Nobel Prize-winner Czeslaw Milosz visits Randolph-Macon to talk about his work. 

Road-side Poet

Czeslaw Milosz was born in Lithuania to Polish-speaking parents in 1911. He worked with the Polish resistance during World War II, and then as a Polish diplomat to Washington until his 1951 defection to Paris. Milosz wrote in Paris until 1961, when he moved to Berkeley, Calif., to accept a teaching position in Slavic languages at the University of California, a position he still holds. He has published more than 20 books of poetry, in addition to novels and nonfiction, including "The Captive Mind" and a selection of his 10-year correspondence with theologian Thomas Merton.

Milosz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980 and published his latest work, "Road-side Dog," in 1998, a wide-ranging collection of poems, essays and aphorisms. These works range from descriptive naturalist works to meditations on the themes of Milosz's life's work, like the place of the poet in history and historical memory.

Milosz will read from his works on Wednesday, April 21, at 7:30 p.m. in the Blackwell Auditorium of Randolph-Macon College. On April 22, at 10 a.m., Milosz will lead an informal seminar in the Franklin Room of Randolph-Macon's Washington and Franklin Hall.

Style: I really enjoyed the balance you struck in "Road-side Dog" between wonderful natural observations and more weighty themes, like historical memory:

Milosz: I didn't attempt in the beginning to write such a book. I have made some random notes and they came together into a book.

Style: Some of the poems in "Road-side Dog" have a lot of resonance given events now in Yugoslavia and Serbia:

Milosz: My book is, after all, a distillation of many experiences, many situations in Europe. After all, I lived in Europe, in Poland, during the war [World War II] and after the Nazi occupation so that there is a kind of distillation of my experiences, and no wonder some resonance.

Style: What do you see happening in Europe in the future?

Milosz: You see, what happens, what has been happening in Yugoslavia, for many years ... was horrible.

I didn't expect it, I believe that people are taught by the experience of totalitarianism in Europe to avoid [it]. Because what we see there, the dictatorship of Milosovic [is based on] the phenomenon of applied nationalism, that's how he seized [power], by appealing to nationalism. I hoped that Europe, after the experiences of the Nazi and communist totalitarianism was sane enough not to fall into [totalitarianism] again.

Style: In "Alexandria," you ask, "But what about an epoch that is unable to forget anything?" Can you answer that question?

Milosz: On the one hand, you see, people tend to forget immediately, things. On the other hand, we are confronted with an enormous multiplication of information that one doesn't want to remember. The mechanical media of reproducing information are enormous, you know. We are surrounded by a century of information, so it acts two ways.

Style: I also enjoyed the poem about Christopher Robin, as told by Winnie the Pooh.

Milosz: Many readers were very moved by that story. You know, Winnie the Pooh belongs to everybody, because everybody remembers from childhood that story. The bear is a very familiar figure, so when I let the bear talk, everybody had a response to that ... [It's an example] of a story that refers to a common heritage ... Today, for instance, I am not sure whether the Bible is our common heritage, as it was in the past, because so many people are out of the church,

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