Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004) was born in Lithuania, he lived in occupied Warsaw during WWII, and witnessed the oppression imposed by both Nazis and Stalinists upon his people. For more than 35 years he taught at the University of California at Berkeley, and in 1980 he received the Nobel Prize for literature.
Czeslaw Milosz wrote in Polish — including his own translation of the Psalms. The poem below was translated into English by the author and Robert Hass. He was as ready to talk about his faith as his doubt, and he was dedicated to and critical of both Poland and traditional Catholic faith.
The following is a selection from a sequence entitled “Treatise On Theology”. In the prose-like section that precedes this one, Milosz says, “Whoever places his trust in Jesus Christ waits for His coming and the end of this world, when the first heaven and the first earth pass, and death is no more.”
Religion comes from our pity for humans.
They are too weak to live without divine protection.
Too weak to listen to the screeching noise of the turning of infernal wheels.
Who among us would accept a universe in which there was not one voice
Of compassion, pity, understanding?
To be human is to be completely alien amidst the galaxies.
Which is sufficient reason for erecting, together with others, the temples of an unimaginable mercy.
Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca