Czesław Miłosz w 1985 r. fot. Antoni Miłosz / Sygn. FIL00861

“You are actually concerned with the salvation of the world”. Józef Czapski and Czesław Miłosz's Letters on the Soul.


Józef Czapski

Pisarz, Publicysta, Artysta
Born: 3 April 1896 in Prague
Died: 12 January 1993 in Maisons-Laffitte
Pseudonim: Marek Sienny, J. Cz., Józef Czapski

Czesław Miłosz

Pisarz, Poeta, Publicysta
Born: 30 June 1911 in Sztejnie (now Šeteniai, Lithuania)
Died: 14 August 2004 in Kraków
Pseudonim: K., (m.), m., M.K., N, L., Czeslaw Milosz, Czesław Miłosz

Faith, the core of being. The theme of my life too.

Czesław Miłosz to Józef Czapski, Berkeley, 8 April 1968.[1]

The duality of your thought and mine, it is eternally the same dilemma: Eros and mysticism.

Józef Czapski to Czesław Miłosz, Sailly, 28 August 1985.


“There is a whole world of mysticism about which I know really nothing, because I left, I left this world for a life of matter, of work, of carnal love, of dilemmas and rifts,”[2] wrote Józef Czapski in the pages of his diary, which the readers of the Paris-based Kultura magazine could read in April 1968. This sentence captures one of the key tensions in the painter's life, perhaps even his most fundamental dilemma. After all, his intellectual biography begins with a phalanstery of young people gathered in revolutionary Petrograd, who believed that they were the apostles of a new spirituality, and that their prayer and vaguely understood work of evangelisation would inaugurate an era of peace. A moment later, however, there is a breakthrough, a coming to terms for the future artist with the truth that one's path is not only that of meditation and hunger for transcendence, but also that of history, of involvement in what the temporal world brings. The path of Mary and the path of Martha, or – as says the parable Czapski repeatedly quotes – the path of the "pure" St John Cassian and the path of St Nicholas, who did not hesitate to soil his clothes in order to help his neighbour.


There would be many other "commitments" in the painter's life – organising the Parisian life of his young artist friends, war struggles, the search for Polish soldiers in the Soviet Union, attempts to convey the truth about Katyn to Western public opinion, fund-raising in the United States and Canada for Kultura, and a variety of perhaps less important toils, which Czapski himself called an agonising "mouse run". But a reader of “Torn-Out Pages”, apart from the constant self-analysis and sincerity of the author, must have been struck by Czapski’s focus on the metaphysical dimension of humanity, on spiritual concentration. They reveal a Czapski who, though immersed in materiality, such as the tangibility of the painter's workshop, was much more – a man seeking contemplation, the certainty of faith, pondering old age and death. This combination of desires appealed enough to another artist, Czesław Miłosz, that he sent a confession from Berkeley to Maisons-Laffitte: “I have always been a supporter of what you write, but I don't think I have ever felt this strongly about your writing”. In the next sentence he adds: "the reasons are private, and maybe it's because you're daring some kind of exposure". This leads one to presume that there were certain aspects of his own life that the author of Rescue had hardly ever revealed. Finally, he recalled the differences that divided them and, reflecting on Czapski's "angelic" nature, he placed himself partly in the "devilish" sphere, to ultimately emphasise: "I only felt a kinship, in that you are talking about our fate, the fate of us all".[3]

