Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Monday, 31 August 2015

Czeslaw Milosz, Oscar Milosz and Simone Weil

Czeslaw Milosz was a Polish poet, 'who with uncompromising clear-sightedness voices man's exposed condition in a world of severe conflicts.' He was influenced particularly by his distant cousin Oscar Milosz and also by the writings of Simone Weil. In his Nobel Prize speech he spoke about his relationship with Oscar Milosz:

'... Like all my contemporaries I have felt the pull of despair, of impending doom, and reproached myself for succumbing to a nihilistic temptation. Yet on a deeper level, I believe, my poetry remained sane and, in a dark age, expressed a longing for the Kingdom of Peace and Justice. The name of a man who taught me not to despair should be invoked here. We receive gifts not only from our native land, its lakes and rivers, its traditions, but also from people, especially if we meet a powerful personality in our early youth. It was my good fortune to be treated nearly as a son by my relative Oscar Milosz, a Parisian recluse and a visionary. Why he was a French poet, could be elucidated by the intricate story of a family as well as of a country once called the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Be that as it may, it was possible to read recently in the Parisian press words of regret that the highest international distinction had not been awarded half a century earlier to a poet bearing the same family name as my own.

I learned much from him. He gave me a deeper insight into the religion of the Old and New Testament and inculcated a need for a strict, ascetic hierarchy in all matters of mind, including everything that pertains to art, where as a major sin he considered putting the second-rate on the same level with the first-rate. Primarily, though, I listened to him as a prophet who loved people, as he says, "with old love worn out by pity, loneliness and anger" and for that reason tried to address a warning to a crazy world rushing towards a catastrophe. That a catastrophe was imminent, I heard from him, but also I heard from him that the great conflagration he predicted would be merely a part of a larger drama to be played to the end.

He saw deeper causes in an erroneous direction taken by science in the Eighteenth Century, a direction which provoked landslide effects. Not unlike William Blake before him, he announced a New Age, a second renaissance of imagination now polluted by a certain type of scientific knowledge, but, as he believed, not by all scientific knowledge, least of all by science that would be discovered by men of the future. And it does not matter to what extent I took his predictions literally: a general orientation was enough.

Oscar Milosz, like William Blake, drew inspirations from the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, a scientist who, earlier than anyone else, foresaw the defeat of man, hidden in the Newtonian model of the Universe. When, thanks to my relative, I became an attentive reader of Swedenborg, interpreting him not, it is true, as was common in the Romantic era, I did not imagine I would visit his country for the first time on such an occasion as the present one.

Our century draws to its close, and largely thanks to those influences I would not dare to curse it, for it has also been a century of faith and hope. A profound transformation, of which we are hardly aware, because we are a part of it, has been taking place, coming to the surface from time to time in phenomena that provoke general astonishment. That transformation has to do, and I use here words of Oscar Milosz, with "the deepest secret of toiling masses, more than ever alive, vibrant and tormented". Their secret, an unavowed need of true values, finds no language to express itself and here not only the mass media but also intellectuals bear a heavy responsibility. But transformation has been going on, defying short term predictions, and it is probable that in spite of all horrors and perils, our time will be judged as a necessary phase of travail before mankind ascends to a new awareness. Then a new hierarchy of merits will emerge, and I am convinced that Simone Weil and Oscar Milosz, writers in whose school I obediently studied, will receive their due.'

Simon Leys has written about Milosz and Weil:

'For Milosz, the discovery of Simone Weil's writings, as it had for Camus, gave new direction to his inner life. The traces of this revelation are found throughout his essays, his correspondence, and even his teaching (he gave a course on Manichaeism, directly inspired by Simone Weil's thought; and furthermore he edited, and had published in Polish, a thick volume of her selected works).

Milosz's religious posture seems to be both symmetrical with, and the inverse of, Simone Weil's. The latter's reflection on naturally Christian pagans, and on naturally pagan Christians, could be taken to sum up their respective positions quite well. Simone Well, though inhabited by a great desire to enter the Church to be able to partake of the sacraments, nevertheless denied herself that happiness, and deliberately stayed on the threshold, sharing in the destitution of the neo-pagans. Milosz, by contrast, born and educated in the Church, often wished to leave it; he wanted to escape the chauvinist and political Polish Church of his childhood, just as much as he wished to escape the depressing caricature of Protestantism into which he saw Western post-Council Catholicism sinking.

Milosz defined himself as an "ecstatic pessimist," and perhaps it is in this that he is closest to Simone Well. In the face of the mystery of evil, there is little room in their faith for Providence (which would alleviate suffering) or for the communion of saints (which would give it meaning). Is a consoling religion a baser form of religion? "Love is not consolation, it is light"--this phrase of Simone Well's is admirable; but why would light not bring some consolation? In any case, that is what simple souls naturally perceive when they piously go to light a votive candle before an image of the Virgin or some saint.'


Bruce Cockburn - The Light Goes On Forever.

No comments: