Song at half past three

writing afterThe Poor PoetbyCzesław Miłosz


Translated by Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese.

Poets are cows that in full moon would graze on complex
flyovers with hardly any traffic. Poets are great architects
of the city endlessly perfected their projects
no longer attract investors. Poets are a nuisance
really that can’t be fixed by war progress nationalisms
stock exchange or other catchy metaphors.
When poets are given prizes they can’t be trusted they may
shout say nothing or merely shrug. Poets have pale bellies
heavy abdomens at times tree-bark on their backs. Poets are strangers
that’s why they welcome others as theirs and do not recognize friends.
Poets are five fingers of the right hand and five of the left. Poets pick up
abandoned instruments and start to juggle them. Once again
poets were seen prowling about the city in shoes with thick leather soles
and lighting cigarettes in front of every house. So what is it with poets?
Raise your hands and try to walk like this for a while until you see
how awkward it is. Climb the stairs like this or better still:
get onto a tram and when it departs with a jolt
imagine poets who must act like this every day.

Modern Poetry in Translation is grateful to the Polish Cultural Institute for their support in commissioning this work.

Translated by Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese.

Today’s poets would find it hard to compare writing a poem to planting a tree. They would find it hard to imagine that their word – the word of hope or the word of revenge – has the power of persuasion. The ‘poverty’ of contemporary poets is the ‘poverty’ of gestures performed for unknown audiences and purposes. Contemporary poets do not aspire to ‘greatness’; the role they are meant to fill is the role of the earthworm. The soil of the earthworm is language.
Speaking about the poet, Czesław Miłosz uses the singular form. I prefer to write about poets – about a particular type of people. Poets’ work, against all appearances, is not work performed in solitude. We write, because we have read. Writing, we are talking with those whom we have come to know through our readings. But that’s not all: contemporary poets experience a paradoxical connection to the ‘mute’ of this world. Even if they don’t lend voices to the mute directly, poets feel towards them something akin to solidarity. Or, to be more precise, poets discover with amazement how close they are to those who live ‘outside the word’, in unvoiced humiliation.
Today the poets’ voice is not heard fully. But that doesn’t mean it is unnecessary. As somebody so accurately put it, poetry is needed by few, but those few need it very much.
Translated by Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese