Be Like Others

by Czeslaw Milosz

Czeslaw Milosz

Wherever you lived-in the city of Pergamum at the time of the
Emperor Hadrian, in Marseilles under Louis XV, or in the New
Amsterdam of the colonists-be aware that you should consider
yourself lucky if your life followed the pattern of life of your neighbors.
If you moved, thought, felt, just as they did; and, just as they, you
did what was prescribed for a given moment. If, year after year,
duties and rituals became part of you, and you took a wife, brought up
children, and could meet peacefully the darkening days of old age.

Think of those who were refused a blessed resemblance to their fellow
men. Of those who tried hard to act correctly, so that they would be
spoken of no worse than their kin, but who did not succeed in anything,
for whom everything would go wrong because of some invisible
flaw. And who at last for that undeserved affliction would receive
the punishment of loneliness, and who did not even try then to hide
their fate.

On a bench in a public park, with a paper bag from which the neck of
a bottle protrudes, under the bridges of big cities, on sidewalks where
the homeless keep their bundles, in a slum street with neon, waiting in
front of a bar for the hour of opening, they, a nation of the excluded,
whose day begins and ends with the awareness of failure. Think,
how great is your luck. You did not even have to notice such as they,
even though there were many nearby. Praise mediocrity and rejoice
that you did not have to associate yourself with rebels. For, after all,
the rebels also were bearers of disagreement with the laws of life, and
of exaggerated hope, just like those who were marked in advance to


Translated by Czeslacw Milosz and Robert Hass

Last updated February 11, 2023