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And Yet the Books By Czeslaw Milosz

February 25, 2001

And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings,

That appeared once, still wet

As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,

And, touched, coddled, began to live

In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up,

Tribes on the march, planets in motion.

"We are," they said, even as their pages

Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame

Licked away their letters. So much more durable

Than we are, whose frail warmth

Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.

I imagine the earth when I am no more:

Nothing happens, no loss, it's still a strange pageant,

Women's dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.

Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born,

Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.

TRANSLATED FROM THE POLISH BY CZESLAW MILOSZ AND ROBERT HASS

From "Scanning the Century: The Penguin Book of the Twentieth Century in Poetry," edited by Peter Forbes (Penguin UK: 596 pp., $22.95)

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