Milosz: The Witness of Poetry–Master Class

The Lumen Christi Institute
and The Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures


“Milosz: The Witness of Poetry”

A master class to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Milosz’s birth


Adam Zagajewski (Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago)
Bożena Shallcross (Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Chicago)

Friday, October 21, 2:00pm-5:00pm
The Quadrangle Club
1155 E. 57th Street

Reception following the class.


Czeslaw Milosz, winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature, ranks among the most respected figures in twentieth-century Polish literature, as well as one of the most respected contemporary poets in the world. He was born in Lithuania in 1911, where his parents moved temporarily to escape the political upheaval in their native Poland. As an adult, he left Poland due to the oppressive Communist regime that came to power following World War II. He then moved to the United States where from 1961 to 1998 he was a professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley. He died in 2004 at his home in Kraków, Poland. Milosz’s poems, novels, essays, and other works are written in his native Polish and translated by the author and others into English. Having lived under the two great totalitarian systems of modern history, national socialism and communism, Milosz writes of the past in a tragic, ironic style that nonetheless affirms the value and dignity of human life.

In The Witness of Poetry, Milosz addresses many of the major problems of contemporary poetry, beginning with the pessimism prompted by reductionist interpretations of man to his animal origins. He examines the tendency of poets since Mallarmé to isolate themselves from society, and stresses the need for the poet to make himself part of the human family in society. One chapter is devoted to the tension between classicism and realism; Milosz believes poetry should be “a passionate pursuit of the real.” In “Ruins and Poetry” he looks at poems constructed from the wreckage of a civilization, specifically that of Poland after the horrors of World War II. Finally, he expresses optimism for the world, based on a hoped-for better understanding of the lessons of modern science, on the emerging recognition of humanity’s unity, and on humanity’s growing awareness of its own history.

Seminar Leaders

Adam Zagajewski was born in Lwów (L’viv) in 1945 and became widely known in the United States when his poem “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” offered consolation to a country under attack from the back page of the 9/11 issue of The New Yorker with its black-on-black cover. Zagajewski moved to Paris in 1982, began teaching in the University of Houston Creative Writing program in 1988, and since 2002 he has been splitting his time between Kraków and the United States, in recent years serving as a visiting professor on the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago.

Bożena Shallcross is Associate Professor of Polish Literature at the University of Chicago and the College of the University of Chicago. She is Director of Undergraduate Studies and Academic Advisor for the Interdisciplinary Program at the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures; she also serves as a member of the Board of Directors at the Chicago Center for Jewish Studies and Chair of Reading Cultures Core Sequence, and she is a faculty member in the Committee on Creative Writing and the Program on Poetry and Poetics.

Further Information

If you would like to participate in the class with Professors Zagajewski and Shallcross, R.S.V.P. to Ursula Pawlowski at by Monday, October 10 at the latest. Once you register, we will send you a confirmation email which will include information on how to pick up your class materials, which include a copy of The Witness of Poetry as well as a syllabus. Spaces are limited and offered on a first-come, first-served basis. If you have any questions about the class, please contact Jennifer Frey, our Senior Event Coordinator, at

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