Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Some Lines from Milosz

I'm too busy to blog today; in lieu of my own thoughts, I'll give you the much better voice of Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz, who began to study Hebrew and Greek at the age of 60 in order to read the Bible in the original languages. He wrote a poem about it, and this is how it begins:

You asked me what is the good of reading the Gospels in Greek.
I answer that it is proper that we move our finger
Along letters more enduring than those carved in stone,
And that, slowly pronouncing each syllable,
We discover the true dignity of speech.
UPDATE: The rest of the poem, as demanded by readers:
Compelled to be attentive we shall think of that epoch
No more distant than yesterday, though the heads of caesars
On coins are different today. Yet still it is the same eon.
Fear and desire are the same, oil and wine
And bread mean the same. So does the fickleness of the throng
Avid for miracles as in the past. Even mores,
Wedding festivities, drugs, laments for the dead
Only seem to differ. Then, too, for example,
There were plenty of persons whom the text calls
Daimonizomenoi, that is, the demonized
Or, if you prefer, the bedeviled (as for "the possessed"
It's no more than the whim of a dictionary).
Convulsions, foam at the mouth, the gnashing of teeth
Were not considered signs of talent.
The demonized had no access to print and screens,
Rarely engaging in arts and literature.
But the Gospel parable remains in force:
That the spirit mastering them may enter swine,
Which, exasperated by such a sudden clash
Between two natures, theirs and the Luciferic,
Jump into water and drown (which occurs repeatedly).
And thus on every page a persistent reader
Sees twenty centuries as twenty days
In a world which one day will come to its end.

Czeslaw Milosz
(Berkeley, 1969)
The full text was provided by Rev. Charlie Brumbaugh, lover of poetry and associate rector of the church I go to. Thanks, Charlie!

1 comment:

Jim said...

Ed I would be thrilled if you would be so kind as to post the whole poem (unless its 5000 lines or such). Thanks!