Czeslaw Milosz and Joseph Brodsky

Czeslaw Milosz and Joseph Brodsky: Fellowship of Poets

Irena Grudzinska Gross
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Czeslaw Milosz and Joseph Brodsky
    Book Description:

    This intimate portrayal of the friendship between two icons of twentieth-century poetry, Czeslaw Milosz and Joseph Brodsky, highlights the parallel lives of the poets as exiles living in America and Nobel Prize laureates in literature. To create this truly original work, Irena Grudzinska Gross draws from poems, essays, letters, interviews, speeches, lectures, and her own personal memories as a confidant of both Milosz and Brodsky.

    The dual portrait of these poets and the elucidation of their attitudes toward religion, history, memory, and language throw a new light on the upheavals of the twentieth-century. Gross also incorporates notes on both poets' relationships to other key literary figures, such as W. H. Auden, Susan Sontag, Seamus Heaney, Mark Strand, Robert Haas, and Derek Walcott.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15578-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Tomas Venclova

    The present book reminds me somewhat of Plutarch. It consists of two parallel lives of outstanding personalities with similar but strongly contrasting fates. As the author says, Czesław Miłosz and Joseph Brodsky are patrons of all émigré writers of the second part of the twentieth century. They accomplished what seemed to be impossible, or at least very improbable: not only did they not cease to write poetry in a foreign country (this is, in fact, rather a rule than an exception, as proven by Juliusz Słowacki, Cyprian Norwid, Marina Tsvetaeva, Vladislav Khodasevich, and tens if not hundreds of other poets),...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xviii)

    The idea to write about the friendship between Czesław Miłosz and Joseph Brodsky came to me several years ago, while Miłosz was still alive. He was very supportive of the project—he valued highly his relationship with the Russian poet, who had already died. I shared with the two poets the experience of exile, as well as a love, approaching obsession, of literature. I first met Joseph Brodsky in 1965—he had just returned to Moscow after his sentence for “parasitism” had been cut in half. I already knew some of his poems and had heard about his trial and...

    (pp. xix-xxii)
  7. Prologue: “A Consolatory Letter”
    (pp. 1-8)

    On July 12, 1972, Czesław Miłosz sent a letter to Ann Arbor, Michigan, addressed to Joseph Brodsky, the recently exiled Russian poet who was starting his academic career there. “Dear Brodsky!” wrote Miłosz,

    I received your address from the editor of ParisKultura.Certainly you are not capable right now of starting any new work, because you have to absorb quite a few impressions. It is a matter of internal rhythm and of its clashing with the rhythm of the life around you. But, since what happened happened, it is much better, and not only from a practical point of...

  8. PART ONE: Republic of Poets
    • ONE Pan Czesław and Iosif
      (pp. 11-33)

      The feeling of friendship is often expressed through a ritualized, private style of address—an intimate formality, so to speak. Miłosz and Brodsky conversed in English and addressed each other as “Czesław” and “Joseph.” Brodsky’s style of address with Miłosz was always formal. He explained to the Polish writer Wiktor Woroszylski that he would never speak to Miłosz with an informalyou;and he liked to address the older poet sometimes with the Polish formal “Pan Czesław”—Mister Czesław.¹ It was a slightly humorous way of showing respect to the age and noble origin of the Polish poet.Pan—mister,...

    • TWO Poetry, Youth, and Friendship
      (pp. 34-62)

      The biography of Joseph Brodsky began to turn into a legend while he was still alive. One of the main ingredients of that legend was his early circle of friends. Growing up in Leningrad, where Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, and Mandelstam used to live and write, he was aware of the poetic tradition of that city and of the links between poetry and friendship. He knew that the poems written by the romantics were born, not only of books they read together, of shared beliefs and dreams, but also of hours spent in each others’ company, of card games, evenings passed at...

    • THREE Friendship and the Estate of Poetry
      (pp. 63-98)

      While youthful friendships grow from the common project of learning how to live, friendly associations of adult years are more selective, deliberate. In the case of our poets, the shape of their later friendships was determined by emigration. In hisNicomachean Ethics,Aristotle considers friendship necessary—nobody would want to live without friends, he writes, even possessing every earthly good. The sufferings of emigration consist in great part in being cut off from places, language, family, and friends. Miłosz used to say that it was the fame in his little town that alone interested him. Only the weaving together of...

