ROAD-SIDE DOG by Czeslaw Milosz
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The great poet explores a miscellany of topics in miniature pieces of finely crafted prose and poetry. Milosz, the Polish Æ’migrÆ’ writer of The Captive Mind (1951) and many works of poetry, is now 87 years old. He was a professor of Slavic language and literature at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1961 until 1980, when a Nobel Prize for Literature freed him of the need to hold a steady job. His output of poetry and essays has been prodigious; Road-Side Dog is his 24th book in English, and we have reason to be grateful for it. The book, brief and pithy, is a pleasure. Milosz turns his agile mind to whatever crosses its path. The upshot is a wealth of insights on a variety of topics. The task of poetry and the standing of the poet are favorite themes here. Milosz is inclined away from the avant-garde and toward the classical, toward the honing of the language of his predecessors: ""I was perfectly aware of how little of the world is scooped up by the net of my clauses and phrases. Like a monk, sentencing himself to ascesis, tormented by erotic visions, I would take shelter in rhythm and the order of syntax, because I was afraid of my chaos."" He is also concerned in this collection with old age and memory (""one can write a few truly good things only by paying with the deformation of one's life""), with history (""Images more terrible than those invented by the phantasy""), and with the fleeting pleasures of life. What will impress many readers, though, is probably the remarkable compression of much wisdom in these pages, a wisdom that is as unpretentious as it is authentic. Milosz has a gift for acute observation and the ability to formulate what he understands in simple and beautiful prose. Though a modest and understated work, the poet's generosity of spirit is unmistakable.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0374526230
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"