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Czeslaw Milosz ranks among the most respected figures in twentieth-century Polish literature, as well as one of the most respected contemporary poets in the world, being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. He was born in Lithuania, where his parents moved temporarily to escape the political upheaval in their native Poland. As an adult, he left Poland due to the oppressive Communist regime that came to power following World War II and has lived in the United States since 1960. Milosz's poems, novels, essays, and other works are written in his native Polish and translated by the author and others into English. Having lived under the two great totalitarian systems of modern history, national socialism and communism, Milosz writes of the past in a tragic, ironic style that nonetheless affirms the value of human life. While the faith of his Roman Catholic upbringing has been severely tested, it has remained intact. Terrence Des Pres, writing in the Nation, stated that "political catastrophe has defined the nature of our . . . [age], and the result—the collision of personal and public realms—has produced a new kind of writer. Czeslaw Milosz is the perfect example. In exile from a world which no longer exists, a witness to the Nazi devastation of Poland and the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe, Milosz deals in his poetry with the central issues of our time: the impact of history upon moral being, the search for ways to survive spiritual ruin in a ruined world."
Born in Lithuania in 1911, Milosz spent much of his childhood in Czarist Russia, where his father worked as a civil engineer. After World War I the family returned to their hometown, which had become a part of the new Polish state, and Milosz attended local Catholic schools. He published his first collection of poems, Poemat o czasie zastyglym ("Poem of the Frozen Time"), at the age of twenty-one. Milosz was associated with the catastrophist school of poets during the 1930s. Catastrophism concerns "the inevitable annihilation of the highest values, especially the values essential to a given cultural system. . . . But it proclaims . . . only the annihilation of certain values, not values in general, and the destruction of a certain historical formation, but not of all mankind," Aleksander Fiut explained in World Literature Today. The writings of this group of poets ominously foreshadowed World War II.
When the war began in 1939, and Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, Milosz worked with the underground Resistance movement in Warsaw, writing and editing several books published clandestinely during the occupation. One of these books, a collection titled Wiersze ("Poems"), was published under the pseudonym J. Syruc. Following the war, Milosz became a member of the new communist government's diplomatic service and was stationed in Paris, France, as a cultural attache. In 1951, he left this post and defected to the West.
The Captive Mind explains Milosz's reasons for defecting and examines the life of the artist under a communist regime. It is, maintained Steve Wasserman in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, a "brilliant and original study of the totalitarian mentality." Karl Jaspers, in an article for the Saturday Review, described The Captive Mind as "a significant historical document and analysis of the highest order. . . . In astonishing gradations Milosz shows what happens to men subjected simultaneously to constant threat of annihilation and to the promptings of faith in a historical necessity which exerts apparently irresistible force and achieves enormous success. We are presented with a vivid picture of the forms of concealment, of inner transformation, of the sudden bolt to conversion, of the cleavage of man into two."
Milosz's defection came about when he was recalled to Poland from his position at the Polish embassy. He refused to leave. Joseph McLellan of the Washington Post quoted Milosz explaining: "I knew perfectly well that my country was becoming the province of an empire." In a speech before the Congress for Cultural Freedom, quoted by James Atlas of the New York Times, Milosz declared: "I have rejected the new faith because the practice of the lie is one of its principal commandments and socialist realism is nothing more than a different name for a lie." After his defection Milosz lived in Paris, where he worked as a translator and freelance writer. In 1960 he was offered a teaching position at the University of California at Berkeley, which he accepted. He became an American citizen in 1970.
In The Seizure of Power, first published in France as La Prise du pouvoir in 1953, Milosz renders as fiction much of the same material found in The Captive Mind. The book is an autobiographical novel that begins with the Russian occupation of Warsaw at the close of World War II. As the Russian army approached the Nazi-held city, the Polish Resistance rose against the German occupation troops, having been assured that the Russians would join their fight once the uprising began. But instead, the Russians stood by a few miles outside of the city, allowing the Nazis to crush the revolt unhindered. When the uprising was over, the Russians occupied Warsaw and installed a communist regime. The novel ends with the disillusioned protagonist, a political education officer for the communists, immigrating to the West.
The Seizure of Power "is a novel on how to live when power changes hands," Andrew Sinclair explained in the London Times. Granville Hicks, in an article for the New York Times Book Review, saw a similarity between The Captive Mind and The Seizure of Power. In both books, "Milosz appeals to the West to try to understand the people of Eastern Europe," maintained Hicks. Told in a series of disjointed scenes meant to suggest the chaos and violence of postwar Poland, The Seizure of Power is "a novel of ineffable sadness, and a muffled sob for Poland's fate," wrote Wasserman. Michael Harrington, in a review for Commonweal, called The Seizure of Power "a sensitive, probing work, far better than most political novels, of somewhat imperfect realization but of significant intention and worth."