This 'we' is above all a community of people entering old age, growing weaker, separated from each other. Miłosz remained painfully lonely in California in the 1960s and 1970s, later describing this period as a time when he was tempted to finally fill his mailbox with letters sent to himself, a time when he thought that instead of publishing his poems in Kultura he could throw them into the ocean or hide them in bird hollows. He was thirsty for an exchange of ideas, for "intellectual ping-pong", and among the handful of his correspondent interlocutors a prominent place was held by Czapski. They argued about the condition of the Polish nation, the poet being more critical of it than the painter and former officer in Anders' army.[4] On the other hand, they were united in the philosophical and spiritual domain, defined by names like Simone Weil, Stanisław Brzozowski or Vasily Rozanov. Here, Czapski was both an inspirer and perhaps his only true partner, as Miłosz could not discuss such issues with the agnostic Jeleński, or with the "common sense" Herbert, who was averse to Russian culture, let alone with Giedroyc, who was focused on political activity, or with his wonderfully friendly but somewhat crude dear friend Zygmunt Hertz. One might even say that the total seriousness in their treatment of spiritual matters excluded Czapski and Miłosz from the Polish cultural majority, for whom – as the author of “Eye” put it – "religion is either Polish, Catholic, and none other, and then there is nothing to talk about but ‘the foreground of Christianity’, or religion is always nonsense, which a progressive man cannot talk about”.[5] This is why Milosz's publication of The Land of Ulro was greeted with enthusiasm by Czapski, who emphasised in a letter to the book’s author: "it is necessary to understand what the novelty of your book in Poland consists in the fact that you are 'un animal religieuse', that, after all, we have not had writers – since the 19th century and further back – who are religious 'deep down'; since the time of... Norwid; that a Pole who does not believe in God but goes to church is practically a strict generality. And suddenly you – I mean the poet and the writer [...] touch upon a subject which is the most profound and the most sensitive, as it has been terribly trivialised by patriot Poles, nationalist Poles, agnostic Poles".[6]

One might add that Czapski, with his characteristic openness and capacity for enthusiasm, was clearly a man who inspired confidence in the bruised and deeply guarded Miłosz. It was to him, an essayist and painter similarly struggling with the search for artistic expression, that the poet could write frankly in the early 1960s: "I have such a great desire to get to the bottom of things for once, and I don't know how it never works out. Brzozowski reproached himself for never revealing the whole truth about what he thought. You have sometimes reproached me for my dialectical illness, but this sometimes comes from not knowing how to get to the bottom of things, so one lives only on percentages and then reproaches oneself for always tiptoeing around the essentials”.[7]

Many observations can be drawn from this excerpt, if only to emphasise once again the complexity of Miłosz's intellectual tactics, who followed Mickiewicz's maxim about truths that a wise man "cannot reveal to anyone". He did so, we should add, apparently convinced that, on the one hand – as we read in his later poem – "people cannot be pleased with / He who reaches for the forbidden",[8] and on the other, on the more ethically motivated side of solidarity with another human being, our doubts and despairs should not take away hope from others who are happily trusting. After all, as Miłosz's poetic maxim in dialogue with the Bible and Dostoevsky puts it: "If there is no God, / then not everything is allowed to man. / He is his brother's keeper / and must not bereave his brother, / by telling him there is no God".[9] Much earlier, after the publication of Visions from San Francisco Bay, the writer had already confided to Czapski: "as for my book, it worries me precisely perhaps because it does not show another, more believing and trusting part of my nature. Leszek Kołakowski says that the book is very beautiful, but depressing – no hope. If this is the case, I am guilty of a grave sin, because such books, without faith and hope, should not be written. [...] people should not be offended – the meek nor the not so meek".[10]

Inasmuch as this was a subject that the poet himself spoke of on more than one occasion, what seems less intuitive – yet perfectly evident precisely in his correspondence with Czapski – is to bring attention to his anguish as thinker, one who, at least from the moment when his residence in Berkeley forced him to confront groundbreaking cultural processes, obsessively felt that the truth about the spiritual situation of contemporary man was slipping through his fingers. And perhaps beneath all the recognisable facts lurked a deeper, fundamental horror. With penetrating insight and without a shadow of irony, Czapski reacted to the poet's drama, summing it up with the sentence: "You are actually concerned with the salvation of the world – a beautiful poem is not your ultimate goal".[11]


