Monday, October 6, 2008

Do I Contradict Myself?

Dear Everyone:

Here’s a companion piece to yesterday’s poem

A Poem for the End of the Century
by Czeslaw Milosz

When everything was fine
And the notion of sin had vanished
And the earth was ready
In universal peace
To consume and rejoice
Without creeds and utopias,

[Rest of poem removed because it’s probably still in copyright]

Okay, and rather than make my usual pontifications (great word! but you already know what it means, right?), I’m gonna give you the word straight from the Man himself. Here’s what Milosz had to say about yesterday’s and today’s poems. In that order:

The two poems placed here together contradict each other. The first renounces any dealing with problems which for centuries have been tormenting the minds of theologians and philosophers; it chooses a moment and the beauty of the earth as observed on one of the Caribbean islands. The second, just the opposite, voices anger because people do not want to remember, and live as if nothing happened, as if horror were not hiding just beneath the surface of their social arrangements.

I alone know that the assent to the world in the first poem masks much bitterness and that its serenity is perhaps more ironic than it seems. And the disagreement with the world in the second results from anger which is a stronger stimulus than an invitation to a philosophical dispute. But let it be, the two poems taken together testify to my contradictions, since the opinions voiced in one and the other are equally mine.

Or, as Walt Whitman put it: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” (Great quote! Memorize it, use it on people who smugly tell you you’ve just contradicted themselves, and watch them squirm with annoyance. But don’t use it on English majors. They’ve heard it a million times.)

All best,


No comments: