An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czeslaw Milosz


A Publishers Weekly Top Ten “Literary Essays” Title, Spring 2011.

Czeslaw Milosz (1911–2004) often seemed austere and forbidding to Americans, but those who got to know him found him warm, witty, and endlessly enriching. An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czeslaw Milosz presents a collection of remembrances from his colleagues, his students, and his fellow writers and poets in America and Poland.

Milosz’s oeuvre is complex, rooted in ...

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A Publishers Weekly Top Ten “Literary Essays” Title, Spring 2011.

Czeslaw Milosz (1911–2004) often seemed austere and forbidding to Americans, but those who got to know him found him warm, witty, and endlessly enriching. An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czeslaw Milosz presents a collection of remembrances from his colleagues, his students, and his fellow writers and poets in America and Poland.

Milosz’s oeuvre is complex, rooted in twentieth-century eastern European history. A poet, translator, and prose writer, Milosz was a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1961 to 1998. In 1980 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The earliest in this collection of thirty-two memoirs begins in the 1930s, and the latest takes readers to within a few days of Milosz’s death. This vital collection reveals the fascinating life story of the man Joseph Brodsky called “one of the greatest poets of our time, perhaps the greatest.”

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“In the wake of his death in 2004, the poetry of Czeslaw Milosz seems more permanent than ever. Yet the creator of that poetry—the human being who spent much of his life wrestling with loneliness, obscurity, and a punishing form of linguistic exile—has already begun to recede into literary history. We should be grateful, then, for the reminiscences that Cynthia Haven has collected in An Invisible Rope. The reader is offered glimpses of Milosz in his salad days and in his post-Nobel splendor, in Wilno and Berkeley, Washington and Krakow. The result is a vivid, kaleidoscopic portrait of the man whom Adam Zagajewski calls ‘an ecstatic poet and ecstatic person.’” 
— James Marcus, author of Amazonia and Deputy Editor, Harper’s Magazine 

“These vivid portraits and memoirs, these intimacies rescued from oblivion, tie us more closely to one of the great poets and spiritual presences of the 20th century. An Invisible Rope is an indispensable compendium.”
— Edward Hirsch, author of The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems


An Invisible Rope will delight Milosz readers with gossip and add anecdotal texture to his image as a great Polish poet in Californian exile, who made a triumphant return to Cracow in his old age. . . . The common themes include Milosz’s roaring laughter and insatiable appetite, enduring desire for literary fame, and sense of loneliness."
— Times Literary Supplement

 "In a way, An Invisible Rope—and  the entire year-long celebration of the poet’s life—is a means for both the people who knew Milosz and for those who simply admire him, to thank him for writing his books, which contributed much to the canon of Polish and worldwide literature.”
— Words without Borders

An Invisible Rope leaves the reader with a portrait of a man—a thinker and a humanist—who, through his writing and poetry, asks people to live more purposefully in the world and believes that people can. . . . Ms. Haven’s compilation of sketches paints a strong portrait of Czeslaw Milosz and his life. Truly, the reader is left better knowing the poet who penned, ‘Endurance comes only from enduring/With a flick of the wrist I fashioned an invisible rope/And climbed it and it held me.’”
— New York Journal of Books

“This collection is a must for everyone aspiring to know Milosz and his work. Summing Up: Highly recommended."
— Choice

“The reminiscences gathered here include a host of luminaries in their own right: Seamus Heaney, Robert Pinsky, Adam Zagajewski, Helen Vendler, W.S. Merwin, and Robert Hass among them. Each of these pieces is, of course, eloquent and insightful. But another beauty of this collection is that there are other contributions—by individuals with less exalted resumes, such as those who worked for Milosz as personal assistants. The impressions that build up can at times be contradictory, but this only heightens the mystery of this complex man.”

“The thirty-two contributors to Cynthia L. Haven’s anthology invite us to learn something about the man behind this enduring writing…. Reading this anthology may occasionally allow us a glimpse of Milosz stripped of the legend in which his life and accomplishments had encased him….”
The Threepenny Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804011334
  • Publisher: Ohio University Press
  • Publication date: 3/29/2011
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Cynthia L. Haven has written for the Times Literary Supplement, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Kenyon Review, the Georgia Review, and others. Her most recent books include Czeslaw Milosz: Conversations and Peter Dale in Conversation with Cynthia Haven. She was recently a Milena Jesenská Journalism Fellow with Vienna’s Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Acknowledgments xi

Chronology xiii

Introduction: From Devenir to Être Cynthia L. Haven 1

Way Back in Wilno… Elizabeth Kridl Valkenier 10

"Only a Pole Could Have Been So Careless" John Foster Leich 16

An Epistolary Friendship George Gömöri 20

Half a Century with Milosz Marek Skwarnicki 33

My Colleague from Dwinelle Hall Jadwiga Maurer 43

Love at Last Sight Richard Lourie 47

My Apprenticeship with Milosz Reuel K. Wilson 60

A Difficult, Inspirational Giant Peter Dale Scott 65

Remembering Czeslaw Milosz W. S. Merwin 74

Nine Flashbacks Bogdana Carpenter 80

Milosz the Refugee Henryk Grynberg 88

Uneasy Exile Morton Marcus 96

Wanderer Alexander Schenker 104

Seeing the Bear Lillian Vallee 109

The Exile Who Rejected Pathos Irena Grudzinska Gross 118

I Can't Write a Memoir of Czeslaw Milosz Adam Zagajewski 120

Spring in Berkeley Tomas Venclova 128

He Also Knew How to Be Gracious Anna Frajlich 138

Irony and "Incantation" Robert Pinsky 154

Believers Have This Advantage… Leonard Nathan 160

Milosz at Chez Panisse Daniel Halpern 164

Poet versus Camera: Three Encounters Zygmunt Malinowski 166

I Promised to Speak My Mind Madeline G. Levine 175

"Pretending to Be a Real Person" Helen Vendler 183

Milosz as Buddhist Jane Hirshfield 189

Milosz at San Quentin Judith Tannenbaum 192

"On the Border of This World and the Beyond, in Krakow…" Joanna Zach 198

In Gratitude for All the Gifts Seamus Heaney 203

Missing Milosz Natalie Gerber 211

Job and Forrest Gump Clare Cavanagh 221

Last Poems and Ars Moriendi Agnieszka Kosinska 230

"The Stakes in His Poetry Are Really High": Interviews with Robert Hass Cynthia L. Haven 235

A Selected Milosz Bibliography 263

Contributors 267

Index 275

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