After living in the United States for a time, Milosz began to write of his new home. In Native Realm: A Search for Self-Definition and Visions from San Francisco Bay, Milosz compares and contrasts the West with his native Poland. Native Realm, Richard Holmes wrote in the London Times, is "a political and social autobiography, shorn of polemic intent, deeply self-questioning, and dominated by the sense that neither historically nor metaphysically are most Westerners in a position to grasp the true nature of the East European experience since the First War." A series of personal essays examining events in Milosz's life, Native Realm provides "a set of commentaries upon his improbable career," as Michael Irwin maintained in the Times Literary Supplement. Milosz "has written a self-effacing remembrance composed of shards from a shattered life," observed Wasserman. "He tells his story with the humility of a man who has experienced tragedy and who believes in fate and in destiny. It is a work that reflects the stubborn optimism of his heart, even as it dwells on the pessimism of his intellect." Irving Howe, writing in the New York Times Book Review, found Native Realm "beautifully written." Milosz, Howe continued, "tries to find in the chaos of his life some glimmers of meaning."
In Visions from San Francisco Bay Milosz examines his life in contemporary California, a place far removed in distance and temperament from the scenes of his earlier life. His observations are often sardonic, and yet he is also content with his new home. Milosz "sounds like a man who has climbed up, hand over hand, right out of history, and who is both amazed and grateful to find that he can breathe the ahistorical atmosphere of California," Anatole Broyard stated in the New York Times. The opening words of the book are "I am here," and from that starting point Milosz describes the society around him. "The intention," noted Julian Symons in the Times Literary Supplement, "is to understand himself, to understand the United States, to communicate something singular to Czeslaw Milosz." Broyard takes this idea even further, arguing that Milosz "expresses surprise at 'being here,' taking this phrase in its ordinary sense of being in America and in its other, Heideggerian sense of being-in-the-world."
Although Milosz's comments about life in California are "curiously oblique, deeply shadowed by European experience, allusive, sometimes arch and frequently disillusioned," as Holmes pointed out, he ultimately embraces his adopted home. "Underlying all his meditations," commented Leon Edel in the New York Times Book Review, "is his constant 'amazement' that America should exist in this world—and his gratitude that it does exist." "He is fascinated," explained Symons, "by the contradictions of a society with enormous economic power, derived in part from literally nonhuman technical achievement, which also contains a large group that continually and passionately indicts the society by which it is maintained." Milosz, P. J. Kavanagh remarked in the Spectator, looks at his adopted country with "a kind of detached glee—at awfulness; an ungloomy recognition that we cannot go on as we are—in any direction. He holds up a mirror and shows us ourselves, without blame and with no suggestions either, and in the mirror he himself is also reflected." Edel believed that Milosz's visions "have authority: the authority of an individual who reminds us that only someone like himself who has known tyranny . . . can truly prize democracy."
The story of Milosz's odyssey from East to West is also recounted in his poetry. Milosz's "entire effort," Jonathan Galassi explained in the New York Times Book Review, "is directed toward a confrontation with experience—and not with personal experience alone, but with history in all its paradoxical horror and wonder." Speaking of his poetry in the essay collection The Witness of Poetry, Milosz stresses the importance of his nation's cultural heritage and history in shaping his work. "My corner of Europe," he states, "owing to the extraordinary and lethal events that have been occurring there, comparable only to violent earthquakes, affords a peculiar perspective. As a result, all of us who come from those parts appraise poetry slightly differently than do the majority of my audience, for we tend to view it as a witness and participant in one of mankind's major transformations." "For Milosz," Helen Vendler explained in the New Yorker, "the person is irrevocably a person in history, and the interchange between external event and the individual life is the matrix of poetry." Writing in TriQuarterly, Reginald Gibbons stated that Milosz "seems to wonder how good work can be written, no matter how private its subject matter, without the poet having been aware of the pain and threat of the human predicament."
Milosz sees a fundamental difference in the role of poetry in the capitalist West and the communist East. Western poetry, as Alfred Kazin wrote in the New York Times Book Review, is "'alienated' poetry, full of introspective anxiety." But because of the dictatorial nature of communist government, poets in the East cannot afford to be preoccupied with themselves. They are drawn to write of the larger problems of their society. "A peculiar fusion of the individual and the historical took place," Milosz wrote in The Witness of Poetry, "which means that events burdening a whole community are perceived by a poet as touching him in a most personal manner. Then poetry is no longer alienated."
For many years Milosz's poetry was little noticed in the United States, though he was highly regarded in Poland. Recognition in Poland came in defiance of official government resistance to Milosz's work. The communist regime refused to publish the books of a defector; for many years only underground editions of his poems were secretly printed and circulated in Poland. But in 1980, when Milosz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the communist government was forced to relent. A government-authorized edition of Milosz's poems was issued and sold a phenomenal 200,000 copies. One sign of Milosz's widespread popularity in Poland occurred when Polish workers in Gdansk unveiled a monument to their comrades who were shot down by the communist police. Two quotations were inscribed on the monument: one was taken from the Bible; the other was taken from a poem by Milosz.
The Nobel Prize also brought Milosz to the attention of a wider audience in the United States. After 1980 several of his earlier works were translated into English, while his new books received widespread critical attention. The poet's image also graced a postage stamp in Poland. Some of this public attention focused less on Milosz's work as poetry than "as the work of a thinker and political figure; the poems tend to be considered en masse, in relation either to the condition of Poland, or to the suppression of dissident literature under Communist rule, or to the larger topic of European intellectual history," as Vendler maintained. But most reviewers have commented on Milosz's ability to speak in a personal voice that carries with it the echoes of his people's history. Critic Paul Zweig explained that Milosz "offers a modest voice, speaking an old language. But this language contains the resources of centuries. Speaking it, one speaks with a voice more than personal. . . . Milosz's power lies in his ability to speak with this larger voice without diminishing the urgency that drives his words."
Because he lived through some of the great upheavals of twentieth-century Eastern Europe, and because his poetry fuses his own experiences with the larger events in his society, many of Milosz's poems concern loss, destruction, and despair. "There is a very dark vision of the world in my work," he told Lynn Darling of the Washington Post. And yet the writer went on to describe himself as "a great partisan of human hope" due to his religious convictions.
Milosz believes that one of the major problems of contemporary society—in both the East and the West—is its lack of a moral foundation. Writing in The Land of Ulro, he finds that modern man has only "the starry sky above, and no moral law within." Speaking to Judy Stone of the New York Times Book Review, Milosz stated: "I am searching for an answer as to what will result from an internal erosion of religious beliefs." Michiko Kakutani, reviewing The Land of Ulro for the New York Times, found that "Milosz is eloquent in his call for a literature grounded in moral, as well as esthetic, values. Indeed, when compared with his own poetry, the work of many Westerners—from the neurotic rantings of the Romantics to the cerebral mind games of the avant-gardists—seems unserious and self-indulgent."
Because of his moral vision Milosz's writings make strong statements, some of which are inherently political in their implications. "The act of writing a poem is an act of faith," Milosz claimed in The History of Polish Literature, "yet if the screams of the tortured are audible in the poet's room, is not his activity an offense to human suffering?" His awareness of suffering, wrote Joseph C. Thackery in the Hollins Critic, makes Milosz a "spokesman of the millions of dead of the Holocaust, the Gulags, the Polish and Czech uprisings, and the added millions of those who will go on dying in an imperfect world."
Milosz also warns of the dangers of political writing. In a PEN Congress talk reprinted in the Partisan Review, he stated: "In this century a basic stance of writers . . . seems to be an acute awareness of suffering inflicted upon human beings by unjust structures of society. . . . This awareness of suffering makes a writer open to the idea of radical change, whichever of many recipes he chooses. . . . Innumerable millions of human beings were killed in this century in the name of utopia—either progressive or reactionary, and always there were writers who provided convincing justifications for massacre."
In The Witness of Poetry Milosz argues that true poetry is "the passionate pursuit of the Real." He condemns those writers who favor art for art's sake or who think of themselves as alienated, and suggests, as Adam Gussow wrote in the Saturday Review, that poets may have "grown afraid of reality, afraid to see it clearly and speak about it in words we can all comprehend." What is needed in "today's unsettled world," Gussow explained, are poets who, "like Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare, will speak for rather than against the enduring values of their communities."
