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Interview by Robert Faggen
An Approval of Being
Born in Lithuania in 1911, the descendant of a Polish-speaking family that had been in that region for generations, Czeslaw Milosz first came to prominence as a poet in Poland in the early 1930s. In the war years, during the Nazi occupation, Milosz was in Warsaw, where he wrote and edited material for the resistance. In 1946, he entered the diplomatic service of the newly founded People's Republic of Poland. From 1946 to 1950, he was stationed in Washington, D.C. The following year, after returning to Poland, he defected to the West.
Milosz lived in France from 1951 to 1960; it was there that he wrote The Captive Mind, a study of intellectual accommodation to Stalinism. In 1960 he came to the United States to teach at the University of California at Berkeley, where he soon became a tenured professor. He has lived in Berkeley ever since, becoming an American citizen in 1970.
In 1980, Milosz received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Widely regarded as one of the greatest living writers, he has been a significant influence on contemporary American poetry. Though fluent in English, he continues to write almost exclusively in Polish--his native language and its literature, he has said, make up his "estate." In the 1970s he began to translate the Bible into modern Polish, and he has thus far completed a number of books, including Job, the Psalms, the Song of Solomon, the Gospel of Mark, and Revelation.
Having recently celebrated his eighty-sixth birthday, Milosz shows few signs of slowing down. He has recently published a personal anthology of world poetry, with commentary, A Book of Luminous Things (Harcourt Brace); and with Leonard Nathan, he has translated the poems collected in Talking to My Body (Copper Canyon), by the Polish poet Anna Swir. In addition, his correspondence with Thomas Merton has been published in Striving Towards Being: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Czeslaw Milosz (Farrar Straus Giroux). Earlier this year, Robert Faggen visited Milosz at his home in Berkeley. ...