A Review of ‘Second Space’ by Czeslaw Milosz

In these late poems by Czeslaw Milosz, Second Space, we find a poet at ease with his craft, conversational, and willing to give us an intimate look into his thoughts. The “second space” of the title is the after life, the space opened up by death.

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?
(“Second Space”)

The first section of this collection grapples with the questions of faith–though Milosz’s faith seems sound–death and the afterlife. Far from gloomy, though, the poems are often light and witty as they tackle these big questions. Even when facing the dilapidations of old age, Milosz keeps a light touch:

High notions of oneself are annihilated
by a glance in the mirror,
by the impotence of old age,
breath held in the hope that some pain
won’t return.
(“Degradation”)

The pathos at the end of the stanza is balanced nicely by the hyperbole of high notions “annihilated: and then undercut  “by a glance in the mirror.”

After the opening section of lyrics, the remaining four sections are each comprised of a single long poem. The strongest of these is “Apprentice,” an autobiographical poem, with notes, about Milosz’s father, the writer Oscar Milosz. At one point, in both the poem and the notes, Milosz reveals a bit of Freudian/Bloomian anxiety over his own literary success:

The Nobel Prize is enough for the smaller ones.
It would not commend itself to someone who gave an incomprehensible gift
And announced the planetary victory of the Roman church.

His note to this reads, “When a certain Polish writer received the Nobel prize in 1980, some French newspapers expressed the opinion that it had been given to the wrong Milosz.”

As a Nobel laureate, Milosz needs no praise from me. His writing in this collection is polished and assured. He is one of those rare laureates who continued to produce quality work even after he had been awarded the prize, as this collection exhibits.

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