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Czeslaw Milosz: Poet-Witness

Fiona Sampson considers the work of the 20th century's pre-eminent poet-witness, Czeslaw Milosz, whose poetry was defined by his sense of the writer's responsibility to humankind.

To complement a concert featuring Lutoslawski's Double Concerto, poet Fiona Sampson considers the poetic mission of his exact contemporary, Czeslaw Milosz, through a selection of poems from his most haunting collection, Rescue (1945).

The Lithuanian-born, Nobel Prize-winning Polish poet and novelist Czeslaw Milosz was arguably the twentieth century's pre-eminent poet-witness. He was to see his home country invaded, witness the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, the destruction of the ghetto, the doomed uprising of the Poles against the Germans, and the Soviet clamp-down in Poland and Lithuania.

Milosz saw it as his poetic responsibility to give voice to the dead and to the still-suffering - "What is poetry which does not save / Nations or people?" (from his poem, 'Dedication')

But importantly, he saw his task not as an elegist, but as a poet who should keep the dead alive and remind the living of earthly joys. The defining theme of his poetry is a sense of the writer's responsibility to humankind: 'I attend to matters I have been charged with".

Presented by Fiona Sampson
Produced by Emma Harding.

Available now

20 minutes