1. Native Realm by Czesław Miłosz
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 300 pages
  1. Thanks to movies, I existed parallel in time to people my own age in France, Holland, or America.
    Czesław Miłosz
  2. Poland weighed on us. To live there was like walking on a sheet of ice underneath which grimaced a million deformed, nightmarish faces. The lack of a uniform standard made it impossible to take a man “as he is” - the forefront of the picture was always dominated by his status: white-collar, peasant, Jew.
    Czesław Miłosz
  3. Modern man’s bitterness and sorrow, already so apparent in Byron, has only one source: the mind’s image of matter as infinite, as subject to time without end and without beginning, which provokes a cosmic terror before a universe that exists nowhere. Hence the question he constantly asks of himself, walking and sleeping: Where is space? The Newtonian universe is a prison.
    Czesław Miłosz
  4. Modern civilization, if is said, creates uniform boredom and destroys individuality. If so, then this is one sickness I had been spared.
    Czesław Miłosz
  5. Through defeats and disasters, humanity searches for the elixir of youth; that is, of life made into thought, the ardor that upholds belief in the wider usefulness of our individual effort, even if it apparently changes nothing in the iron working of the world… By choosing, we had to give up some values for the sake of others, which is the essence of tragedy. Yet only such an experience can whet our understanding, so that we see an old truth in a new light: when ambition counsels us to lift ourselves above simple moral rules guarded by the poor in spirit, rather than to choose them as our compass needle amid the uncertainties of change, we stifle the only thing that can redeem our follies and mistakes: love.
    Czesław Miłosz
  6. In Polish literature there are no characters like Dostoyevsky’s Alyosha or Prince Mishkin, who symbolize the dilemma: “either all good or no good at all”.
    Czesław Miłosz
  7. (Editor: Einstein) was a humanitarian; his mind had been formed in an era when nothing could have shaken the prevailing assumption that man is a reasonable creature, and that if he falls into madness it is only temporary. The criterion for that era had been the individual man, who dominated the collectivity, who was safeguarded by inviolable law and empowered to protest by the ballot. But for my generation man was already the plaything of demonic powers born not in himself but in an interhuman space created by both him and his fellow-man.
    Czesław Miłosz
  8. Philosophy, despite the university departments, is not mere speculation; … it both nourishes itself on everything within us and impregnates our whole being; and … if it does not help us to judge a man, a piece of sculpture, a literary work, it is dead.
    Czesław Miłosz
  9. Already during my early childhood I had drawn a feeling of superiority from my meditations on the universality of death: those around me did not think about this, I thought about it, and this alone gave me the upper hand. Is it not the same with a man, who, in his mind, undresses a woman walking down the street? What interests him more than sex is power.
    Czesław Miłosz
  10. Immense number of people maintain themselves with jobs that are dishonest. At the bottom of their heart they know this, but in their feverish bustling they try to prove to themselves and to others that if not for them the globe would stop turning. The peasant is honest because his energy is transformed into the bread. The artisan is honest because he makes over wood … or metal.
    Czesław Miłosz
  11. Terror and destruction were for export, not for home use; on the contrary, they served to enrich one’s home country. Wretched humanity beyond one’s own frontiers was simply a material to be cut and shaped as one pleased.
    Czesław Miłosz
  12. The fate of humanity, according to him (Editor: Tiger), does not depend upon the foolish moves of its politicians but upon revolutions so discreet that scarcely anyone perceives them.
    Czesław Miłosz
  13. All their aggressiveness had been channeled into the struggle for money, and that struggle made them forget the bloody lessons of the Civil War. Later on, every one of them had so trained himself to forget, that during the depression he regarded unemployment as shameful proof of his own personal inability. I esteemed these men; I was an admirer of their America. At least no one here could justify his laziness by sighing: “If only nations were not predestined, if it weren’t for the Czar, if it weren’t for the government, if it weren’t for the bourgeoisie …” But paradoxically, that triumph of the individual had wrought an inner sterility; they had souls of shiny plastic. Only the Negroes, obsessed like us …, were alive, tragic and spontaneous.
