Friday, January 21, 2011

'Gift' by Czeslaw Milosz (1971)


                        A day so happy.
                        Fog lifted early I worked in the garden.
                        Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
                        There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
                        I knew no man worth my envying him.
                        Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
                        To think that once I was the same man didn’t embarrass me.           
                        In my body I felt no pain.
                        On straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

It is my intention in these short reflections to simply gather the work of others and make small observations on some element of the poem – the thing, if you like, which teaches in the poem. With Milosz’s ‘Gift’ it is the simplicity of its approach, the power of the direct statement, the use of the declarative.

In the Collected Poems ‘Gift’ is surrounded by more elaborate and “philosophically complex” pieces, yet none , in my opinion, convey the emotional depth and directness of this poem – they are often, to my tastes at least, overly abstract. Here though, through nine statements – first concrete, then emotional and again concrete – Milosz makes one moment luminous, a moment where personal history fails finally to impinge on the present but is accepted, and allows the moment to be. He is careful, though, to keep the poem moving through this “moment” by varying the line length while resisting the temptation to use line breaks to achieve this creeping progression. The poem represents a slow meditative transition rather than a dramatic one.

In the final two lines he returns the poem to the garden. The final line is perfect in its simplicity. So often when poets attempt to “enact” an emotion through some final gesture in a poem, its can sometimes feel contrived and overbearing, too final and staged. Here, Milosz manages to make it seem completely natural – a gesture no greater than the act of straightening up and looking outward to the sea.


  1. Thanks for putting the link to this poem, which I hadn't seen before. Your close reading really brings so much out of it. It's so simple, like a poem inspired by meditation.

    It's always interesting to see the poems a poet chooses as favourites. They're often so different in style to the poet's own work. And yet there must be something similar.

    The directness and clarity might be the connection between you. And yet you're so good at sustaining this through a longer poem. Looking forward to seeing more poems but your thoughts on this one, and the actual poem, will stay with me.

  2. I think this is a great idea for a blog and I found the poem itself (which I didn´t know before) and your thoughts on it interesting and illuminating. Thanks.

  3. Thanks to you all for your kind welcome to the blogosphere. I'm delighted you like the idea of what I'll be doing in the coming months. I just hope it lives up to the premise. My thanks to Adele for suggesting I try this.

    I look forward to reading your blogs also and thanks, Sue, for ordering my book. I have ordered copies of yours also, along with Mike and Ann's. I'm excited to read the work of the other Ward Wooders.

    In the meantime I shall be writing some more pieces and posting them here shortly.

  4. Great stuff, Noel. I like the approach you're taking, very original and I'd love to read more about the crossover of science/art/writing - being a science luddite! I've ordered your book anyhow, and will definitely meet you in the near future in Dublin :)