In a Nutshell: a Poem by Milosz

The organic dynamic between philosophy and lyric has many facets, historical (starting with Plato’s abuse and practice of poetry) and analytical. The latter may be put thus: meditate/mediate. In the given between of composition, we mediate the ‘that it is at all,’ the wonder that compels meditation.

The poem below elucidates the process of meditation / mediation. It embodies the narrative peculiar to lyric. The narrator starts with the givens of common experience. Maps of determinate experience, memory of ‘the feast of motion’—-the Eros driving the self beyond itself. Time passes. But now he wants things without desire, things as they are in themselves—-the vision bare of personal attachment—- the ‘this only,’ the ‘that it is at all.’

So I suggest that ‘This Only’ is a poem by Milosz in which he considers the wonder of being at all through the various senses of his being. For the reader, reading the poem is an act of philosophy in Hadot’s sense, ‘a spiritual exercise.’ Like a musical composition, one must practice it lovingly.


Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at and other sites.

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