    Czesław Miłosz
  14. My own regular subject of contemplation was the same: the devastating process of change - in individuals, in countries, and in systems.
    Czesław Miłosz
  15. There are many definitions of freedom. One of them proclaims that freedom is the ability to drink and unlimited quantity of vodka.
    Czesław Miłosz
  16. From the dreams spun by nineteenth-century Socialists about a perfect society, nothing had really bean salvaged. Instead, the foreground was dominated by the Hegelian conviction that certain phases will inevitably be victorious over others: that things are as they are, and we are not responsible.
    Czesław Miłosz
  17. The nonsense was over at last. That long-dreaded fulfillment had freed us from self-reassuring lies, illusions, subterfuges; the opaque had become transparent; only a village well, the roof of a hut, or a plow were real, not the speeches of statesmen recalled now with ferocious irony.
    Czesław Miłosz
  18. To kill time before my train left, I went into the only little theater there. The pure vulgarity of that burlesque show, stripped of aesthetic, plebeian, was fit for immigrant workers camps of the last century; even apes would have understood copulative movements of the girls on stage. A diversion for lonely males. But in the bar across the street lonely were deprived even of the consolation of stammering their confession to the bartender, for all eyes were riveted on the television screen. Was this the highest that l’homme sensuel moel could reach when left to himself, undismayed by the cyclones of history? The inside of the train, which I boarded a while later, was decorated with large reproductions of French Impressionists.
    Czesław Miłosz
  19. Had I been given the chance, perhaps I would have blown the country to bits, so that mothers would no longer cry over the seventeen year-old sons and daughters who died on the barricades, so that the grass would no longer grow over the ashes of Treblinka and Majdanek and Auschwitz, so that the notes of a harmonica played under the nightmarish pits and dunes of the city outskirts. Because there is a kind of pity that is unbearable. And so one blows it all up, at least in one’s mind; that is, one is possessed by a single desire: not to look.
    Czesław Miłosz
  20. Much has been written about the need for faith in our century. Perhaps it would be more correct to remember that a need for a simplified outlook on life, which could be contained in a catechism or a brochure, has always existed. Marxism probably had such great drawing power because it appeared at a time when the world had become too difficult to grasp either scientifically or humanistically; and the more primitive the mind, the greater the pleasure in reducing unruly, disparate quantities to a common denominator.
    Czesław Miłosz
  21. Most important was the ability I acquired, once and for all, to concentrate not only on the meaning but on the art of connecting words, the certainty I gained that what one says changes, depending upon how one says it.
    Czesław Miłosz
  22. At the moment of doing a good deed, resisting temptation, or coming from Confession, we think we are good. In other words, we commit a sin of pride, putting ourselves above others because we cannot forgo the comparison. We pity the sinners who are worse than we are. Of what value then is virtue? Unaware that I was treading the path of St. Augustine, I had hit upon one of Christianity’s key problems.
    Czesław Miłosz
  23. Doubtless every family archive that perishes, every account book that is burned, every attachment of the past reinforces classifications and ideas at the expense of reality. Afterward, all that remains of entire centuries is a kind of popular digest. And not one of us today is immune to that contagion.
    Czesław Miłosz
  24. Nothing is more deceptive than the apparent similarity between the Polish and Russian languages.
    Czesław Miłosz
  25. If one rejects the idea of punishments and rewards after death as indecent (what sort of shallow transaction is that?) and if history of Christianity raises doubts …; if dogma is out of harmony with scientific thought - then one must uncover a different dimension where the contradictions can change key and find new validity. This dimension exists parallel to biology or physics; it does not inhibit them.
