Late Ripeness

by Czeslaw Milosz

English version by Robert Hass
Original Language Polish

Not soon, as late as the approach of my ninetieth year,
I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning.

One after another my former lives were departing,
like ships, together with their sorrow.

And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas
assigned to my brush came closer,
ready now to be described better than they were before.

I was not separated from people,
grief and pity joined us.
We forget -- I kept saying -- that we are all children of the King.

For where we come from there is no division
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be.

We were miserable, we used no more than a hundredth part
of the gift we received for our long journey.

Moments from yesterday and from centuries ago -
a sword blow, the painting of eyelashes before a mirror
of polished metal, a lethal musket shot, a caravel
staving its hull against a reef -- they dwell in us,
waiting for a fulfillment.

I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,
as are all men and women living at the same time,
whether they are aware of it or not.

-- from New and Collected Poems 1931 - 2001, by Czeslaw Milosz

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This is one of my favorite poems by Czeslaw Milosz. I hope you feel it too...

Try reading those early lines again:

I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning.


Notice how the breaking of the line influences the meaning. It is not written "I felt... / I entered..." separating it into two logical statements. Instead, the first line is "I felt... and I entered." There the line stops, forcing us to stop as well and consider it as a statement complete in itself. And once we enter, we are almost overwhelmed by the next line; it is as if, at that point, all of existence has become "the clarity of early morning."

That sense is further emphasized by the next lines, "One after another my former lives were departing, / like ships, together with their sorrow." Milosz is describing how the weight of one's personal history, the burden of past identity and the actions that seemed to give it reality, all of that is washed away in the flood of that light. Not even washed away; "departing," gently drifting away. Reading that line, I have the sense of those laden ships, not sailing away, but fading out, like gloomy phantoms ever looking backward suddenly caught in the brilliance of dawn.

For where we come from there is no division
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be.


The lines of this poem have an intuitive recognition of the unity at rest beneath the jangle and hurts of life. It is a recognition that allows for forgiveness... and self-forgiveness.



Recommended Books: Czeslaw Milosz

New and Collected Poems 1931 - 2001 The Collected Poems Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness To Begin Where I Am: The Selected Prose of Czeslaw Milosz A Treatise on Poetry
More Books >>





Late Ripeness