Miłosz: A Biography

Andrzej Franaszek
Edited and translated by ­Aleksandra and Michael Parker (Belknap)

In this newly translated biography, Andrzej Franaszek masterfully compiles and condenses reams of letters, essays, books, and poetry to tell the story of one of the twentieth century’s great poets.

Czesław Miłosz, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980, was born in 1911 in a rural Lithuanian village and spent much of his childhood traveling, as his father was mobilized to build roads for the Russian army. As a young man, he worked in the Polish resistance movement in Nazi-occupied Warsaw during World War II, and later lived in Washington and Paris as a cultural ambassador for Communist Poland. Eventually, unable to live under totalitarian censorship, he defected to the United States and took up teaching at Berkeley.

“I have felt the pull of despair and impending doom.… 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.”
—Czesław Miłosz

As he moved from place to place, Miłosz watched the landscape shift, not only geographically but also intellectually and spiritually: fascist and communist regimes in Europe, the vapid consumerism of post-war America, startling technological advances, church reforms, and San Francisco’s countercultural movement.

For Miłosz, this constant displacement was a reminder that this life is but an exile from our true home, and his poetry often returns to this theme. Miłosz lived through dark times, and his poetry reflects this, but he never succumbed to despair: “I did not have the makings of an atheist,” he wrote, “because I lived in a state of constant wonder, as if before a curtain which I knew had to rise someday.” This constant wonder, this hope, and this faith sustained him, and made his poetry luminous and timeless.