    Czesław Miłosz
  26. Exceptional privileges and a high income do not always have to go together, because money can be replaced by fame; nor must they necessary go with freedom, for the state, even as it tames and subjugates an artist or scientist, by this very effort pays homage to his role and his importance.
    Czesław Miłosz
  27. Attentiveness, the gift that renders one aware of the presence of another man.
    Czesław Miłosz
  28. (Editor: Russian) poetry was like a magical incantation; everything was reduced to sounds. It was even free to mean nothing, since the creative stuff out of which it was made was not the world but the word. The intoxication of a chant, the intoxication of rhythm.
    Czesław Miłosz
  29. … since a person who, without intending to lie, says that he saw or understood a certain thing ought to be believed more than a thousand others who deny it merely because they could not have seen it or understood it: just as, in the discovery of the antipodes, the testimony of a few sailors who sailed around the earth was believed rather than a thousand philosophers who could not believe it was round.
    Czesław Miłosz
  30. Every dram is played only once on the stage of history; and if it is performed a second time, the tragedy is contaminated by the elements of bloody farce.
    Czesław Miłosz
  31. The odium fell on the Byelorussians, who were known for their passivity, shiftlessness, and defeatism in the face of destiny.
    Czesław Miłosz
  32. Collective imagination is given shape through the discipline of form itself, and … poetry is political in a totally different sense from the conventional use of the term.
    Czesław Miłosz
  33. Parliamentary methods were discredited in the eyes of my generation.
    Czesław Miłosz
  34. (Editor: Piłsudski’s) was … a vision of a non-national state embracing both the Polish Kingdom ad the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. A dream that was either anachronism or too modern - depending upon how it would have been realized in practice. At an hour of awakening nationalism, such a conception was both too late and too early.
    Czesław Miłosz
  35. The problem with choosing between madness (a refusal to recognize necessity) and servility (an acknowledgement of our complete powerlessness) is that one act of obedience can be the start of a downward slide. A man cannot bear a thought of being crushed by a physical compulsion; therefore he deifies the force that rules over him, investing it with superhuman traits, with omniscient reason, with a special mission; and in this way he saves a bit of his own dignity.
    Czesław Miłosz
  36. But when I compare us with the inhabitants of calm and orderly countries, I would be inclined, in spite of all our misfortunes and sufferings, to call us happier in one respect. Neither new models of cars, nor travels, nor love affairs provide the elixir of youth. In grabbing our portion of amusements and pleasures, we expose ourselves to the vengeance of time, which dulls receptivity… That miraculous elixir is nothing other than the certainty that there are no boundaries to the knowledge of what is human; that to puff ourselves with self-importance is inappropriate because each of our achievements falls away into yesterday, and we are always pupils in an introductory class.
    Czesław Miłosz
  37. Unless we can relate to it personally, history will always be no more or less of an abstraction, and its content the clash of important forces and ideas.
    Czesław Miłosz
  38. The model citizen was one who appeared out of nowhere, with neither memory nor traditions. An ancestor - not a matter of choice, after all - be he rabbi, apartment-house owner or miller, was no asset; he inspired fear and could bring on death or misfortune.
    Czesław Miłosz
  39. The completely baseless belief that only people with proletarian blood in their veins are capable of throwing themselves enthusiastically into the class struggle must be rejected from the start.
    Czesław Miłosz
  40. It was only with hindsight that I could appreciate how ironic nationalistic Europe seems to those who, thanks to just such an ancestor, had been expose to and old-fashioned way of thinking far more humane than the new way, with its fanatical discrimination.
    Czesław Miłosz
  41. All of us yearn naïvely for a certain point on the earth where the highest wisdom accessible to humanity at a given moment dwells, and it is hard to admit that such a point does not exist, that we have to rely only upon ourselves.
    Czesław Miłosz
  42. I finally obeyed Martin Luther’s advice: when asked what he would do if he knew tomorrow was going to be the end of the world, he said, “I would plant apple trees”.
    Czesław Miłosz
  43. The greatest ally of any ideology is, of course, the feeling of guilt, which is so highly developed in modern man that it saps his belief in the value of his own perceptions and judgements.
    Czesław Miłosz
  44. Mayakovsky symbolized for me the Russians’ revolution and - who knows? - perhaps their whole eternally ambiguous civilization, so powerful, human, hungry for justice in literature, and so miserable and cruel in worldly affairs. It seemed as if they spent all their strength in extraordinary feats, leaving nothing for more modest desires of harmony and happiness, which they branded treason and weakness. Perhaps there was some truth to saying that the Russians, “being able to do more, cannot do less”.
    Czesław Miłosz
  45. One should appreciate, after all, the advantages of one’s origin. Its worth lies in the power it gives one to detach oneself from the present moment.
    Czesław Miłosz
  46. What was the meaning of the statement that “America will be destroyed by fire, England by fire and water, and Russia by a falling piece of the moon?”. After that, an era of reborn humanity was to follow, the reconciliation of religion and science and the triumph of one universal Church.
    Czesław Miłosz
  47. (Editor: French) would have quaked had someone told them that if they carried rebellion to its conclusion, it would mean no more little bakeries, no more package-good stores or bistros with their cats dozing in the sun behind the windowpane. Theirs was always a secure revolt because their bitterness and their nihilism rested on the tacit understanding that thought and action was measured by different standards: thought, even the most violent, did not offend custom. Any other nation, had it permitted itself such a dose of poison, would have long ago ceased to exist; for France it was healthy. Only when carried to different soil did her slogans, books, and programs reveal their destructive force, among the people who tool the printed word literally.
    Czesław Miłosz
  48. Happy are they who can avoid radical choices.
    Czesław Miłosz
  49. No one can fully engage himself in activity knowing in advance that he will fail.
    Czesław Miłosz
  50. I was, it could be feared, a potential executioner. Every man is whose “I” is grounded in a scientific way of thinking. The temptation to apply laws of evolution to society soon becomes almost irresistible.
    Czesław Miłosz
  51. Nature’s time, thought of as linear, was more or less encompassed by the formula of evolution: the passage from inanimate matter to the first vertebrates, to fish, birds, animals, and at last to man, was progressive. As the natural sciences developed, the line was extended even further to the history of human societies. Here, too, there was to be constant progress, but until Marx there were no guarantees beyond rather vague faith.
    Czesław Miłosz
  52. (Editor: Mayakovsky’s) work welded revolutionary theory with the old dream Russians had of themselves as a chosen nation, and the two messianism nourished each other: class as redeemer and nation as redeemer.
    Czesław Miłosz
  53. In America, the contradiction inclined me toward movement, while in Paris, through my conversations with Tiger, it drove me back toward being, and I tried to diagnose my case. Whoever commits himself to movement alone will destroy himself. Whoever disregards movement will also destroy himself, but in a different way. This, I said to myself, is the very core of my destiny - never be satisfied with one or the other, only at moments to seize the unity of the opposites.
    Czesław Miłosz
  54. I was stretched, therefore, between two poles: the contemplation of motionless point and the command to participate actively in history; in other words, between transcendence and becoming. I did not manage to bring these extremes into a unity, but I did not want to give either of them up.
    Czesław Miłosz
  55. Whoever claims that force cannot suffice as an argument overlooks the character of politics, where the winner takes all. If it were possible to withdraw from politics, then the values of truth and ethics would hold. But it is not possible to withdraw, so all one can do is try to save these values or embody them in politics.
    Czesław Miłosz
  56. (Editor: Tiger) believed that it was our duty to carry the precious values of our European heritage across the dark era, even though one were to be surrounded for whole decades by nothing but absurdity, blood, and feces. Wear a mask, throw them off the scent - you will be forgiven if you preserve the love of the Good within you.
    Czesław Miłosz
  57. Documents were thought up by bureaucrats to poison people’s lives, and one should not have to stick to closely to regulations.
