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A reflection on Awakened by Czeslaw Milosz by Tim Summers

Updated: Mar 22, 2020

Awakened is a short piece of prose, or prose poem, by the late Polish Nobel laureate poet Czeslaw Milosz:

“In advanced age, my health worsening, I woke up in the middle of the night, and experienced a feeling of happiness so intense and perfect that in all my life I had only felt its premonition. And there was no reason for it. It didn’t obliterate consciousness; the past which I carried was there, together with my grief. And it was suddenly included, was a necessary part of the whole. As if a voice were repeating: “You can stop worrying now; everything happened just as it had to. You did what was assigned to you, and you are not required anymore to think of what happened long ago.” The peace I felt was a closing of accounts and was connected with the thought of death. The happiness on this side was like an announcement of the other side. I realized that this was an undeserved gift and I could not grasp by what grace it was bestowed on me.” This has haunted me from the time I first read it, a couple of decades ago. It describes the poet's "awakening", literally at night but also in a more figurative mystical sense; for this is a mystical experience of the kind - I think, tho I am no theologian - that some of the Bible writers must have had and are responding to when they talk about redemption, salvation. (Yes, much of that is communal but some of it, surely, is individual.) A "closing of accounts" connected with the thought of death. To be accepted completely, with all one's foibles and errors - the past not obliterated but somehow included. What a relief! Heaven, in fact.

The image above is a Russian icon known as "The Unexpected Joy".

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