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Milosz on Being

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cezanne-gustave-guffroy

I looked at that face, dumbfounded. The lights of métro stations flew by; I didn’t notice them. What can be done, if our sight lacks absolute power to devour objects ecstatically, in an instant, leaving nothing more than the void of an ideal form, a sign like a hieroglyph simplified from the drawing of an animal or a bird? A slightly snub nose, a high brow with sleekly brushed-back hair, the line of the chin—but why isn’t the power of sight absolute?—and in a whiteness tinged with pink two sculpted holes, containing a dark, lustrous lava. To absorb that face but to have it simultaneously against the background of all spring boughs, walls, waves in its weeping, its laughter, moving it back fifteen years, or ahead thirty. To have. It is not even a desire. Like a butterfly, a fish, the stem of a plant, only more mysterious. And so it befell me that after so many attempts at naming the world, I am able only to repeat, harping on one strong, the highest, the unique avowal beyond which no power can attain: I am, she is. Shout, blow the trumpets, make thousands-strong marches, rend your clothing, repeating only: is!

Czeslaw Milosz, selection from Esse (1954) first published in Uncollected Poems (1969) in: New and Collected Poems: 1931-2001, p. 249 (2002).

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