    Czesław Miłosz
  58. One should be cautious, however, about equating economic inferiority with weakness in all spheres.
    Czesław Miłosz
  59. By distrusting mechanistic views of the universe (very nice accomplishments but nothing comes of them) I was permitting myself the luxury of superstitions.
    Czesław Miłosz
  60. Americans accepted their society as if it had arisen from the very order of nature; so saturated with it were they that they tended to pity rest of humanity for having strayed from the norm, If I at least understood that all was not well with me, they did not realize the opposite disablement affected them: a loss of the sense of history and, therefore, of a sense of the tragic, which is only born of historical experience.
    Czesław Miłosz
  61. Nineteenth-century science fostered a completely naïve picture of history by creating contempt in the popular mind … for more complicated factors than mechanistic, material ones - in a sense, Hitler took Darwinism, “the struggle for existence” and the “survival of the fittest”, too seriously, and by identifying history with nature he ignored the limits of blind force. That naïve outlook was overcome in Marx’s analysis, and all the errors of his successors may be due to their neglect of his intention.
    Czesław Miłosz
  62. Undoubtedly I could call Europe my home, but it was a home that refused to acknowledge itself as a whole; instead, as if on the strength of some self-imposed taboo, it classified its population into two categories: members of the family (quarrelsome but respectable) and poor relations.
    Czesław Miłosz
  63. I was convinced that as long as we live, we must lift ourselves over new thresholds of consciousness; that to aim at higher and higher thresholds is our only happiness. While living in Government-General, I crossed one of those thresholds - when we finally begin to become the person we must be and we are at once inebriated and a little frightened at the enormous distance yet to be travelled.
    Czesław Miłosz
  64. The immensity of a past, made up of one event after another stored in chronicles, overwhelmed the mind and produced the boredom I so often observed in university lecture halls; it also produced anxiety, the feeling of powerlessness in the face of chaos. The connections between one event and another was unclear.
    Czesław Miłosz
  65. What we keep hidden is clearer to us than if we were to talk about it publicly.
    Czesław Miłosz
  66. I took from Marxism only its criticism of changeable and fluid institutions, but stopped at the threshold beyond which one must approve the millennium as the fulfillment of all time.
    Czesław Miłosz
  67. Because he who does not constantly overcome himself - i.e., does not learn and does not act - disintegrates within; but if a man is to grow, social reality must be flexible, not rigid, not established as it is in the West. And nothing other than that chaos of new forms, after all, had made me decide to stick to People’s Poland. It was my shield against those who spend all their time earning, spending, and amusing themselves.
    Czesław Miłosz
  68. Our real moral duty is toward the person of another human being.
    Czesław Miłosz
  69. Perfection is worth the effort and it cannot be measured by the clock; in other words, he showed us how to respect literature as a fruit of arduous labor.
    Czesław Miłosz
  70. If a problem is stated in the wrong terms, it cannot be solved.
    Czesław Miłosz
  71. I can consider myself a typical Eastern European. It seems to be true that his differentia specifica can be boiled down to a lack of form - both inner and outer. His good qualities - intellectual activity, fervor in discussion, a sense of irony, freshness of feeling, spatial (or geographical) fantasy - derive from a basic weakness: he always remains an adolescent, governed by a sudden ebb or flow of inner chaos. Form is achieved in stable societies.
    Czesław Miłosz
  72. Men who understand their place in the world differently cannot be measured by a common standard.
    Czesław Miłosz
  73. We always feel ourselves from the inside other than people see us - the clothes we wear are not our skin - but this revolt against the roles society imposes on us has many pitfalls.
    Czesław Miłosz
  74. But today I see that the effect those exercises had on me cannot be measured by the sparsity of material. The time we devoted to them, although I did not suspect it then, was to gave far greater weight than the whole days of storing up useless facts from different fields.
    Czesław Miłosz