International "Perspectives on Slavistics" Conference edition:1 location:K.U.Leuven date:18 September 2004
Since the publication of Jan Błoński’s article Epifanie Miłosza (Miłosz’s Epihanies) (1985), the literary epiphany has become a major point of interest in scholarship on the poetry of the Polish Nobel Prize winner Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004). The most profound and extensive analysis of the topic is to be found in Aleksander Fiut’s monograph Moment wieczny. Poezja Czesława Miłosza (The Eternal Moment. The Poetry of Czesław Miłosz) (1998) that links up Miłosz’s use of the epiphany to Anglo-Saxon literary tradition and situates Miłosz’s “moments of (near-)revelation” somewhere between the originally religious connotation of the epiphany and its modernist, mundane transformation.
The aim of the present paper is firstly to confront Miłosz’s own definition and use of the literary epiphany (cf. his preface to the anthology A Book of Luminous Things) with recent western scholarship on “epiphanic literature”, especially Nichols (1987) and Tigges (ed.) (1999). Secondly, this paper aims to introduce a lexico-semantic perspective in the analysis of (Miłosz’s) literary epiphanies. In the poet’s depiction of “moments of (near-)revelation”, the traditional temporal isotopy that so often recurs in the expression of epiphanic experiences (“moment”, “time”, “eternity”, …), seems to go along with a striking recurrence of a small amount of lexical units expressing a spatial opposition between “inner” and “outer”, “surface” and “core”. This spatial isotopy symbolizes the fundamental opposition between the Self and the (unknown) Other in Miłosz’s poetry and indicates that one of the main features of epiphanic experience in Miłosz’s poems is to destroy the borders separating the Self from the surrounding world (subject-object, man-woman, ...) and to “absorb” or to “enter” the Other. This act of absorption or entering is repeatingly linked to key motifs such as the “interior of a flower”, the “kernel of the thicket”, ... and is often strongly “gender connotated”.
On an intertextual level, this inner-outer opposition in Miłosz’s expression of (near-) epiphanic experiences can be linked to a few important sources of inspiration (Adam Mickiewicz’s Pan Tadeusz, Dante’s Divina Commedia, the poetry of William Blake, ...). In Miłosz’s late poems, religious imagery gets more and more important in the poet’s description of his attempts to “enter the core”, which confirms the suggestion of Fiut (1998) that the poet strives to a kind of “ultimate” or “eschatological epiphany”.
BŁOŃSKI, J. 1985. “Epifanie Miłosza”. In: KWIATKOWSKI, J. (ed.). Poznawanie Miłosza. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 205-228.
FIUT, A. 1998. Moment wieczny. Poezja Czesława Miłosza. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie.
NICHOLS, A. 1987. Poetics of Epiphany: Nineteenth-Century Origins of the Modern Literary Moment. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
TIGGES, W. (ed.). 1999. Moments of Moment. Aspects of the Literary Epiphany. Amsterdam – Atlanta: Rodopi.