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Miłosz’s Vilnius

In 1921, Czesław Miłosz started education in the Sigismud Augustus Gymnasium of Vilnius. After eight years of education in the middle school, he passed his exams and was admitted to the Stefan Batory University of Vilnius, where he initially studied Polish philology. After only two weeks, he moved to the Faculty of Social Sciences in order to study law. As a poet, he debuted in 1930, publishing in the University newspaper “Alma Mater Vilnensis” his poems “Composition” (Kompozycja) and “Voyage” (Podróż). Operating actively in the Group of Original Creativity of the Polish Students’ Club and the Ramblers’ Club, the poet along with Teodor Bujnicki, Jerzy Zagórski, Stefan Jędrychowski and Kazimierz Hałaburda formed the poetic group “Żagary” in 1931. Thanks to assistance offered by Stanisław Cat-Mackiewicz, the young poets started publication of their own newspaper. The editorial staff of “Żagary” was joined shortly by Antoni Gołubiew, Jerzy Putrament and Aleksander Rymkiewicz. In 1933, within the activity of the poetic group, Miłosz published his first volume of poems “A Poem on Stalled Time” (Poemat o czasie zastygłym). A year later, after receiving his law degree (supported by scholarship) he traveled to Paris. In 1935, he returned to the country and started working in the Polish Radio Station of Vilnius.

In September 1939, as a result of the Soviet invasion of Poland, Vilnius was seized by the Soviets and later handed over to the Lithuanians. Miłosz managed to get to the city annexed by the Republic of Lithuania. After only eight months, on June 14, 1940, the Soviets occupied Vilnius once again, incorporating it to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The poet left the city, arriving to Warsaw, which was seized by the Germans.

Although the next visit of Miłosz to the city of Gediminas took place as late as 1992, the future Noble Prize winner many times recalled, in prose and poetry, the image of Vilnius from the times of his youth. Here, in the “Jerusalem of the North,” the name given to Vilnius by its Jewish residents, a city of many cultures and nationalities, Czesław Miłosz showed his literary talent; here, the later employee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of Poland, an emigrant, who for many years lived in Paris and Berkeley, experienced for the first time political and worldview-related conflicts, which, intensified in the international arena, appeared to be decisive for the future look of Europe and the world. A city of a unique, Baroque beauty, a house and cradle of many outstanding artists, had remained for Miłosz a special place, a distinct reference point for deliberations and meditations on the condition of the “postwar man,” affected by the diseases of the totalitarian system.

Mateusz Soliński


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