"For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come." Friends United by Exile: On the Correspondence of Czesław Miłosz and Thomas Merton

Jean Ward


This article discusses the decade-long correspondence of Czesław Miłosz
and Thomas Merton, published fi rst in a Polish translation in 1991, and only later, in
1997, in the original English. Though Merton offered to write in French, a language that
Miłosz at the time knew much better than English, Miłosz chose to use the latter. The
article concentrates on Miłosz’s side of the correspondence, comparing the impression
of struggle and incomplete command that his letters evoke in the original version with
the linguistic elegance and control implied by the Polish translation. The article suggests
that Miłosz’s slightly foreign English is a kind of refl ection of the theme implied by
the English title of the correspondence, Striving Towards Being. Moreover, the article
argues that writing in English, despite the constraints that it imposed, enabled the Polish
poet to discover a childlike freedom of expression and to meet his “correspondent,”
a fellow-sufferer from spiritual homelessness, in sympathetic understanding, though
the external experience of the two was very different. Paradoxically, each partner, in his
search for someone who “spoke the same language,” found what he sought in a person
who, in the literal sense, did not.

Słowa kluczowe: Miłosz-Merton correspondence, exile, spiritual homelessness, writing in a foreign language, Miłosz’s English

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