In the biography of the author of Visions from San Francisco Bay, the 1960s and 1970s could be described as an apocalyptic period, as if the tone of the Żagary period had returned to him; he was aware of this himself, writing expressis verbis that this was "a rehabilitation of my youthful catastrophism, but deepened and not ashamed of its religious content".[12] The young man in Vilnius foretold of the coming war or revolutionary upheaval, masking his metaphysical anxiety with social concern; the mature and already very experienced man, settled in Bear's Peak in the centre of the cultural laboratory that was California at the time, was accompanied by an anxiety that he was a powerless witness to nothing less than the end of humanity, or at least to the fulfilment of Witkacy's prophecies about “degenerate humanity”.

Here once again[13] – however, with greater, almost irresistible force – revealed to him is a self-satisfied man, cynical and laughing, reduced to his basic instincts, and above all stripped not only of the need for religious certainties but of any metaphysical hunger whatsoever. He meets the likes of himself who, as Milosz described it, "sit down at the table, fold their hands in prayer, and say, 'God is dead. Hurrah!’ and get down to eating".[14] Even if the Sunday rituals are still fulfilled, the "situation [...] is that they go to church, but none of them believe; or do not believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist";[15] even the institutional Church, wishing to keep up with the times, renounces its ideological foundations, forgets the existence of the devil and of sin, so that (here a quotation from another letter, citing Mickiewicz's ballad): "the pestilence is already in Granada – not the first time the Church has made an alliance with the world et avec son Prince, but never yet like this, I think. Bribes in the temple – and the merchandise they sell is Peace, Love, Justice, Free Sex, Rock Music, Social Justice, Mao, Socialism and I don't know what else."[16] The quotations could, in fact, be multiplied, since, as we already know, Miłosz treats these matters deadly seriously and constantly returns to them; one of the most moving passages will be this personal confession:

I have no refuge, no help. I go to church and there is a service that is completely Protestant, in the American fashion: the so-called togetherness, or scout warmth, artificial cordiality, that everyone seems to pat each other and love each other, plus singing together and playing guitars. [...] And omitted from the Mass is the Creed: because, supposedly, who is going to believe in such things, why shock people. And how many there are like me, in full tragedy – and all these progressives, so sensitive to the fact that one earns little and the other earns a lot, have not deigned to think about this fundamental inequality; their church is supposed to be for the healthy and contented, not for the lame, the hunchbacked and the paralytic. For centuries at least the hunchbacks and paralytics had a refuge in the church, but today, where are they supposed to go? I say this as one of them.[17]

                One might say that Nietzsche's famous words came true before the poet's eyes: "Where is God? [...] We have put him to death – you and I! We are all his murderers! But how did we do it? Could we have drunk the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe off the whole horizon? What will we do when we tear this Earth from the chain of its sun? Where does it run now? Where do we run to? Away from all the suns? Would we not fall again and again? And backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions? Is there any up and down yet?".[18] Seemingly in tune with these sentences are the words of Miłosz's poem about a world abandoned by God, in which “everywhere was nowhere and nowhere, everywhere", and whose inhabitants "afflicted with incomprehensible distress, / Were throwing off their clothes on the piazzas so that nakedness might call for judgment. / But in vain they were longing after horror, pity and anger".[19] On the other hand, a more down-to-earth and detailed description of the experience, not without an ambiguous charm, can be found in the poet's next letter to Józef Czapski. This is how Miłosz described his stay in Chicago in the autumn of 1964:

