I should relate some time how I changed
My views on poetry, and how it came to be
That I consider myself today one of the many
Merchants and artisans of the Old Japan,
Who arranged their rhymes about cherry blossoms,
Chrysanthemums and the full moon.
Could I but describe the courtesans of Venice,
As in a loggia they teased a peacock with a twig
And out of brocade, the pearls of their belt,
Set free heavy breasts and the reddish weal
Where the buttoned dress marked the belly,
As vividly as saw them the skipper of galleons
Who landed that morning with a cargo of gold;
And could I but find for their miserable bodies
In a graveyard whose gates the greasy water licks
A word more enduring than their last-used comb
That in the rot under tombstones, alone, awaits the light
Then I wouldn’t doubt. Out of reluctant matter
What can be gathered? Nothing, beauty at best.
And so, cherry blossoms must for us suffice
And chrysanthemums and the full moon.
Which disappear when one reaches for them.
And nearby – just outside the window – the greenhouse of the worlds
Where the tiny beetle and the spider are equal to planets,
Where the wandering atom glows as Saturn
And there to the side harvesters lift a cold jug to their lips
In scorching summer.
This I wanted and nothing more. In my age
Like old Goethe to stand before the face of the earth
And recognize it, and reconcile it
With the accomplished work, a forest citadel
Above the river of changing lights and brief shadows.
This I wanted and nothing more. But who
Is guilty? Who caused my youth and my ripe years to be taken
From me, that my best years are
Seasoned with horror? Whom?
Who should I blame, whom, O God?
And I can think only about the starry sky
About the high mounds of termites.
Notes on this poem
© The Estate of Czesław Miłosz