Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Poet at Ninety

July 01, 2001|LINDA GREGG | Linda Gregg is the author of five books of poems, including "Things and Flesh."

Dear Czeslaw Milosz: I am writing to you in this public way to wish you a happy 90th birthday. There must be a toast in Lithuania that means, "I hope you will live forever." And I want to join in that.

I wonder if I ever thanked you properly for allowing me to audit your class at UC Berkeley on gnosticism. I think you knew it had something to do with Joseph Brodsky. When he came to visit me in Wellfleet on Cape Cod in 1974, I was living in an unwinterized cabin in November. When he arrived, I was sitting at my desk with a hot-water bottle in my lap. We went to the ocean and talked. Joseph said he loved the ocean because we can't do anything to it. And disliked trees because you could cut them down. He talked about the loss of Marina and his baby boy in Leningrad. Then he talked about you. He said I should go west and study with the greatest living poet, Czeslaw Milosz.

Joseph left, and I packed my suitcase. I took a bus to Montreal and then the train across Canada, and finally went south to the Bay Area. You were teaching in the biology department, which I never understood. I received two pages of books to read and spent the whole semester doing it: Read, go to class, sit quietly in the back and try to understand you.

I can tell you now, with respect, that despite your impressive lectures, I could not believe the gnostics were right in straining to see this world of people, animals and things without rejoicing. Nevertheless, the strength and largeness of your mind (and Joseph's loyalty and kindness) was always a richness to me.

I will always remember when you and Joseph came out to my family home. Joseph said it reminded him of Akhmatova's dacha. It was lovely also to see the two of you arguing about rhyme while outside was a world of trees and red-tailed hawks.

When I met you recently in Southern California, I spoke of our missing Joseph. You said he was the first poet laureate to try to get poetry to the people, anthologies of poems in the drawers of every motel. I went away thinking of the size and humanity of your heart, and his.

It's not that genius in poetry matters less than heart, but that when they are married (as they are in your work) it holds me together--waking and sleeping. I am very grateful to you for that.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|