Bells in Winter by Czeslaw Milosz - review by Mark Abley

Mark Abley

Ambushed by Language

Bells in Winter


Carcanet 71pp £2.95 order from our bookshop

In the middle of his long poem From the Rising of the Sun, Czeslaw Milosz contemplates a remote river in Oregon. Its name is the Rogue River, a translation of the French ‘Riviere des Coquins’; the French name arose after Indians had ambushed some French trappers; the Indian name is lost forever. ‘A word should be contained in every single thing,’ Milosz .understands, ‘But it is not. So what then of my vocation?’ Milosz and an American, Lillian Vallee, have translated these poems from the Polish, and Milosz must know himself that the result is a rogue book, ambushed by language. The poems still flow, but most of their music is lost.

Bells In Winter is the most tantalizing collection I have read in years. The publisher has subtitled it ‘selected poems’, but only two poems have dates (1936, 1944) and some of the others refer to Milosz’s American exile. (Born in Lithuania in 1911, he has lived since 1951 in France

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