This concern for a poetry that confronts reality was noted by Thackery, who saw Milosz searching "for a poetry that will be at once harsh and mollifying, that will enable men to understand, if not to rationalize, the debasement of the human spirit by warfare and psychic dismemberment, while simultaneously establishing a personal modus vivendi and a psychology of aesthetic necessity." Des Pres also noted this unifying quality in Milosz's poetry, a trait he believed Milosz shares with T. S. Eliot. "The aim of both Milosz and Eliot," Des Pres stated, "is identical: to go back and work through the detritus of one's own time on earth, to gather up the worst along with the best, integrate past and present into a culminating moment which transcends both, which embraces pain and joy together, the whole of a life and a world redeemed through memory and art, a final restoration in spirit of that which in historical fact has been forever lost." Vendler wrote that "the work of Milosz reminds us of the great power that poetry gains from bearing within itself an unforced, natural, and long-ranging memory of past customs; a sense of the strata of ancient and modern history; wide visual experience; and a knowledge of many languages and literatures. . . . The living and tormented revoicing of the past makes Milosz a historical poet of bleak illumination."
With the publication in 1986 of Unattainable Earth, Milosz continued to show himself as a poet of memory and a poet of witness, for, in the prose footnote to "Poet at Seventy," he wrote of his continued "un-named need for order, for rhythm, for form, which three words are opposed to chaos and nothingness." Unattainable Earth uses what Stanislaw Baranczak in Threepenny Review called, a "peculiar structure of a modern silva rerum" which "consists in including a number of prose fragments, notes, letters, verses of other poets." The book was the first of several lauded collaborative translations between the author and American poet Robert Hass.
A year later, The Collected Poems, 1931-1987 was published, bringing together Selected Poems, Bells in Winter, The Separate Notebooks, and Unattainable Earth into one volume. The book contains 180 poems ranging in size from two lines to sixty pages. Forty-five poems appear for the first time in English, of which twenty-six are recently translated older poems and twenty are new poems. Warren W. Werner in Southern Humanities Review called the work "a big, varied, and important book . . . a feast of poetry." P. J. M. Robertson in Queen's Quarterly lauded the collection as "a gift to cherish, for it contains the song of a man . . . passionately affirming the daily miracle of life and its continuity even now on our battered earth." The critic affirmed that The Collected Poems "reveal Milosz's answer to the question of the role of poetry and of art in the twentieth century. . . . a responsibility to see and express beauty: that is, the truth about life in its miraculous complexity." New York Times Book Review contributor Edward Hirsch found the volume "one of the monumental splendors of poetry in our age." Baranczak believed that it is a book that can "finally give the English-speaking reader a fairly accurate idea of what [Milosz's] poetry really is, both in the sense of the largeness of its thematic and stylistic range and the uniqueness of his more than half-century-long creative evolution." Don Bogan of the Nation stated that "with its clarity, historical awareness and moral vision, The Collected Poems is among the best guides we have" to help remind us that "poetry can define and address the concerns of an age."
Milosz followed in 1991 with Provinces: Poems, 1987-1991. For Milosz, the life in each individual seems made up of provinces, and one new province which he must now visit is the province of old age. He explores getting older in the thirteen-part sequence titled, 'A New Province,' reporting that "not much is known about that country/ Till we land there ourselves, with no right to return." Hirsch found that these poems about old age have "a penetrating honesty" derived from "a powerful dialectical tension, a metaphysical dispute at work . . . about the conflicting claims of immanence and transcendence, the temporal and the eternal." Ben Howard, in Poetry, commented on the inclusion of Milosz's "abiding subjects—the loss of his native Lithuania, the suffering of Eastern Europe, the wrenching upheavals of a long and difficult life," and suggested that the poet through his verse is "asserting his affinity with the common people and his closeness to the soil." New York Review of Books contributor Helen Vendler called Provinces a collection of "many of Milosz's central themes—including the strangeness of human life (where in the blink of an eye absurdity can turn to bravery, or tranquillity to war), exile, sensuality, memory, Platonic idealism, and iron disbelief." Bill Marx in Parnassus described Provinces as "an inner landscape of clashing contraries and times. Valleys of sensuous admiration for the earth's delights are broken up by notched peaks of traumatic memory; deserts formed by perceptions of nature's indifference are dotted with oases rooted in intimations of the transcendent."
