I first came across Czeslaw Milosz some months ago. The essays came first, in his ABC's, which lead to other poets, in whose woods of verses I lost myself, and then I returned to Milosz and his poetry. (I've written about this part before). Opened the pages at random, as I always do with poetry, began reading, felt my heart crack wide open, and then I started to weep. (I hate to cry in public places, like bookstores, especially when I don't have any tissues with me). I've never felt this way before, about anything, anyone. I have gone back and forth between the early poems and the later ones, and all the ones in between, but it is the poems of his last twilight years that I come back to again and again.
Now I see him as a traveler resting on a distant shore, an old man standing at its broken edge, gazing at the great expansive emptiness of the ocean, this "second space." He has come to face the end which draws nearer; those close to him, wives, friends, colleagues, all have passed before him, and he writes that "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."
In Venice he remembers Brodsky and Pound, those gone before; in Eurydice he imagines his late wife, himself Orpheus descending into the underworld in one last attempt to bring her back. But the fire of words still burns clearly, brightly, even though his eyes have grown dim, the mind is as sharp as it must have been in his youth. I am haunted by his words, by the opening poem, Second Space, from which this last volume of poems takes its title, to the final poem, Orpheus and Eurydice, which is the first poem I read by Milosz and from which all others pale besides, the one I love the most.
But this is the first poem, Second Space:
How spacious the heavenly halls are!
Approach them on aerial stairs.
Above white clouds, there are the hanging gardens of paradise.
A soul tears itself from the body and soars.
It remembers that there is an up.
And there is a down.
Have we really lost faith in that other space?
Have they vanished forever, both Heaven and Hell?
Without unearthly meadows how to meet salvation?
And where will the damned find suitable quarters?
Let us weep, lament the enormity of the loss,
Let us smear our faces with coal, loosen our hair.
Let us implore that it be returned to us,
That second space.
Milosz, Czeslaw. Second Space. Ecco, 2005. p. 3.