She calls in a half whisper. They go together
To an empty lot overgrown with weeds.
A watchman on duty, hidden in the shadows,
Hears their soft voices in the bedding dark.
I do not know how to bear my pity.
Or how to find words for our common plight.
A little whore and a worker from Tamka.
Before them, the terror of the rising sun.
Later I would ask myself more than once
What became of them in the coming years and ages.
--from Czeslaw Milosz, A Treatise on Poetry
Yesterday, as I was doing Frost Place paperwork, I had occasion to answer a question that I myself had posed to the other faculty members of the Conference on Poetry and Teaching: "What poets/books have you been reading lately, and why?" Here was my answer.
Presently I am rereading Elizabeth Bowen’s Collected Short Stories, Denise Levertov’s Selected Poems, and Robert Hass’s translation of Czeslaw Milosz’s book-length poem A Treatise on Poetry. All of these writers focus on civilian life during World War II: Bowen and Levertov in England, Milosz in Poland. For each, the damaged homeland, in terms of both landscape and civic integrity, becomes intensely important, narratively as well as lyrically. People are their place, for better or worse; and while the change that physical damage necessitates may sometimes be salutary, it also creates moral chasms within individuals and the nation.
Beyond their common themes, these three writers share an intense patience with both the tools of language and their own imaginative visions. I’m trying to absorb as many lessons from them as I can.That public response is far more patient and measured than my inner response is.
I want to write like them, I want to see like them, I want to channel suffering into necessity, I want to speak what must be spoken, I want