by Czeslaw Milosz

Czeslaw Milosz

I looked at that face, dumbfounded. The lights of métro stations
flew by; I didn't notice them. What can be done, if our sight lacks
absolute power to devour objects ecstatically, in an instant, leaving
nothing more than the void of an ideal torm, a sign like a hieroglyph
simplified from the drawing of an animal or bird? A slightly
snub nose, a high brow with sleekly brushed-back hair, the line of the
chin-but why isn't the power of sight absolute?-and in a whiteness
tinged with pink two sculpted holes, containing a dark, lustrous lava.
To absorb that face but to have it simultaneously against the background
of all spring boughs, walls, waves, in its weeping, its laughter,
moving it back fifteen years, or ahead thirty. To have. It is not even a
desire. Like a butterfly, a fish, the stem of a plant, only more mysterious.
And so it betell me that after so many attempts at naming the
world, I am able only to repeat, harping on one string, the highest, the
unique avowal beyond which no power can attain: I am, she is.
Shout, blow the trumpets, make thousands-strong marches, leap,
rend your clothing, repeating only: is!

She got out at Raspail. I was lett behind with the immensity of existing
things. A sponge, suffering because it cannot saturate itselt; a river,
sutftering because retlections ot clouds and trees are not clouds and

(Brie-Comte-Robert, 1954)
Translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Pinsky

Last updated February 11, 2023