We are not so badly off if we can
Admire Dutch painting. For that means
We shrug off what we have been told
For a hundred, two hundred years. Though we lost
Much of our previous confidence. Now we agree
That those trees outside the window, which probably exist,
Only pretend to greenness and treeness
And that the language loses when it tries to cope
With clusters of molecules. And yet this here:
A jar, a tin plate, a half-peeled lemon,
Walnuts, a loaf of bread -- last, and so strongly
It is hard not to believe their lastingness.
And thus abstract art is brought to shame,
Even if we do not deserve any other.
Therefore I enter into those landscapes
Under a cloudy sky from which a ray
Shoots out, and in the middle of dark plains
A spot in the brightness glows. Or the shore
With huts, boats, and, on yellowish ice,
Tiny figures skating. All this
Is here eternally, just because once it was.
Splendor (certainly incomprehensible)
Touches a cracked wall, a refuse heap,
The floor of an inn, jerkins of the rustics,
A broom, and two fish bleeding on a board.
Rejoice! Give thanks! I raised my voice
To join them in their choral singing,
Amid their ruffles, collets, and silk skirts,
one of them already, who vanished long ago.
And our song soared up like smoke from a censer.
- Czeslaw Milosz,
translated from the Polish by the author and Robert Hass
Love, Monsignor Smith