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To Mrs. Professor in Defense of My Cat's Honor and Not Only -- Czeslaw Milosz

Guest poem submitted by Nisha Susan:
(Poem #1598) To Mrs. Professor in Defense of My Cat's Honor and Not Only
 My valiant helper, a small-sized tiger
 Sleeps sweetly on my desk, by the computer,
 Unaware that you insult his tribe.

 Cats play with a mouse or a half-dead mole.
 You are wrong, though: it's not out of cruelty.
 They simply like a thing that moves.

 For, after all, we know that only consciousness
 Can for a moment move into the Other,
 Empathize with the pain and panic of a mouse.

 And such as cats are, all of Nature is.
 Indifferent, alas, to the good and the evil.
 Quite a problem for us, I am afraid.

 Natural history has its museums,
 But why should our children learn about monsters,
 An earth of snakes and reptiles for millions of years?

 Nature devouring, nature devoured,
 Butchery day and night smoking with blood.
 And who created it?  Was it the good Lord?

 Yes, undoubtedly, they are innocent,
 Spiders, mantises, sharks, pythons.
 We are the only ones who say: cruelty.

 Our consciousness and our conscience
 Alone in the pale anthill of galaxies
 Put their hope in a humane God.

 Who cannot but feel and think,
 Who is kindred to us by warmth and movement,
 For we are, as he told us, similar to Him.

 Yet if it is so, then He takes pity
 On every mouse, on every wounded bird,
 Then the universe for him is like a Crucifixion.

 Such is the outcome of your attack on the cat:
 A theological, Augustinian grimace,
 Which makes difficult our walking on this earth.
-- Czeslaw Milosz
I found an anthology called "The Poetical Cat" recently and peeped in with
quite a bit of suspicion. It might have turned out to be one of those mulchy
last-minute-gift collections. But happily, it was a set of witty and
unfamiliar cat poems from across the world. And it had this lovely Milosz.

It is easy to be a Milosz fan. You can approach any one of his poems weighed
down by angsty questions of "What goes by the name of poetry in this
millenium? What is the role of poetry? Have the criteria for great poetry
changed? Is greatness itself unfashionable?". Then the intelligence, heart
and elegance of Milosz's poems make great writing tangible again. And this
is despite my gratitude for being born in an age when there is the
cleverness of Wendy Cope or the madness of  Ondaatje's Elimination Dance.

In this poem Milosz takes the tiresome squabble between cat people and
non-cat people and actually uses it to critique Christian morality. And this
elevated argument is woven with such grace that it is embarrassing to think
of the mechanics of writing. You are forced to think that this poem was
born, like mangoes were born.

My favourite thing about Milosz is that every poem has a big, robust, fully
flowered idea holding it together. This is of course obvious in classics
like "Ars Poetica" [1]. He is unafraid of taking a stand and equally
unafraid of being in two minds about the Big Questions. In "A Poem For the
End of the Century" [2] he angrily condemns our ability to forget suffering
in pursuit of the feel good factor. In "Conversation with Jeanne" [3] he
does a neat volte face and argues in favour of the beauty of the moment. His
craft is so extraordinary that the poems in conjunction only comfort all of
us who swing from righteous indignation to happy amnesia.

Here is a nice bio of the Nobel Prize winner:
 [broken link] http://www.ibiblio.org/ipa/milosz/bio.html

And lots of poems:
http://wings.buffalo.edu/info-poland/web/arts_culture/literature/poetry/milo
sz/poems/link.shtml

Nisha Susan.

[1] http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/1545.html
[2] [broken link] http://www.ibiblio.org/ipa/milosz/mil2.html
[3] [broken link] http://www.ibiblio.org/ipa/milosz/mil1.html

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