Enduring Interest

Clare Cavanagh on the poetry of Czeslaw Milosz

August 6, 2021

In this episode I speak with Clare Cavanagh, Frances Hooper Professor of Arts and Humanities and Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Northwestern University. She’s the author of a forthcoming authorized biography of Czeslaw Milosz and a prize-winning translator of the poets Adam Zagajewski and Wislawa Szymborska. Her essays and translations have appeared in publications including The New York Times Book Review, the New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, and Partisan Review. Some of her recently taught courses include What is Lyric Poetry? ; Gender and Revolution in Soviet Russian Culture; Heart of Europe: Poland in the Twentieth Century; Poetry and the Cold War; and 19th Century Russian Poetry.

 

Clare and I discuss three poems by Czeslaw Milosz: “You Who Wronged”; “Child of Europe”; and “Mittelbergheim.” These poems are from an early collection called Daylight, some which were written when Milosz was working as a cultural attaché for the post-war Polish government. Clare calls Daylight a “book of struggle” where Milosz is asking questions about his audience and his own perspective and role as a poet. He writes about the falsification of history and the corruptions of ideology. We draw some connections between the poems and the arguments elucidated in his famous book The Captive Mind. Clare also offers her thoughts on Milosz’s conception of the role of poetry broadly speaking.

 

We conclude our conversation with some recommendations for listeners on where one might start to engage with Milosz’s vast body of work. Clare also shares some of her experiences in meeting Milosz in Krakow and her impressions of him.

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