America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid, I’m not sorry.
Allen Ginsberg, America
Did I fulfill what I had to do, here, on earth?
Czesław Miłosz, One more contradiction
There’s a wonderful moment in Czesław Miłosz’ well-known tribute To Allen Ginsberg when the reader is given to wonder if all Miłosz retained from his engagement with Ginsberg’s poetry was a figure prone to psychiatry, illicit substances and rebel posturing.
It is not so.
What abscones Ginsberg is his refusal of the ironic gesture so prevalent in today’s conversation. It is the “demure smiles of ironists [that] are preserved in the museums, not as everlasting art.” We understand that Miłosz exempted Ginsberg from this fault: his was an art of belief.
Did Ginsberg comment on Miłosz? Read closely his most cherished poem America. In it you will find portrayals of events and movements that shaped the world of Miłosz, albeit from — as it were — the opposite direction. When Ginsberg gives voice to his sentimentality about members of the Industrial Workers of the World — the “Wobblies” — these were types that governed the land Miłosz had renounced.
Their perspective can be nothing but divergent: when Ginsberg find freedom in Carl Solomon’s Howl, Miłosz cannot but be reminded of the way psychiatry was a tool for political oppression in Eastern Europe. Where Miłosz longs for institutions that can buttress a tradition beyond the grasp of immediate political gains, Ginsberg seeks anarchy and spontaneity.
Where Miłosz’ conservatism becomes a call for civilization, Ginsberg prophesizes a freedom that can bear nothing old, nothing lasting.
There is nevertheless one thing they agree on: there is truth, and there is truth in art.