap, rend your clothing, repeating only: is!

She got out at Raspail. I was left behind with the immensity of existing things. A sponge, suffering because it cannot saturate itself; a river, suffering because reflections of clouds and trees are not clouds and trees.

About these ads