Beginning with My Streets: Essays and Recollections, published in 1992, is a collection of essays, philosophical meditations, literary criticism, portraits of friends and writers, and a genre that Observer reviewer Sally Laird identified as "'chatty narratives' in the Polish tradition." Donald Davie in the New Republic deemed the book "more a medley than a collection, with a deceptive air of being 'thrown together,'" made up, as Vendler pointed out, of essays in which Milosz "moves with entire naturalness from Swedenborg to Robinson Jeffers, from Lithuanian scenery to Meister Eckhart, from the Seven Deadly Sins to Polish Marxism." Laird praised in particular the essay "Saligia," in which Milosz takes on two multiple perspectives, that of poet and of engaged historian. The book contains accounts of the poet's childhood in Vilnius and closes with his 1980 Nobel lecture. Washington Post Book World contributor Alberto Manguel concluded, "Milosz excels in recounting, in finding the happy phrase for a scene or a concept. The invention of the past, the elusiveness of reality, the fluidity of time, the apparent banality or apparent importance of philosophical inquiries are traditional (some would say intrinsic) poetic fodder, and Milosz arranges the questions on the page with economy and elegance."
A Year of the Hunter, published in 1994, is a journal Milosz penned between August of 1987 and August of 1988. John Simon in the Washington Post Book World pointed out that these entries were "written on airplanes zooming to lecture engagements, poetry readings, literary congresses and the like." Ian Buruma praised the work in the Los Angeles Times Book Review as "a wonderful addition to [Milosz's] other autobiographical writing. The diary form, free-floating, wide-ranging . . . is suited to a poet, especially an intellectual poet, like Milosz," allowing for his entries to range from gardening to translating, from communism to Christianity, from past to present. Indeed, as Michael Ignatieff stated in the New York Review of Books, A Year of the Hunter is successful "because Milosz has not cleaned it up too much. Its randomness is a pleasure."
In 1995 Milosz produced the poetry collection Facing the River: New Poems. This volume includes verse that deals largely with Milosz's return to Vilnius, the city of his childhood, now the capital of the free republic of Lithuania. In returning, Ignatieff pointed out, Milosz found himself in an ironic circumstance: "Having been a poet of exile, he had now become the poet of the impossible return of the past." The poet recognized many streets, buildings, and steeples in his homeland, but the people from his past were gone. This left Milosz to "bring the absent dead back to life, one by one, in all their aching singularity," as Ignatieff stated. Facing the River is not just about Milosz's return to Lithuania and the people that he misses; it also addresses the poet's accomplishments and his views on life. In "At a Certain Age," Milosz declares that old men, who see themselves as handsome and noble, will find: "later in our place an ugly toad/ Half-opens its thick eyelid/ And one sees clearly: 'That's me.'" Facing the River, which ends with Milosz wondering, "If only my work were of use to people," left Ignatieff speaking for many readers of Milosz when he wrote: "Those like myself who see the world differently because of him hope he will continue to stand facing the river, and tell us what he sees."
In 1999, at age eighty-eight, Milosz published Roadside Dog, a collection "that at first encounter seems an invitation to revisit the remembered landscapes of his life," as Jaroslaw Anders noted in the New Republic. In "maxims, anecdotes, meditations, crumbs of worldly wisdom, introspections . . . [and] poems," Milosz takes readers on a trip through the sounds and images that have shaped his life as a poet. "Some of these morsels are perfectly finished," Anders found, "others appear sketchy, tentative, even commonplace: assertions in search of proof, thoughts that should become essays, plot lines that need to be tested in a novel. Is this the writer's scrap-book offered generously—but also a little self-indulgently—to his readers, the literary equivalent of a rummage sale?"
David S. Gross saw Roadside Dog differently. In his essay, part of a 1999 salute to Milosz published in World Literature Today, Gross admitted that it is "hard to say what these little pieces are. Prose poems, I suppose, after Baudelaire and others." Still, the work as a whole "constantly reexamines questions of politics, religion, the nature of poetry, issues of consciousness and meaning, and more, always toward the end of understanding, even reinventing, the self, in order to understand and reinvent the world." Again and again in Roadside Dog, said Gross, the poet "tries to get at that which links him with the suffering and the excluded, even though he has not for years had to suffer the same consequences."
