Czeslaw Milosz R.I.P.


The Polish writer and poet Czeslaw Milosz is dead at 93. He was best known, perhaps, for his book The Captive Mind, which, as he put it, described the ?vulnerability of the twentieth-century mind to seduction by sociopolitical doctrines and its readiness to accept totalitarian terror for the sake of a hypothetical future.?

I was always fond of a lesser-known book, The Seizure of Power, which described the antagonistic politics of the communist and anti-communist Poles (with their backers in London and Moscow) around the time of the Warsaw uprising ? whose 60th anniversary was commemorated last month. For me it came in a mental package with the films Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds, by Polish director Andrej Wajda, A Memoir of the Warsaw Uprising by Miron Bia?oszewski, and Jan Karski?s Story of a Secret State ? all remarkable works dealing with Poland?s travails during World War II and soon afterwards, as the country was taken over, first, by the Nazis (in cahoots with the USSR), then by the communists.

In the preface to A Captive Mind, Milosz wrote: ?Like many people of my generation, I could have wished that my life had been a more simple affair.? The first line of Karski?s book is: ?On the night of August 23, 1939 [days before the Nazis invaded Poland] I attended a particularly gay party.? The nightmare, when it came, was sudden, deep and lasting. That Milosz was able to survive it all and see Poland independent was a triumph of sorts.

His assistant probably said it best, in response to a question on the cause of death: ?It?s death, simply death. It was his time ? he was 93.?