Tuesday’s Poem 4/21/09

Czeslaw Milosz – “Encounter”

We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going?
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

Wilno, 1936
By Czeslaw Milosz from
The Collected Poems 1931-1987, 1988
Translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Lillian Vallee
Copyright © Czeslaw Milosz and Lillian Vallee

Commentary
OK, yesterday I forgot that I had said Sunday I would post the Milosz poem that Robert Pinsky compared Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning” to. And I also forgot that I already posted that poem, “Incantation,” on April 5th. Forgive me!

To make up for it, I posted another Milosz poem. “Incantation” is typical of one typical Milosz style: the somewhat abstract poem asking “the big questions of life, the universe, and everything.” This poem is another common type of Milosz’s: the small moment that is ephemeral and trivial, yet beautiful and somehow profound.

I can’t find much to say about this poem. Like the speaker, I’m left in wonder. I do like the fact that the speaker finds it important to note that not only the man is dead, but also the hare. And while all this suggests fleetingness – our lives are but a rustle of pebbles – the moment clearly has stuck in the speaker’s memory. Its vividness compels the speaker to relate it to someone he loves. Thus is the paradoxical nature of existence and human life that Milosz likes to explore.

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One Response to Tuesday’s Poem 4/21/09

  1. Angele Ellis says:

    A compact and beautiful poem. I like “A red wing rose in the darkness,” and the last stanza, which makes my heart stop for a moment:

    “O my love, where are they, where are they going?
    The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
    I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.”

    As if the “flash,” the remembered living moment, was/is the harbinger of mortality. As if the “wagon at dawn” already was/is/forever will be traveling into the unknown. The “wonder” that the speaker expresses to his beloved is not merely wonder at fate, but wonder at the sharpness and persistence of memory, all that remains.

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