“On a Beach,” from Czeslaw Milosz, Provinces: Poems 1987-1991, translated by the author and Robert Hass:
The sea breaks on the sands, I listen to its surge and
close my eyes,
Here on this European shore, in the fullness of summer, after
the big wars of the century.
The brows of new generations are innocent, yet marked.
Often in a crowd a face resembling — he could be one of the
If he were born a little earlier but he doesn’t know it.
Chosen, as his father was, though not called.
Under my eyelids I keep their eternally young cities.
The shouts of their music, the rock pulsating, I am searching
for the core of my thought.
It is only what can’t be expressed, the “ah” mumbled
The irretrievable, indifferent, eternal vanishing?
Is it pity and anger because after ecstasy and despair and
hope beings similar to gods are swallowed by oblivion?
Because in the sea’s surging and silences once hears nothing about a
division into the just and the wicked?
Or was I pursued by images of those who were alive
for a day, an hour, a moment under the skies?
So much, and now the peace of defeat, for my verse has
preserved so little?
Or perhaps I have only heard myself whispering: “Epilogue, epilogue”?
Prophecies of my youth fulfilled but not in the way one expected.
The morning is back, and the flowers are gathered in the cool of the
garden by a loving hand.
A flock of pigeons soars above the valley. They turn and change
color flying along the mountains.
Same glory of ordinary days and milk in a jug and crisp cherries.
And yet down below, in the very brushwood of existence, it lurks
Recognizable by the fluttering dread of small creatures, it,
implacable, steel-gray nothingness.
. . .
I open my eyes, a ball flies past, a red sail leans on a wave which is
blue in the gaudy sun.
Just before me a boy tests the water with his foot, and suddenly
I notice he is not like the others.
Not crippled, yet he has the movements of a cripple and the
head of a retarded child.
His father looks after him, that handsome man sitting there
on a boulder.
A sensation of my neighbor’s misfortune pierces me and I begin
In this dark age the bond of our common fate and a compassion
more real than I was inclined to confess.