Original Poem Reprinted Online Here: "Dedication" by Czeslaw Milosz
More Information about the Poet: Czeslaw Milosz
You whom I could not save
Listen to me.
Try to understand this simple speech as I would be ashamed of another.
I swear, there is in me no wizardry of words.
I speak to you with silence like a cloud or a tree.
The first two lines of the poem seems as though announce the speaker addressing a specter (or spectator) with such a dire objective of "saving" someone. The speaker continues to try to persuade the other to listening to everything by saying the speech (monologue) will be simple, the speaker swears it. But then the last line, "I speak to you with silence like a cloud or a tree" transforms the poem into a metaphorical rumination rather than a straight forward talk. Poem over, right? The speaker is giving the point of view over to the reader and the other. We could walk away now or --
"What strengthened me, for you was lethal" now this is an interesting conceit to go off of. The speaker gives a mysterious admission that draws me in, but then the "simple" language or explanation fades away, "You mixed up farewell to an epoch with the beginning of a new one, / Inspiration of hatred with lyrical beauty; / Blind force with accomplished shape." This is the tricky part -- navigating through the generalities and how they intertwine. But first, note that the speaker is telling how the other thinks, and by doing so, the speaker is thinking in a different mode.
"Farewell to an epoch" -- a long goodbye that leads to "the beginning of a new one" here is the key, the continuous cycles of goodbyes, of leaving behind, and in doing so, inspiration of hatred with lyrical beauty -- trying to deceive (through words) beauty as hatred, and force into shape. This is construction issues based on how the speaker understands the others perspective: always with the intent to leave, always trying to hide hatred with beauty, always forcing things into shapes -- to say what?
The next stanza has something to say, "Here is a valley of shallow Polish rivers. And immense bridge / Going into a white fog. Here is a broken city." Note how direct the speaker is with the naming of place (Poland) and also his perspective "white fog" and "broken city" -- again note the semi-colon on how these two perspectives connect "And the wind throws the screams of gulls on your grave / When I'm talking to you." The connection of the city and the personal intertwine. Also the other is confirmed as dead -- this is simple. The poem could have ended with the exposing of the other, but the continuation feels like a search.
"What is poetry which does not save / Nations or people?" Here I think the rhetorical question comes from exasperation. The aesthetic does not save nations or people, but what does poetry do?
A connivance with official lies,
A song of drunkards whose throats will cut in a moment,
Readings for sophomore girls.
Lies, drunk, and girls. This seems like the end goal of the speaker when thinking of poetry, but ultimately:
That I wanted good poetry without knowing it,
That I discovered, late, its salutary aim,
In this and only this I find salvation.
Note the salvation is personal, and the salvation is simple to state. Note that the "you" was more in the generalities -- here the speaker looks for something more by stating what he wants simply.
"They used to pour millet on graves or poppy seeds / To feed the dead who would come disguised as birds." A simple tale which is a set-up to talk to the "you."
"I put this book here for you, who once lived / SO that you should visit us no more." The question is who does "us" refer to -- the simple? Or rather is the ghost more of a metaphorical figure that could represent the negative -- the hatred, the shallow through blurring aesthetics? I feel the strong end is not the other who is not allowed to visit, but the specificity of time "Warsaw, 1945" to open and close the poem further: Open: maybe about World War Two or the death of a loved one during World War Two. Closed: This sense of violence of letting go, letting go and leaving alone.