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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Witness, part three

The poet also speaks in the voice of a prophet, not as a soothsayer or psychic, but as a man inspired to proclaim the necessary moral truths, as a witness to the future.

The Polish workers striking at the Gdansk shipyards under the banner of Solidarity in 1980 understood that. One of their demands was a memorial to workers killed there by the Communists ten years before. For the engraving on the plaque, they selected several lines from this poem by Milosz.


You who wronged a simple man
Bursting into laughter at the crime,
And kept a pack of fools around you
To mix good and evil, to blur the line.

Though everyone bowed down before you,
Saying virtue and wisdom lit your way,
Striking gold medals in your honor,
Glad to have survived another day,

Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
You can kill one, but another is born.
The words are written down, the deed, the date.

And you’d have done better with a winter dawn,
A rope, and a branch bowed beneath your weight.

~ Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004), Polish poet, essayist and translator, and winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature

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