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This interview is taken from PN Review 78, Volume 17 Number 4, March - April 1991.

Czeslaw Milosz in conversation Clive Wilmer

IN 1980, AFTER the first great Solidarity-led strike in Poland, a monument was erected in the Gdansk shipyards. It commemorates the workers shot by the police in an earlier confrontation. Inscribed on it are some lines by Czeslaw Milosz:

Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
You can kill one, but another is born.
The words are written down, the deed, the date.


In that same year Milosz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. A deluge of publications followed: essays, novels, autobiographical writings, a literary history. But it was not until 1988 that a full Collected Poems appeared. In it, through the veil of verse translation, Milosz's greatness is unmistakable.

Half Lithuanian, half Polish, Milosz was born in 1911 and grew up on the borders of Poland, Lithuania and Russia. He worked for the Polish underground during the war, witnessed and survived the Warsaw uprising, served the Communist government of post-war Poland as a cultural attaché, and defected to the West in 1951.

For the past 20 years he's been Professor of Slavic Languages at Berkeley, where he lives on a lofty eminence overlooking the San Francisco Bay. I visited him there in 1989.

* * *

Clive Wilmer: Czeslaw Milosz, in your famous poem 'Dedication', which was written in Warsaw at the end of the war, you ask - rhetorically -

What is poetry which does not save
Nations or ...


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