I flew here from the Our Lady of Gethsemani monastery in Kentucky, where I had conversations with Merton; I flew in and drove into Chicago from the airport, into the Babylon, truly, of the grandest of civilisations, but knowing that beyond this façade there is nothing. And having decamped to the hotel, I went to the local cult, i.e., a burlesque or strip-tease. [...] On stage and on screen – pornographic films made in Hollywood with the wonderful technique of colour photography, during the interval the sale of ice-cream etc., and pornographic publications, with their contents being narrated through a microphone, but engineered as if the audience were made up of bulls and cows. [...] And increasingly I think that my fundamental non-acceptance of civilisation when I was in my 20s holds, and if at times it seemed to be a non-acceptance of the world, it was a fallacy. I don't believe all the moaning that identifies a certain civilisation of non-intelligence and insanity with the essence of being – that supposedly "the world is already set up that way". [...] these millions of people around me at the moment could be something and someone else – such regret that these are millions wasted, lost, as far as making use of their human potential goes.[20]

By bearing witness to his distinctive attitude, which we could call concern for the human soul, or perhaps even a desperate attempt to save it, did Miłosz reveal a peculiar naivety or at least project his own needs and hierarchy of values onto the human being as such, who is usually very different from the author of "Rescue"? Or rather, in this assessment, are we today revealing our own self-doubt, our resignation to the status of consumer fed by the ever-new product of the highest of mass culture? No longer rebellious, we find ourselves among those whom the poet judged harshly more than forty years ago, believing that they only pretend "to themselves that they are, that they belong to each other, while they belong to the muck picked up from the press and television”?[21]


Compared to California, where the chapters of Western history turned with a rumble, Maisons-Laffitte in the 1960s remained an idyllic bourgeois oasis. And although it was not far from there to the turbulent Paris, paradoxically it was probably only the journey to... Switzerland that would force Czapski, a spiritual rebel in his youth, to confront directly the processes that so greatly troubled the poet. In the summer of 1971, while hosting the opening of his retrospective exhibition in Geneva, staying with university lecturer friends, the painter, slowly approaching eighty, discovered that their students were eagerly losing themselves in drug paradises, massively believing in Maoism, and idiosyncratically rejecting the very word "God". An amateur theatre occupied the building of a former church, where the creators "invited as many young people as possible and, having placed a woman naked on the [altar] table, ploughed her five at once – it was theatre! Then they all disrobed and, forced out by the police, marched naked through Geneva". Although he was sometimes characterised by surprising optimism, this time Czapski could not help thinking that, as he writes, "something sinister" was lurking, while Spengler's "decline of the West" was unfortunately "becoming a cliché".[22]

The two stories, Chicago and Geneva, are separated by several years. But we can dispense with strict chronology, pointing out rather that the correspondence of the two Polish émigrés documents their decades-long dialogue on the twilight of Christianity, the dissolution of the values of Western European civilisation, and this civilisation’s assumption of a vague and sometimes twisted form. It should be emphasised here that neither of them holds extremely conservative positions, nor do they wish to be labelled as curmudgeonly "old men". After all, commenting on Czapski's observations, Miłosz remarks: "I have constant contact with young people, and I do not at all get the impression that they are barbarians who want to destroy what is dear to me. On the contrary, their goodwill, their kindness (this perhaps does not apply to their European peers), their puppy-like innocence and political naivety delight me".[23]

Returning to the mid-1960s, let us point out that, just as in political matters, Czapski is more balanced than Miłosz in his cultural assessments; he is less interested in an unambiguous judgement and more in the condition of the assessor. After reading the letter on "burlesque" quoted above, as well as Miłosz's violent essay published in Kultura and bearing the telling title “Dwustronne porachunki” [Bilateral Scores],[24] the artist formulates a comprehensive analysis:

