Amid the profound despair of the current state of the world, it is perhaps necessary to remind ourselves that we are the transient ones, and that the earth will outlast any nation, no matter how great it might seem at the time. Lest we forget this fact, here is a timeless poem to jolt us from our hubris, written in the hand of the literature Nobel laureate, Czeslaw Milosz.
WHAT ONCE WAS GREAT
What once was great, now appeared small.
Kingdoms were fading like snow-covered bronze.
What once could smite, now smites no more.
Celestial earth roll on and shine.
Stretched on the grass by the bank of a river,
as long, long ago, I launch my boats of bark.
Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004) ranks among the most respected poets of the 20th century. Born in 1911 in Szetejnie, Lithuania, of partly Polish and partly Lithuanian parentage, he spent much of the Second World War in Warsaw, where he was active in the struggle against the Nazis. He left Poland in 1951 to live in France, and in 1960, he emigrated to the US where he became a tenured professor of Slavic languages and literatures at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1980, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Milosz’s poetry defined tragedy and beauty of his age with an unrivalled beauty, elegance and precision. Whether describing his early youth in Poland, the anguish of war-torn Warsaw or his personal search for religious meaning, his poems brilliantly evoke the wonder, amazement and the sensuous detail of living, and the particular individuality of every life.