Milosz remained active even as he advanced into his nineties. In 2001 he published Milosz's ABCs, a brief, alphabetical collection of entries illustrating his experiences and view on life. This may seem an odd approach to a life, but David Kipen stated in the San Francisco Chronicle that "in Milosz's hands it illuminates much of twentieth century literature and history and the muddled, tragic no-man's land where they've overlapped." Included are entries on old friends long dead, political movements, historical events, and spiritual matters. The book "derives its coherence from the Nobel Prize-winner's longstanding philosophical preoccupations: the impermanence of life in the face of 'the waters of oblivion,' and the paradox of Christian faith in the context of mass-scale human suffering," mused Kristen Case in the New Leader. Case added: "Parallel to the stream of personal recollections, crosscurrents of literary and philosophical thought gradually converge into something like a philosophical system: an understanding of life as a struggle between being and nothingness, creation and destruction. Many of the most compelling entries are those with abstract titles: 'Time,' 'Terror,' 'Curiosity.' Here Milosz grants himself some freedom from the minutiae of memory and engages the intellectual history of his nine decades." Reviewing the book for Commonweal, Harold Isbell called it "a remarkable testament to the place of memory in the definition of a conscious self. . . . In this book, the events of history become experience and, finally, art as Milosz turns the memory of experience back to elucidate the event." And John Kennedy recommended in Antioch Review, "This is a true 'companion' book; keep it close, for it is as much a gift of luminous moments as poems and parables are." Kennedy valued the book not only for its own sake, but also as a means of understanding its author: "If you want to know the man, if you want to know about the malleability of world consciousness, you must read this book. Milosz's pieces travel the geographies of emotions and tastes. It appears that nothing escapes him: not politics, partisanship, original sin, ethnicity, fear, love, or much else."
Also that year, Milosz published a translation of a work first published in 1957 in his native language: A Treatise on Poetry. This lengthy poetic work has four parts which ponder Europe at the turn of the twentieth century, Poland between the two world wars that devastated it, World War II, and the proper place of the poet in the world after the horror of World War II. It also serves as an historical survey of Polish poetry throughout those periods. It is a work that is "gripping, profound and beautiful," according to a writer for the Economist. Translated nearly fifty years after it was written, A Treatise on Poetry found an audience among a new generation of readers. Nicholas Wroe quoted Milosz in the Guardian as commenting: "It has been a great pleasure to see my poem apparently not getting old. . . . It is really a history of Polish poetry in the twentieth century, in connection to history and the problems of so-called historical necessity. And I am proud of having written a poem that deals with historical, political and aesthetic issues even though, of course, I know that for students, the parts of the poem where I deal with Hegelian philosophy and Marxism are, for them, completely exotic. They have such short memories." The year 2001 also saw the publication of another major collection of Milosz's poems, New and Collected Poems, 1931-2001, which inspired a Publishers Weekly reviewer to predict: "There are few superlatives left for Milosz's work, but this enormous volume, with its portentous valedictory feel, will have reviewers firing up their thesauri nationwide."
Milosz also published a collection of essays in 2001, titled To Begin Where I Am: Selected Essays. The subject matter is as varied as the poet's life experiences, and the essays stand as "testaments to a great philosophical mind and astonishing essayist"; they are written with "integrity, humility, and a vast knowledge of the major events and philosophies of Western civilization," advised John Kennedy in the Antioch Review. "The truths he extracts are particular, excavated out of the universal human struggles of various political and literary friends." In fact, the essays also form a kind of autobiography, beginning with an account of the poet's life on his grandparents' farm in Lithuania and proceeding on through the tumultuous decades that followed. America reviewer John Breslin commended the collection as well, singling out in particular the essay "If Only This Could Be Said," which offers his "fullest and most personal treatment of religion, an indispensable part of the human in his view." Milosz has frequently been pointed out as rather unusual in that he maintained his Catholic faith even through the horrors of two World Wars; many intellectuals who survived that time subsequently suffered crises of faith from which they never recovered. Wroe quoted him as explaining, however, that while he is a Catholic, he will not identify himself as a "Catholic writer," because "if you are branded as a Catholic, you are supposed to testify with every work of yours to following the line of the Church, which is not necessarily my case." Breslin concluded that Milosz's highly individual voice, with its call to faith and hope in the face of darkness, is one "we need to hear in our new and already deeply troubled century."
"Milosz's work is something so extraordinary in our epoch, that it seems to be a phenomenon that he has appeared on the surface of contemporary art from the mysterious depths of reality," declared Krzysztof Dybciak in World Literature Today. "At a time when voices of doubt, deadness, and despair are the loudest; when writers are outstripping each other in negation of man, his culture, and nature; when the predominant action is destruction . . . , the world built by the author of 'Daylight' creates a space in which one can breathe freely, where one can find rescue. It renders the world of surfaces transparent and condenses being. It does not promise any final solutions to the unleashed elements of nature and history here on earth, but it enlarges the space in which one can await the Coming with hope. Milosz does not believe in the omnipotence of man, and he has been deprived of the optimistic faith in the self-sufficiency of a world known only through empirical experience. He leads the reader to a place where one can see—to paraphrase the poet's own formula regarding time—Being raised above being through Being."