Czeslaw Milosz: A Song on the End of the World

It’s impossible not to make the connection between Milosz’s poem and Eliot’s The Hollow Men from 1925. Even the final repetition of the ending of the world in the final stanza is shared between them.

Yet while Eliot explores man’s relation to death, Milosz explores our ability to keep death as far away as possible, to turn a blind eye, to turn inward and imagine we are each unique in our own lives, unlike Eliot who lumps us all together “Gathered on this beach of the tumid river”.

I think the idea here is that there is a sort of event-horizon, a point of no return that we would never sense as it relates to death. The “bee circles a clover,” and “porpoises jump in the sea” – active images of life and nature, yet with death ever-present “On the day the world ends”. Death can come at any time and it will not come for all of us at the same time, but rather slowly pick us off one by one, “No one believes it is happening now”. There is not “lightening and thunder” or “trumps” (trumpets), only the final note of a “violin” fading away in the “air”.

And we try so hard to cling to life, to force and bend it to our will, “he binds his tomatoes”. We think we can control nature, we think we will live forever, even while in old age, “Yet he is not a prophet”, we fail to see that death is coming for us because we are too wrapped up in ourselves, too busy binding our lives to our false hope that “There will be no other end of the world.”

Unlike Eliot, this ending is a desperate repeated prayer to keep living, that this world will continue on with us in it.