Sunday, July 5, 2020

More On Milosz’s Poem, One More Contradiction—See Immediately Preceding Post


‪We agree on the speaker's state of mind, at least roughly, but not on whether Milosz suuceeds in expressing a trenchant attitude toward the speaker.  I say not. ‬


‪I think in the way the poem’s tone is achieved, what its effect is, we indeed get a sharp view of the speaker. In your terms, he dramatizes himself effectively even to the point of being pathetic. ‬

‪I’m not sure what a trenchant attitude toward him would be: I have a vivid sense of the speaker’s world weariness and his sense of himself as sadly absurd. ‬

R :

My main beef with this poem is that it feels like (what is the case I of course don't know) the writer  SET OUT TO WRITE A POEM rather than had an experience which moved him to write.  Both poems are idea driven rather than passion driven (and by passion I don't mean noisy passion, but some emotional seriousness or comic spirit in what the speaker says. ‬

‪Person has a sense late in life of having had no calling, or if called did not hear it, just drifted like many others through life, no big deal.  Now imagines a "next time," which is actually funny now I say it, as there obviously isn't,  but now merely fancies a different life, also funny,  "I would, I would" as if that was anything but more or less what he had been doing, nothing of moment.  And the lack of feeling in the last line caps it off.  Even the imagined recognition of his futility doesn't much move him.  He is in imagination what he was in life, and found neither very satisfying for reasons he does not understand.  Another person without whatever it is makes life more than getting by. But the poem itself ends by being itself dreary.  ‬

Me with interpolations by R and then mine on his, mine, numbered:

‪We differ.‬

‪It makes no sense to me except in the sense that it’s to made to make no sense.‬

‪For example what is he renouncing; why is he going to choose the fate of obedience?‬
‪Finding fault with one's self but in a non-serious, sort of throw-away was is common. He is mocking that pseudo self-castiagtion.  ‬

‪1 This is what you say he’s renouncing? I can’t see it. My reading is that he knows he’s renouncing 0. He knows he appears to be saying he’s  formally abandoning something—renouncing has that formal, heavy, significant, connotation—but then lets it lapse into 0.‬

‪2 He’s doing more than mocking pseudo castigation. He, the speaker,  is mocking himself mocking it. He’s taking a critical stance against pseudo self castigation by seeing himself engaging it and ridiculing himself for doing it. The self criticism keeps deepening itself. Which is consistent with my reading of non sequiturs and contradictions he purposefully renders through the poem.‬

‪Why did he have to pretend he could be be just like others?‬
‪He says he pretends, but he was and now enjoys thinking he was potentially superior.‬

‪1 That’s a good point. He’s saying that in his present life he’s pretended he was the same as everyone and that were there a next time, he wouldn’t so pretend, But he’s not enjoying thinking he is potentially superior. He knows he’s not. So really his pretense isn’t pretense. Not just that. Most others presumably work as they live their routine lives but he knows he’s an idler, something entirely passive, a piece of paper blown this way and that by any wind, with nothing of any permanence about him. Things go on, renew themselves, with no effort by him:‬

‪... I was a guest in a house under white clouds ‬
‪Where rivers flow and grasses renew themselves...‬

‪2 And what we’ve both haven’t noted is that the entire exercise of his imagining himself the next time round is a futile self lacerating irony: there will be no next time. The exercise is mere speculative idleness. The more I consider this poem, the more I realize how deeply the self mockery cuts. It’s like meta self mockery that keeps doubling down on itself and informs every supposition the speaker makes, everything he declares, everything he imagines doing. ‬

‪What can’t he be; what’s special about him?‬

‪Nothing, but he's trying to be so?‬

‪1 You end your comment with a question mark. My point is that his saying this, that he wouldn’t pretend to be like the others, is self conscious self mockery, calculated nonsense in the sense that he knows what he says is opposite to the case. He knows he’s no better than the others. But he says, knowing that, that in the non-existent next time he won’t pretend that he’s like everyone else. It’s utter ironic self  mockery by which he knowingly belies his actual words. ‬

‪Why does evil and suffering come from so pretending?‬
‪Because one has not honestly faced one's sinfulness. ‬

‪1 Don’t agree. It’s nonsense, not your comment, but what he says. It’s more grandiosity coming to 0. Just like the renouncing. There’s no indication of evil or sinfulness anywhere. He knows that in saying these words he appears to be inflating his own significance even as in doing evil, as though he were a figure of evil somehow bundled up with suffering, his, maybe others. But he knows he’s not. He explodes this very pretense even as he pretends to it. You miss the irony here. ‬

‪What is the relation between not pretending and choosing the fate of obedience and who chooses a fate anyway?‬
‪I think I answered that above.  It's nice to think one has a fate.  Choosing it is nonsense.  ‬

‪1 See my above reply. I agree it’s nonsense. But if you mean it goes to something silly or nonsensical in the poem marking it as a flaw, then I disagree. It’s, rather, intended, self conscious, ironic nonsense, one more intended flaccid muscle in an intended strong  flaccid poem.‬

‪What is there that indicates he has a wolf’s eye and greedy throat to suppress and what is a wolf’s eye and what is a greedy throat; one doesn’t usually think of a savage rapacious appetite as a greedy throat?‬

‪He's exagerrating his routine selflishness.  ‬

‪1 Agree but only in the context of my previous comments taken as a whole as a reading of the poem. ‬

‪None of it makes coherent sense and it’s a self conscious exercise is his own absurdity, as I see it.‬

‪No, it's a mockery of an ordinary man's silly effort not to be, a hangover from the cultural past.  ‬

‪Even his renunciation comes to naught.  He wanted to accomplish something.  ‬

‪I still think it falls flat.  I suspect the translator has not caught some edge that derives from the religious context.  This is a failed Christian, what one is left with when one loses the faith and wants to make up for it.  ‬

‪1 He really didn’t want to accomplish something. He’s like the guy, is it Chandler?, in Joyce’s short story, A Little Cloud, who fantasizes about being a writer but gets no further than wondering  whether he should use his full name or just go by initials and his last name. (I’m amazed I remember this.)  But Milosz goes further than Joyce. The short story protagonist is, as I recall, utterly unaware. This speaker is all too aware and is  lacerating in his self mockery. Though “lacerating” may be the wrong word, as the poem is so brilliantly suffused with such pathetic world weariness and resignation that are so effectively conveyed. Maybe “harsh” is a better word to convey the depth of the criticism of this guy emerging from the poem. ‬

‪2 It doesn’t to the ears of my mind fall flat. I think it’s kind of amazing that the self conscious but pathetic affect of this guy is so vividly conveyed, even while the whole poem is bathed in ever deepening,  ironic passive resignation, the self consciousness informing our sense of this guy’s futility and making it all the more real and biting. ‬

‪So one more contradiction is simply one more to the non sequiturs and broken reasonings running through the poem as he intentionally lampoons himself. ‬


‪#2 is too complex an intention.  If that is possible reading poems would be impossible.  Anything can be turned into satire or irony.  King Lear is a parody of tragedy, a mad king, two evil daughters, one angel daughter, a guy who puts out people's eyes. etc.  ‬


‪It can be taken too far. I wouldn’t say it about Lear because it doesn’t fit. It doesn’t fit Tintern Abbey or A Valediction Forbidding Mourning. But it does here.‬

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