    • FOUR Women, Women Writers, and Muses
      (pp. 99-126)

      Working on the estate of poetry, Brodsky and Miłosz often performed together on panels or at readings. Otherwise they met but rarely. Although very cordial, their relationship was not intimate. In personal matters they were both rather restrained; their attitude toward family life and women seemed quite different. This difference was expressed “obliquely” during a panel discussion in New York, on September 22, 1981. The mood of the occasion was festive. Miłosz laughed and joked, happy to have received the Nobel Prize in literature just a year earlier, seemingly liberated from some heavy burdens and doubts. It was a period...

  9. PART TWO: Fatherlands / Otherlands
    • FIVE In the Shadow of Empire: Russia
      (pp. 129-172)

      Attitudes toward Russia form a difficult, hidden background of the friendship between Brodsky and Miłosz: they never discussed it openly. Miłosz often said that the two of them overcame the longstanding differences between Poland and Russia. Brodsky never declared as much.

      The difference in their attitudes toward Russia can be deduced from a controversy over the entity called Central Europe. In the 1970s and 1980s the old concept of “Mittel Europe” became a new, anti-Soviet idea, produced or verbalized, mostly in the West, by exiles and refugees from the Soviet bloc. The concept was useful in the fight for the...

    • SIX Iosif Brodskij and Poland
      (pp. 173-197)

      It is difficult to recall now the isolation from the outside world that characterized the Soviet Union of Brodsky’s childhood and youth. After he dropped out of school at age fifteen, he traveled a lot, working with geological expeditions in Siberia and Central Asia. Later, he often visited his friends in Moscow and Lithuania, and went for vacations to the Caucasus. Today, these territories belong to separate nations, but at that time they constituted provinces of the Soviet empire. Travel within the borders of the empire was not easy. Trucks had the beginning and the end of their journeys written...

    • SEVEN Loneliness as Always: America
      (pp. 198-220)

      In the traditional western-European geographic imagination, America was described as nature. Starting in the sixteenth century, Europe thought of herself as a culture in opposition to America—seen as a territory outside of history and tradition. This juxtaposition continues to form the basis of Europe an descriptions of America, although the terms of this contrast are slightly changed. As an example one can take the well-known work of Jean Baudrillard,America.The new continent (still considered new after so many centuries), is seen as an “astral” desert, composed of highways, motels, and minerals, all contrasting with the dense culture of...

    • EIGHT Poetry with a Foreign Accent
      (pp. 221-258)

      Both Czesław Miłosz and Joseph Brodsky passed the greater part of their lives in the United States. The English language played a large role in their creative work even before they arrived in America. Surrounded by English, they grew intimate with it. Gradually, they started to interfere in translations of their poems. By the end of his life, Miłosz translated most of his poems by himself, and in the last years of his life, Brodsky composed poems directly in English. For the poets “burdened” with romantic convictions about loyalties to their native tongue, these developments marked an evolution indeed.


  10. Epilogue
    • NINE Death and Friendship
      (pp. 261-271)

      Miłosz was a prodigious worker, felicitously productive. He died after a long and fruitful life—having been active as a writer for no less than seventy-five years. At his funeral, August 27, 2004, in Kraków, Rabbi Sacha Pecaric declared: “Miłosz was a poet of plenitude, and his life attained such fullness that, like old patriarchs, he left us sated with his days.” Brodsky died too early, knocked down while still rising. After the deaths of the two poets, wakes, masses, memorial services proliferated around the world: for Miłosz in Kraków, New York, Berkeley, and Vilnius, among other places; for Brodsky...

    • TEN Return and Death
      (pp. 272-302)

      There was no greater difference between Brodsky and Miłosz than the ways in which they passed away. Brodsky died suddenly, alone, at night. Miłosz had been gravely ill, dying for a long time. After his death, Brodsky was buried several times, provisionally, until finally he found his place of rest on a small funerary island overlooking Venice. Miłosz’s funeral procession was led through Kraków crowds by the highest Church authorities to a place of rest for Meritorious Poles. Brodsky escaped, slipped away; the Kraków funeral ceremony was Miłosz’s final return. Both places of rest—the grave and the tomb—are...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 303-328)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 329-343)
  13. Index
    (pp. 344-362)