To Begin Where I Am Selected Essays

Czeslaw Milosz; Edited by Bogdana Carpenter and Madeline G. Levine

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

480 Pages



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To Begin Where I Am brings together a rich sampling of the great poet Czeslaw Milosz's prose writings. Spanning more than half a century—from an impassioned essay on human nature, wartime atrocities, and their challenge to ethical beliefs, written in 1942 in the form of a letter to his friend Jerzy Andrzejewski, to brief biographical sketches and poetic prose pieces from the late 1990s—this landmark volume presents Milosz the prose writer in all his multiple, beguiling guises. The incisive, sardonic analyst of the seductive power of communism is also the author of tender, elegiac portraits of friends famous and obscure; the witty commentator on Polish complexes writes lyrically of the California landscape. Two great themes inform all of these essays: Milosz's personal struggle to sustain his religious faith, and his unswerving allegiance to a poetry that is "on the side of man."

This is a comprehensive selection of essays—some never before translated into English—by the 1980 Nobel Laureate in Literature.


Praise for To Begin Where I Am

"Milosz's vigorous and sinewy prose is that of a man of a particular historical moment . . . The reader will find, in both the expository essays and the incomparable portraits of his contemporaries, Milosz's characteristic intensity, momentum, and savage intelligence."—Helen Vendler, Harper's Magazine

"These essays—historical, philosophical, and personal—are testaments to a great philosophical mind and astonishing essayist, pieces written with integrity, humility, and a vast knowledge of the major events and philosophies of Western civilization. Whether writing about peasants from his homeland, the philosophers Simone Weil and Lev Shestov, poets Robison Jeffers and Joseph Brodsky, his sympathies and quarrels with them are shaped by a brilliant mind, an acute capacity to qualify the abstract with experience and emotion. The truths he extracts are particular, excavated out of the universal human struggles of various political and literary friends."—Antioch Review

"Extraordinary . . . These 400 or so pages document the development, over seven decades, of a great mind."—The Economist

"In the impressive body of Czeslaw Milosz's writings, his essays occupy an important and prominent place. Next to his poetry they represent the second major literary form prevailing in his work, ranging from book-length studies such as The Captive Mind (1951) to the briefest, almost epigrammatic notes in Milosz's ABC's (1997) . . . The variety of themes and topics emerges here in a surprisingly cohesive whole."—Jerzy R. Krzyzanowski, Ohio State University, World Literature Today

"Beguiling . . . [Milosz] displays his genius for wedding palpable, personal loss to larger themes . . . [To Begin Where I Am] grants privileged access to a singular literary mind."—Carlin Romano, The Philadelphia Inquirer

"[This collection] could not have come at a better time . . . A remarkable body of work . . . Enlightening."—Cynthia L. Haven, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

"A giant elusive in our midst."—John Updike, The New Yorker

"To Begin Where I Am bears witness to Milosz's lifetime of toil in the fields of memory, faith, and art."—Adam Kirsch, Bookforum

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Czeslaw Milosz was awarded the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature. He is a professor, now emeritus, of Slavic languages and literatures at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent publications are Road-side Dog (FSG, 1998), and Milosz's ABC's (FSG, 2000).
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  • Czeslaw Milosz; Edited by Bogdana Carpenter and Madeline G. Levine

  • Czeslaw Milosz was awarded the 1978 Neustadt International Prize in Literature and the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature. Since 1962 he has been a professor, now emeritus, of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley. Among his recent publications are Striving Towards Being: The Letters of Czeslaw Milosz and Thomas Merton (FSG, 1997) and Road-side Dog (FSG, 1998). He lives in Berkeley, California, and Krakow, Poland.
  • Czeslaw Milosz © Jerry Bauer