When I read about these people unloading their brutality on the highways, crashing their cars in this Europe of the "gluttonous, drinking and procreating", I thought: "damn it, and what the hell was this Milosz doing out there from Paris to Rome and back, 'procreated' he gave himself to gluttony, drunkenness and joy-riding. What could he know about those others next to him who ate, slept and crashed in cars, they may also have thought the same thing looking at him and maybe they too can't forget something, but they don't show it either". Although you deny this in your last letter, humanity does not please you, all humanity. Your historiosophies, your global assessments teach me not well, teach me little [...]. And immediately I get the impression that when you strike at the bourgeoisie you strike at yourself, and at the communists – again it's at yourself, at one of the hundred Miłoszes who live in you without agreeing with each other. And now I feel as if you are discovering la condition humaine for the first time. Now you're describing burlesque to me, I don't know if it's not you who is the most burlesque, who, having had Gregorian choruses and Merton, feels the need to look into burlesque. And I wonder, are you really repulsed by burlesque, how is it morally inferior to Neapolitan or Venetian brothels [...], is your contempt not of an aesthetic nature. I think that if a disciple of Ary Scheffer had found his way to Place Pigalle, he would have been similarly appalled by things where we feel some poetry, some beauty, thanks to Toulouse-Lautrec, among others – perhaps the modern artist [can] see[s] the burlesque without this disdain, [which is] more of aesthetic than moral nature.[25]

One might note that it is Czapski himself who is this "modern artist", who once claimed that the cast-iron pillars of a railway station gave him more aesthetic pleasure than Greek columns, and above all who is sensitive to the everyday spectacle of existence, trying to capture in his canvases and sketches the uniqueness of human figures, no matter how seemingly ugly and banal they might be. And if Miłosz, near the end of his life, adopts a forgiving attitude towards his fellow human beings, even saying that every poem should be the story of a single human life, then Czapski, in a way, precedes him on this path. And if he accuses or blames, he accuses and blames himself first and foremost.

This is perfectly evident in another exchange of letters, from March 1965, which attests once again to how deeply oriented both artists were on the metaphysical dimension of existence. Thus Miłosz, otherwise preparing a textbook on the history of Polish literature at the time, confesses with anguish: "I am tempted and tormented by so many things – this feeling that we are a bunch of vermin clinging to one another, desperately, without Godot, and tumbling into an abyss. When I was dictating about the Baroque recently and said that there was a contempt for the world combined with sensuality, which together hinted of the macabre, the person writing it down raised her eyes and said: ‘it's just like us’. [...] And how can I write about various follies if I see only one thing at the bottom of this chaos – the now old despair of man without God".[26] Czapski, on the other hand, agreeing with the poet's observations, states: "You perhaps make life easier for yourself in some way by thundering and cursing not yourself – but the world, history, fools, etc.", to then explain: "for me it is a matter primarily of myself, of my guilt, of my powerlessness".[27]

In such cases, the author of The Land of Ulro tends towards historiosophical generalisations, while the author of Inhuman Land admits his guilt, accuses of insufficient reflection, not strong enough fervour in prayer, an inability to find that intensity which was present above all in Simone Weil, regarded as a paragon, albeit a paragon that was not only unsurpassable, but also in fact inhuman, sometimes even rousing fierce opposition. Continuing his conversation with Miłosz, the ex-soldier recalls an old memory of a regiment of lancers, trusting in God, singing "When the morning light rises", their singing perhaps even resounding with a "mystical élan", or at least an "élan of acceptance of life, which is important, beautiful and has absolute meaning", to eventually confess with helplessness, or perhaps even despair: "this singing 'element of all things', this God who created us and saved us, but who is capable of uttering these words today without at the same time recalling a million innocent children killed, the torture and rape [...]. To return to this faith of innocence and bliss is probably impossible. There is one Simone Weil, who lived 'with her eyes open / in an inhuman land' and [who is] the answer for me".[28]

Perhaps it was also a matter of the age difference, and certainly a difference in temperament, that made Miłosz continue to fight for the "salvation of the world" while Czapski was gradually more and more often inclined to an examination of conscience, an internal dialogue written down in his diary, even if he closed his story about Swiss students with the words: "I feel ashamed myself, que je cultive mon jardin as if nothing had ever happened".[29] His awareness of the evil plaguing the world was more strongly counterbalanced in him than in Miłosz by a mystical impulse or at least a mystical hope. Also, more so than the poet, he also feels his own artistic output to be a foreshadowing of a religious experience, even with all the fragility of the work; after all, in 1977, summing up his artistic experience, the artist will say that art: "on the same day I experience it as a kind of threshold to the metaphysical and on the same day I feel and see it powerless, non-existent in the face of the simple facts of everyday life and suffering".[30]


