New collection of writings by Czesław Miłosz show author’s ‘internal dilemmas’ in the face of totalitarianism

Few writers have captured the dilemmas faced by 20th Century intellectuals caught between fascism and communism as well as Polish poet Czesław Miłosz, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. Ryszard Kornecki/PAP

Few writers have captured the dilemmas faced by 20th Century intellectuals caught between fascism and communism as well as Polish poet Czesław Miłosz, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980.

Now a new collection of Miłosz’s non-fiction prose offers a further insight into his writing from a crucial period in European history and his own life.

Aptly entitled “W cieniu totalitaryzmów” (In the shadow of totalitarianisms), the book collects Miłosz’s journalism from 1945-1951 and texts written during World War II.

“The texts collected in this volume can be read both as a multi-genre and multicolored description of the full paroxysms of twentieth-century history, as well as the account of the often painful and tragic experiences and internal dilemmas of the author,” writes Kraków-based publisher Wydawnictwo Literackie on its website.

Aptly entitled 'W cieniu totalitaryzmów' (In the shadow of totalitarianisms), the book collects Miłosz’s journalism from 1945-1951 and texts written during World War II.Wydawnictwo Literackie

Miłosz was born in the village of Szetejnie (now Šeteniai, Lithuania) in 1911 and studied at Stefan Batory University in Wilno (now Vilnius). As a young poet and intellectual, he was profoundly shaped by Poland’s experience of World War II and its aftermath. 

During the Nazi-German occupation, he actively resisted oppression in Poland’s underground freedom movements. Initially enthusiastic about socialism, he became disillusioned as the new authorities in post-war Poland moved in an increasingly hard-line, Stalinist direction.

In 1951 he left Poland, which had been taken over by the communists, and settled in Paris.

The new collection of Miłosz’s non-fiction prose offers a further insight into his writing from a crucial period in European history and his own life.Jerzy Undro/PAP

Later, in 1960, he emigrated to the United States, lecturing at the University of California, Berkeley. He died in Kraków in 2004.

“The Captive Mind”, probably Miłosz’s best-known book abroad, explores his generation of Polish intellectuals’ experience of fascism and communism.

'The Captive Mind', probably Miłosz’s best-known book abroad, explores his generation of Polish intellectuals’ experience of fascism and communism.Wikipedia/Fair use

First published in 1953, soon after he left Poland, it follows the paths of four Polish writers who became attracted to communism in the 1940s. 

Their identities are masked by the pseudonyms Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.

With 880 pages, “In the shadow of totalitarianisms” brings together previously-scattered articles, essays and reviews, inviting Miłosz fans, literary scholars and historians to explore these themes in greater depth.