At a Certain Age
By Czesław Miłosz
We wanted to confess our sins but there were no takers.
White clouds refused to accept them, and the wind
Was too busy visiting sea after sea.
We did not succeed in interesting the animals.
Dogs, disappointed, expected an order,
A cat, as always immoral, was falling asleep.
A person seemingly very close
Did not care to hear of things long past.
Conversations with friends over vodka or coffee
Ought not to be prolonged beyond the first sign of boredom.
It would be humiliating to pay by the hour
A man with a diploma, just for listening.
Churches. Perhaps churches. But to confess there what?
That we used to see ourselves as handsome and noble
Yet later in our place an ugly toad
Half-opens its thick eyelid
And one sees clearly: “That’s me.”
For Jessica and my long-put-off but recently remembered country challenge (books of the world challenge? I don’t know), I picked up a volume of Czeslaw Milosz’s poetry today at the library to conquer Poland. Milosz is one of those poet’s I’ve known about for a long time, hazily, but have never gotten too involved in. He’s an important influence on bunches of poets I adore (Heaney and Ted Hughes, for example), and I’ve read a few poems. Then I opened Facing the River (1995, the Ecco Press) and the poem above more or less slapped me in the face. Oh how I love it. The line breaks, I think, are what makes it spectacular. I also am obsessed with the shift at the end of the poem from the communal we into the singular voice. Maybe what makes me love it so so much is that I definitely read it as a poem of old age (Milosz was 83 or 84 at the time of this poem’s publication), and old age poems have become (usually) the poems that I love the most.