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This article is taken from PN Review 87, Volume 19 Number 1, September - October 1992.

The Poetry of Survival: Beyond Guilt Daniel Weissbort

IN HIS REVIEW of my anthology The Poetry of Survival: Post-War Poets of Central and Eastern Europe (London Review of Books, 27 February 1992), Donald Davie accuses me, among other things, of maligning Czeslaw Milosz. I should like to take up his allegations with regard to my treatment of Milosz and to develop more fully what I had in mind when I concluded my short biographical note on the poet: 'One senses in him a reluctance to accept a position that historical and personal circumstances have thrust upon him.'

Davie, of course, is not slow to interpret my comment. According to him: 'Translated, this means: Milosz has refused to stay in the slot that Weissbort and Alvarez had decreed for him/ He then invokes Milosz directly. A. Alvarez had entitled his New York Review of Books article on Milosz's 1988 Collected Poems in English: 'Witness'. Milosz responded to this review, in a letter, thus: 'The voice of a poet should be purer and more distinct than the noise (or confused music) of History. You may guess my uneasiness when I saw the long evolution of my poetic craft encapsulated by Mr Alvarez in the word "witness", which for him is perhaps a praise, but for me is not/ Alvarez's adulation of Milosz on these terms, Davie continues, is of course a form of 'condescension'. It is like saying to the poets: 'You know what happened to you, but you don't understand it. We'll supply the understanding, if ...


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