Tuesday, March 20

He sang the brightness of mornings and green rivers
He sang of smoking water in the rose-colored daybreaks,
Of colors: cinnabar, carmine, burnt sienna, blue,
Of the delight of swimming in the sea under marble cliffs
 - Czesław Miłosz

"When I read the line about 'the delight of swimming in the sea under marble cliffs," I recall a conversation I had with Miłosz some years back; it was after a vacation M. and I had spent with C. K. Williams near Lucca, in Tuscany. Now and then we'd drive to the seashore at Bocca di Magra, a little town in Liguria (from the autostrada you catch a glimpse of a sign advertising the Hotel Shelley - the poet drowned there). The Magra is a river that enters the sea at this point. When Miłosz heard this, he grew thoughtful, remembering times gone by. He'd spent several vacations at Bocca di Magra - in the company of Mary McCarthy, Nicola Chiaromonte, and other friends - he'd gone swimming there, too, and always remembered the white marble cliffs that looked at first like snow-covered mountains - in midsummer! But it's not snow, just marble, Carrara, a town famed among sculptors, at the foot of white marble peaks. And the sea there is deep blue, warm, salty, with little waves. Dashes and irregular geometric figures appear and quickly vanish on the water's velvety surface - these are the sea's papillary lines. Gulls circle above the fishing ships. The coast is rocky here, as a Mediterranean seashore should be, since sandy, level beaches don't suit the sea's character; they make it look like the pale, chilly Baltic, it loses its deep cobalt hue.

Miłosz died, thinking, working, writing poems almost to the very end - as though he had sailed far out to sea, toward Carrara, toward azure mists and white mountains.

Paul Claudel says somewhere, "Celui qui admire n'a jamais tort" (He who admires is never wrong). I like thinking about this sentence, so hopelessly out-of-date and so easily subject to revision. In a fundamental way, though, it tells us that in a spiritual sense, admiration and enthusiasm are far higher than criticism, sarcasm, a purely ironic stance. In English they call it debunking; we call it demystification, and it's the very air that newspapers and most books breathe."
 - Adam Zagajewski
translated by Clare Cavanagh
Slight Exaggeration

  • ". . . as I have said often enough, I write for myself in multiplicate,
    a not unfamiliar phenomenon on the horizon of shimmering deserts."
    - Vladimir Nabokov