Having started this text with a mention of Czapski's social involvements, we can now emphasise that his life had also always been marked by the other extreme. In the epistolary dialogue with Miłosz that we focus on here, Czapski time and again reveals himself to be – what we can conventionally call – a mystic.  Even in the gloomy 1950s, when many of his activities overtly abutted with politics, he retained his spiritual freedom, looking with detachment at History, or – as Miłosz, who had a much more intense view of it, liked to say – “historicité”, and the distinct set of laws it is governed by. Mindful of this strand of the poet's work at the time, the culmination of which was the novel The Seizure of Power, and even more troubled by his fascination with the historical process, the Zeitgeist, the painter would admonish Miłosz: "lacking in you is the moment that for St Teresa was 'me and God'. Understand, it's not about a comparison, but about some kind of sphere in the human being where historicité ceases, as it were, to determine anything, some point where you are truly alone; naturally you know this because you are a poet, but you seem to lack the awareness that this, this is the most important thing. It is not so much the loss of pure contemplation, but of the awareness of its importance and other dimensions".  Then he adds: "if there is something that differentiates me from you, it is not the feeling that I have this contemplation, it is only the much greater emphasis placed on [the importance of] these values, a kind of faith that nothing can weaken in me, in the unity of this very [attitude]". A few years later he would invoke the Spanish mystic again in a similar manner, in doing so expressing his own life credo: "'I and my God' of St Teresa of Avila was always a million times more real to me than any community".[31]

One has to treat these sentences with care not to be beguiled by the showy wording but rather to perceive the dynamics which made Czapski reach out to others, wanting to be truly involved, to help, while at the same time seeking solitude, concentration on his own interiority, every day built in front of a canvas spread on a stretcher or a diary page.  Of course, this was not a dynamic alien to Miłosz; on the contrary. Yet, according to what he said about himself, he was closer to "this" world, the temporal world, whether it was the world of political processes or carnal sensuality. On the other hand, as evidenced by the lengthy letter the painter sent to the poet after reading The Land of Ulro, Czapski treated Miłosz's fascination with Blake and Swedenborg with a dose of scepticism: as always, while not oversimplifying his judgement he noted that in this kind of spiritual quest there is "a world that reminds me of all the table-turning, the prophecies of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that whole jungle of false mysticism and 'prophecies'". He himself was closer to what one might call Catholic orthodoxy, although it was a particular orthodoxy – that of St John of the Cross or the already cited St Teresa. After all, he confesses to Miłosz: "I have always reacted shallowly to Catholicism as a worldly, social structure; I have always lived on the periphery of the Church, occasionally lured to the bottom of what of mystery, of mysticism, dwells therein".[32]


In the end, both men were united by a deep sense of the pain that permeates the world, by the most personally experienced contradiction between the image of the good Creator and the state of his creation, that dilemma fundamental to religious man, where there is, in Czapski's words, “unspeakable human suffering, of billions of people, and the good God who created this world”, and thus “a mystery that no one, no one, not even the saints have understood”. Seeking a solution, the painter would say: "this belief (of the Gnostics?) and S.W. [Simone Weil] that it means that God is absent from the world [is] the only statement that possibly offers a clue".[33] Also in another letter, which, incidentally, was reprinted by Miłosz in Unattainable Earth, Czapski – once again with the help of Simone Weil – arrives at a metaphysical baseline, a vision of the world on whose course God has no influence, while religious man, "the man who truly lives in God" – a maximalist postulate here – "accepts both blows and happiness equally as Grace". Admittedly, he adds a sceptical sigh, the first person plural encompassing both himself and Milosz: "though this is not a dimension for us, we nevertheless know that is exists".[34]

