From a landscape of cranes and canals,
Of tangled railway tracks and winter fog,
In the smoke of black tobacco, I make my way
Toward you and I ask you a question.
Tell me, for once at least laying
Caution aside, and fear and guarded speech,
Tell me, as you would in the middle of the night
When we face only night, the ticking of a watch,
The whistle of an express train, tell me
Whether you really think that this world
Is your home? That your internal planet
That revolves red-hot, propelled by the current
Of your warm blood, is really in harmony
With what surrounds you? Probably you know very well
The bitter protest, every day, every hour,
The scream that wells up, stifled by a smile,
The feeling of a prisoner who touches a wall
And knows that beyond it valleys spread,
Oaks stand in summer splendor, a jay flies
And a kingfisher changes a river to a marvel.
In you, as in me, there is a hidden certainty
That soon you will rise, in undiminished light,
And be real, strong, free from what restrained you.
That above the mold of broken flagstones,
Above memory and your transformation
Which is like the flight of birds when ice
Crumbles in the traces of hooves―above everything
It will be given to you to run as celestial fire,
To set sails ablaze with your flame at dawn
When ships trail smoke and archipelagoes
Wake up, shaking copper from their hair.
No, I address you here, from the ashes of winter,
In the simplest words, not to induce doubt
Or to call melancholy, for instance, the sister of fate.
On and on. The heart is still beating.
Nothing is lost. If one day our words
Come so close to the bark of trees in the forest,
And to orange blossoms, that they become one with them,
It will mean that we have always defended a great hope.”
(Thank you to my lovely friend Gnome for emailing me this poem yesterday, one I had never read before but that spoke to my heart as if she was hearing it. It was written by Polish poet Czesław Miłosz in 1954. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980 – incidentally the year I was born – and died in 2004. The photograph is ‘times of lonliness’, taken by Anja Bührer.)