Czesław Miłosz on Sarajevo

Living in Poland, it certainly  is hard to ignore Czesław Miłosz, the great Polish poet and prose writer of Lithuanian origin who won the Nobel Prize in 1980.  I took a class on Central European literature last semester with the leading scholar on Miłosz and attempted to analyze his methods of representation of the visual arts in poetry in an essay for the class.  Even though I spent a great deal of time looking through his volumes of poetry for the essay, I just noticed his poem on Sarajevo today.  The poem introduces the book The Black Book of Bosnia: The Consequences of Appeasement and it  was included in his volume New and Collected Poems: 1931-2001, which was published in 2001 only a few years before his death.  When this poem was printed on the front page of a Polish newspaper, it was criticized for being anachronistic.  Still, I think Miłosz passionately and beautifully expresses the international abandonment of Bosnia in his poem.  Miłosz understands from firsthand experience about countries that cease to exist.  In his poem about the siege of Sarajevo he warns that inactivity – here in the case of Western Europe – will be punished by fate.

Czeslaw Milosz

Sarajevo

-Perhaps this is not a poem but at least I say what I feel.

Now that a revolution really is needed, those who were fervent are quite cool.

While a country murdered and raped calls for help from the Europe which it had trusted, they yawn.

While statesmen choose villainy and no voice is raised to call it by name.

The rebellion of the young who called for a new earth was a sham, and that generation has written the verdict on itself.

Listening with indifference to the cries of those who perish because they are after all just barbarians killing each other.

And the lives of the well-fed are worth more than the lives of the starving.

It is revealed now that their Europe since the beginning has been a deception, for its faith and its foundation is nothingness.

And nothingness, as the prophets keep saying, brings forth only nothingness, and they will be led once again like cattle to slaughter.

Let them tremble and at the last moment comprehend that the word Sarajevo will from now on mean the destruction of their sons and the debasement of their daughters.

They prepare it by repeating: “We at least are safe,” unaware that what will strike them ripens in themselves.

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