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This article is taken from PN Review 34, Volume 10 Number 2, November - December 1983.

Milosz: The Wartime Poems Donald Davie

REVIEWING Milosz's Selected Poems, the poet-translator Clayton Eshleman (Los Angeles Times, 5 July 1981) found himself affronted by lines from a poem called 'Dedication', carefully dated '1945':


What is poetry which does not save
Nations or people?
A connivance with official lies.
A song of drunkards whose throats will be cut in a moment,
Readings for sophomore girls.
That I wanted good poetry without knowing it,
That I discovered, late, its salutary aim,
In this and only this I find salvation.


Eshleman protested he could not accept that if poetry does not meet the for him exorbitant requirements of the first two lines, it is doomed to nothing better than the contemptible or at best marginal status that the next three lines assign to it. He admitted that this response was conditioned by his being an American, and that he might have felt differently if he had been a Pole who spent the 1940s in Warsaw. Even so, he decided, 'I find myself saying that no serious poetry "saves nations or people" '.

We must be thankful that Eshleman is so forthright, for he is here grappling with one of the most troublesome issues of post-1945 poetry, troublesome at least for those peoples, like the British or the American, whose experience of World War Two was in general less harrowing than that of other peoples like the Poles or the European Jews. ...


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