“All right, but doesn’t it all boil down to his conviction that literature should be an uplifting business?” I was asked this question by an American friend of mine when we exchanged opinions on the first of Czeslaw Milosz’s six Norton Lectures at Harvard. His skepticism struck me as being out of accord with the usual appraisal of Milosz’s work. After all, Milosz’s name has always been associated by Polish critics with the dark mood of the 1930s—with the “catastrophist” school in prewar poetry. And his more recent poetry and prose hardly show him to be an easygoing optimist. Ironically, Milosz’s lectures coincided with the imposition of martial law in Poland—in other words, with yet another attempt to bury Polish hopes.

And yet the underlying theme of Milosz’s six lectures is nothing less than hope, and poetry as a possible source...


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