therefore call one man

Today several friends spent the morning together reading poetry connected to Pentecost (June 12 on the church calendar). I had several other passages vying in my mind for today, but this poem by Czeslaw Milosz drove them all out for now.

VENI CREATOR

Come, Holy Spirit,
bending or not bending the grasses,
appearing or not above our heads in a tongue of flame,
at hay harvest or when they plough in the orchards or when snow
covers crippled firs in the Sierra Nevada.
I am only a man: I need visible signs.
I tire easily, building the stairway of abstraction.
Many a time I asked, you know it well, that the statue in church
lift its hand, only once, just once, for me.
But I understand that signs must be human,
therefore call one man, anywhere on earth,
not me–after all I have some decency–
and allow me, when I look at him, to marvel at you.

Berkeley, 1961

And here’s a little background on the poet:

Miłosz wrote all his poetry, fiction and essays in Polish and translated the Old Testament Psalms into Polish.

…In 1980 Miłosz received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Since his works had been banned in Poland by the communist government, this was the first time that many Poles became aware of him.

…Through the Cold War, Miłosz’s name was often invoked in the United States, particularly by conservative commentators such as William F. Buckley, Jr., usually in the context of Miłosz’s 1953 book The Captive Mind. During that period, his name was largely passed over in silence in government-censored media and publications in Poland.

The Captive Mind has been described as one of the finest studies of the behavior of intellectuals under a repressive regime. Miłosz observed that those who became dissidents were not necessarily those with the strongest minds, but rather those with the weakest stomachs; the mind can rationalize anything, he said, but the stomach can take only so much. (poemhunter.com)

3 thoughts on “therefore call one man

  1. Hi, I love your description of your blog as a roadside shrine! Thanks for asking to use my photo – it looks great here. And this is such a beautiful poem! Wonderful blog.

  2. This one is very short, but it was always one of my favorites of his. Hemingway talked about his stories being like the tip of an iceberg, indicating that there was a lot more unseen below the surface. This poem always struck me in the same way in a sort of fleeting evocative way.

    Window by Czeslaw Milosz
    I looked out the window at dawn and saw a young apple tree
    translucent in brightness.

    And when I looked out at dawn once again, an apple tree laden with
    fruit stood there.

    Many years had probably gone by but I remember nothing of what
    happened in my sleep.

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