Milosz

Linnaeus

He was born in 1707 at 1:00 a.m. on May 23rd,
When spring was in beautiful bloom, and cuckoo
had just announced the coming of summer
From Linnaeus’ s biography

Green young leaves. A cuckoo. Echo.
To get up at four in the morning, to run to the river
Which steams, smooth under the rising sun.
A gate is open, horses are running,
Swallows dart, fish splash. And did we not begin with an
overabundance
Of glitterings and calls, pursuits and trills?
We lived every day in hymn, in rapture,
Not finding words, just feeling it is too much.

He was one of us, happy in our childhood.
He would set out with his botanic box
To gather and to name, like Adam in the garden
Who did not finish his task, expelled too early.
Nature has been waiting for names ever since:
On the meadows near Uppsala, whit, at dusk
Platanthera is fragrant, he called it biofolia.
Turdus 
sings in a spruce thicket, but is it musicus?
That must remain the subject of dispute.
And the botanist laughed at a little perky bird
For ever Troglodytes troglodytes L.

He arranged three kingdoms into a system.
Animale. Vegetale. Minerale.
He divided: classes, orders, genuses, species.
“How manifold are Thy works, O Jehovah!”
He would sing with the psamlist. Rank, number, symmetry
Are everywhere, praised with a clavecin
And violin, scanned in Latin Hexameter.

We have since had the language of marvel: atlases
A tulip with its dark, mysterious inside,
Anemones of Lapland, a water lily, an iris
Faithfully portrayed by a scrupulous brush.
And a bird in foliage, russet and dark blue,
Never flies off, retained
One the page with an ornate double inscription.

We were grateful to him. In the evenings at home
We contemplated colors under a kerosene lamp
With green shade. And what there, on earth,
Was unattainable, over much, passing away, perishing,
Here we could love, safe from loss.

May his household, orangery, the garden
In which he grew plants from overseas
Be blessed with peace and well-being.
To China and Japan. America, Australia,
Sailing-ships carried his disciples;
They would bring back gifts: seeds and drawings.
And I, who in this bitter age deprived of harmony
An a wanderer and a gatherer of visible forms,
Envying them, bring to him my tribute-
A verse imitating the classical ode.

-Milosz

Nature Study With Milosz

I remember my first encounters with particular birds. For example, the golden oriole seemed like an absolute miracle to me, with its unity of color and its flute like voice. And it was precisely birds, it seems, that I looked for in nature books as soon as I learned to read – books that would soon become my cult objects.

from Milosz’s ABC

Well, my great hero was Linnaeus; I loved the idea that he had invented a system for naming creatures, that he had captured nature that way. My wonder at nature was in large part a fascination with names and naming. . . Eventually I turned away from Darwinism because of its cruelty, though at first I embraced it. Nature is much more beautiful in painting, in my opinion.

РMilosz, Paris Review Interview 

In keeping a nature journal, we do both: naming and painting (or drawing). Through the mediation of painting, we have a deeper encounter with beauty. Through the identification by name of the things we see around us, we begin to perceive and intuit order within the jumble that meets our senses. The nature journal may be essentially more poetic than scientific. But Milosz implies in one of his interviews that poetic truth is a higher good than the knowledge aimed at by modern science.

In a 1991 poem, Milosz pays tribute to Linneaus, who rejoices to pick up the task of naming the creatures where Adam left off. Milosz sees this work of naming as a great accomplishment of the human race: a liberal art. He associates the classification of natural phenomena with the singing of Psalms: “How manifold are thy works, O Jehovah!”

In the poem, Milosz invokes clavecin and violin, Latin hexameter. Nature paintings, atlases, like colorful lexicons give us a “language of marvel.” The world manifested in nature paintings is deeply related here to the worlds of music, poetry, the Classical languages.

In particular to Latin. If Latin is the eternal language of the Church, it is also the language in which the creatures find their official Adam-bestowed names. When we make our own nature sketches, we engage in a spiritual exercise: doing for ourselves, as we must, what greater than us have done far better. Our souls grow, with a combination of humility and audacity. When we make our nature sketches, it might be fruitful to label them with both their local, vernacular name and their full multi-part Latin title of nobility. These old names. . . are like prayers.

– Mrs. Aldertree

My Wolfish Eyes Constantly Crave New Titles

 :

Narrow-Minded

My knowledge is limited, my mind puny. I tried hard, I studied, I read many books. And nothing. In my home books spill from the shelves, they lie in piles on furniture, on the floor, barring the passage from room to room. I cannot, of course, read them all, yet my wolfish eyes constantly crave new titles. In truth, my feeling of limitation is not permanent. Only from time to time an awareness flares of how narrow our imagination is, as if the bones of our skull were too thick and did not allow the mind to get hold of what should be its domain. I should know everything that’s happening at this moment, at every point on the earth. I should be able to penetrate the thoughts of my contemporaries and of people who lived a few generations ago, and two thousand and eight thousand years ago. I should, so what?

-Milosz