LYRIC.CO Czeslaw Milosz “Cafe Greco” and Buson

We in the US find it difficult not to be fascinated as our President persists in his mad desire to remain in power. Once he’s out of power we will watch him again go down for crimes committed recently and in the past. The spectacles of Fortuna are not lost on us.

Lyric poetry lines my bookshelves and helps me step out of the madness, or seem to. Snatches of poetry shine in the darkness. I turn on the light. I look up Milosz’s Collected. “El Greco” (1986) begins this way: “In the eighties of the twentieth century , in Rome, via Condotti / We were sitting With Turowicz in the Cafe Greco / And I spoke in, more or less, these words: …” The body of the poem accounts for a conversation suffused with nostalgia, literature considered as a hymn unintended, and so. It ends: “And for me: amazement / That the city of Rome stands, that we meet again, / That I still exist for a moment, myself and the swallows.”

This doesn’t cut it this morning. Milosz does not speak for me or my President. The lyric community fails to jell. His voice remains his voice only, the more of lyric simply failing to happen. The poem is just words.

I often turn to haiku to go beyond words. I open W. S. Merwin’s SELECTED TRANSLATIONS (Copper Canyon Press, 2015). Buson:

This is happiness

crossing the stream in summer

carrying my straw sandals

That’s the THIS that calls me into play. This and that, no grain in the flux, still the current of time, the river there…and there.

As I contemplate the image presented by the poem the wholeness blossoms into fleshy particulars— achey, stressed, distressed, yet full of desire. Feet. Steps.

True, my feet bother me all the time now, but reading this hokku puts it “all“ into perspective by changing the perspective. What Wittgenstein calls “blick” or the change of perspective has occurred.

As we continue to respond creatively to Milosz’s century, we ponder the difference between what can be said and what can be shown. This morning, it seems just this between supplies each lyric with its fluent, porous, emergent form.

As Desmond says, aesthetics is nothing less than a happening to the irreducible ‘idiotic’ self: “… the idiotics is always the secret companion” (The Intimate Universal, 14).

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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