Such consent to accept every shade of fate – especially perhaps when it was the fate of others who were innocently suffering, a vision of a Providence that is impervious, unwilling to intervene, but nevertheless existing – obviously appeared rarely in Czapski's reflections, though we still find it in a later letter, when he wrote to Miłosz that "man can only be saved by the experience of another dimension that sometimes comes upon you; without this, life is really a 'devil's vaudeville'".[35] Creating parts of a symbolic dialogue across the boundary of years and worlds, we could now recall Miłosz's poetic prayer, written down by him after Czapski's death and shortly before his own demise, an intimate poem in the words of a request: "Hear me, Lord, for I am a sinner, and that means I have nothing / but prayer. / Preserve me from the day of dryness and impotence. [...] When I accuse Thee of ordaining the universal law of death. / When I am ready to bow before nothingness and call life on earth / the devil's vaudeville".[36]

Flowing from Czapski's pen far more often than expressions of reconciliation, however, are dramatic and helpless thoughts, symbolised by the following quotation, where the painter repeats after the poet that "the tears and torture of one child is inexplicable".  In the face of these tears, natural to both men must have been the anger of Ivan Karamazov, and his desire, as we recall, to 'return the ticket' to God. This phrase appears more than once in the letters exchanged by these two readers of Dostoyevsky, one example being when an elderly Czapski once again recalls the victims of Katyn, when "that frail old man, that young teacher", who "lived to see the bullet in the back of their skulls and the slippery pit, already full", stand before his eyes again. He will then think of the iniquity of human memory, which blurs the image of the dead; he will confess his "rebellion in which I rebel and wish to return my ticket to paradise, for our tears will never reach the consciousness of those who have gone".[37]


The author of Inhuman Land was fond of quoting a phrase coined by his friend Dmitry Filosofov, who once said of Piłsudski that he could not abandon the Polish cause, as he was "held by the corpses". The phrase may not be the cleverest one, but suffice it to say that Józef Czapski and Czesław Miłosz were also "held by corpses", albeit not in the sense of a national bond but, quite simply, a human one. It was their faithfulness to the dead, to those who were one step ahead of us in our human journey, with the simultaneous awareness of how helpless in the face of death both memory and artistic creation are, that essentially defined the spiritual horizon of both artists. Let us conclude with the words of a poetic farewell, one not reconciled with death but rather denying it, which Miłosz wrote to mark the final journey of a man close to both protagonists of our story, the prematurely deceased Father Józef Sadzik:

"The living with the living too united,

To acknowledge the power of closed borders

And by the underground river, in the country of shadows

Agreed to leave thee, alive, behind.


Let the Holy Communion triumph

The purifying fire, here and everywhere,

And every day rising together from the dead

To Him who is and was and will be.”[38]


[1] Czesław Miłosz's letters to Józef Czapski are kept in the Archive of Józef and Maria Czapski of Maisons-Laffitte at the National Museum in Krakow, under the signatures MNK: 2463, 2085, 2116 and 2274. I would like to thank Agnieszka Kosińska for providing me with a set of these letters – transcribed and edited. Józef Czapski's letters to Czesław Miłosz are in the poet's archive at the Beinecke Library (Yale University): Czeslaw Milosz Papers; GEN MSS 661. I base the observations made in this sketch precisely on the hitherto little-known correspondence of the two artists, consciously omitting most of the more readily available sources, such as essays.

[2] J. Czapski, "Torn-Out Pages 1965", Kultura 1968, no. 4.

[3] Letter from C. Miłosz to J. Czapski , Berkeley, 8 April 1968.

[4] I discuss this topic in the article "I have defended and am defending the other Polishness", which will appear in Teksty Drugie.

