On Czeslaw Milosz

Poet and American poet laureate Robert Pinsky remembers his friend, the amazing poet Czeslaw Milosz

Years later, after we both had left Berkeley, I saw Czeslaw during his final illness, in a Krakow hospital, a week or so before he died. He was nearly ninety-three.

He greeted me with a familiar mixture of courtliness and attentive self-examination: “I am very moved you have come to visit me. Fortunately, I am conscious.”

A little embarrassed, searching for something to say, I asked, “Czeslaw, have you been composing sentences in your head? Are you writing in your mind?”

He responded, “Nooo,” the one syllable prolonged into two or three, in a crooning, Slavic way. “Only absurd bric-a-brac.”

Then he chose to give an example of the bric-a-brac, a dream he had that day, in his hospital bed: “I dreamed I was in eighteenth-century Boston,” he said. “Arguing with Puritans.” Then, “Everybody was in uniform!” the old basso laughter kabooming, with its sense of absurdity and purpose, conviction and skepticism, grief and renewal: an essential sound not just of the twentieth century, but of art itself.

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