[5] Letter from J. Czapski to C. Miłosz, Maisons-Laffitte, 28 April 1965

[6] Letter from J. Czapski to C. Miłosz, Maisons-Laffitte, 12-14 October 1977

[7] Letter from C. Miłosz to J. Czapski , Berkeley, 10 March 1962

[8] C. Miłosz, "To", in id., Wiersze wszystkie, 2nd supplementary edition, Kraków 2015, p. 1159.

[9] C. Miłosz, “Jeżeli nie ma”, in id., Wiersze wszystkie, op. cit., p. 1243.

[10] Letter from C. Miłosz to J. Czapski, Berkeley, n.d. [1969 r.]

[11] Letter from J. Czapski to C. Miłosz, Maisons-Laffitte, 12 August, no year [1963?].

[12] Letter from C. Miłosz to J. Czapski, Berkeley, 28 May 1971

[13] After the years of childhood marked by an aversion to adulthood – in the boy's eyes reduced to a fascination with power, money and sexuality; and after the second half of the 1940s, that is, after Milosz the diplomat's encounter with the cultural and social realities of post-war USA.

[14] Letter from C. Miłosz to J. Czapski, Berkeley, 13 April 1965

[15] Letter from C. Miłosz to J. Czapski, Berkeley, 8 April 1968

[16] Letter from C. Miłosz to J. Czapski, Berkeley, 28 May 1971

[17] Letter from C. Miłosz to J. Czapski, Berkeley, 19 June 1978

[18] F. Nietzsche, 'The Joyful Wisdom', New York : Gordon Press, 1974, translated into English by  Thomas Common

[19] C. Miłosz, “Oeconomia divina”, English translation by Czesław Miłosz, Berkeley 1973, in: Czeslaw Milosz: the Moralist and the Philosopher (icm.edu.pl), accessed 7 September 2023.

[20] Letter from C. Miłosz to J. Czapski, Chicago, 9 September 1964

[21] Letter from C. Miłosz to J. Czapski, Berkeley, 19 June 1978

[22] Letter from J. Czapski to C. Miłosz, Maisons-Laffitte, 1 June 1971

[23] Letter from C. Miłosz to J. Czapski, Berkeley, n.d. [1971]

[24] Cf.: C. Miłosz, “Dwustronne porachunki”, Kultura 1964, no. 6.

[25] Letter from J. Czapski to C. Miłosz, Maison-Laffitte, n.d. [after 9 September 1964]

[26] Letter from C. Miłosz to J. Czapski , Berkeley, 12 March 1965

[27] Letter from J. Czapski to C. Miłosz, Maisons-Laffitte, 16 March 1965

[28] Letter from J. Czapski to C. Miłosz, Maisons-Laffitte, 21 March [1965]

[29] Letter from J. Czapski to C. Miłosz, Maisons-Laffitte, 1 June1971

[30] Letter from J. Czapski to C. Miłosz, Maisons-Laffitte, 1 July 1977

[31] Letter from J. Czapski to C. Miłosz Maisons-Laffitte, 12 August [1963]

[32] Letter from J. Czapski to C. Miłosz, Maisons-Laffitte, 31 July 1978

[33] Letter from J. Czapski to C. Miłosz, Maisons-Laffitte, 12-14 October 1977

[34] Letter from J. Czapski to C. Miłosz, Maisons-Laffitte, 4 March 1983; 4 March 1983; cf: C. Miłosz, Wiersze wszystkie, op. cit. p. 894.

[35] Letter from J. Czapski to C. Miłosz, Maison-Laffitte, 30 October 1987

[36] C. Miłosz, “Wysłuchaj”, 4 March 1983; in id., Wiersze wszystkie, op. cit. p.1263.

[37] Letter from J. Czapski to C. Miłosz, Maison-Laffitte, 30 October 1987

[38] C. Miłosz, “Do Józefa Sadzika”, in id., Wiersze wszystkie, op. cit., p. 784.

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