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Nobel literature laureate Czeslaw Milosz dies

Polish poet and Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz, known for his intellectual and emotional works about some of the worst cruelties of the 20th century, died on Saturday, a Polish news agency reported. He was 93.
Polish poet and Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz died Saturday.Czarek Sokolowski / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Polish poet and Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz, known for his intellectual and emotional works about some of the worst cruelties of the 20th century, died Saturday, the Polish news agency PAP reported. He was 93.

The report, quoting his son Antoni and his daughter Joanna, said he died at his home in Krakow. It gave no cause of death.

Milosz had lived in Krakow since the fall of the Iron Curtain allowed him to return home after almost 30 years in exile in France and the United States, a time in which he became a prominent symbol for anti-communist dissidents.

He was awarded the Nobel prize in literature in 1980, an honor that coincided with the emergence of the Solidarity worker protest movement that shook communist rule in Poland.

Milosz's best-known works include "The Captive Mind," a study of the plight of intellectuals under communist dictatorship. It brought him international fame in the early 1950s.

'Witness to crucial and terrible events'
Born to a noble family in what is now Lithuania, Milosz lived through the World War II Nazi regime and the Stalinist tyranny that wiped out the culture in which he grew up.

Once a diplomat for communist Poland, he broke with the regime and emigrated to the United States, coming back to live in his native country only after Poland won freedom in 1989.

He was "a witness to crucial and terrible events of the 20th century, and an original and contrary thinker -- and feeler -- about them," said Robert Hass, a University of California at Berkeley professor who translated Milosz's poetry.

Milosz's poetry was praised for its enormous range of subject matter and technique, and its mix of sensuousness and references to culture, religion and philosophy.

He described his outlook this way:

"How do you write about suffering and still be able to approve of the world at the same time? If you really think about the horror of the world, the only suitable attitude seems to be to reject it," Milosz told the Polish weekly Tygodnik Powszechny in 2001.

"I've always regretted that I'm made of contradictions. But, if contradiction is impossible to overcome, we have to accept both its ends."

Intellectual in exile
Milosz also carried the burden of being an intellectual in exile, one whose poems were only published in his native country after he was awarded the Nobel Prize.

"The birth of Solidarity and martial law made Milosz a myth, which he couldn't entirely shake off -- a myth of anti-communist militant, fighter for freedom," said Milosz biographer Lukasz Stadnicki. "Even if he didn't want it, he had to face the role of national prophet."

Exile and the feelings of being a foreigner intensified the theme of memory in his work. He often explored the problem of roots in his writing.

"The Issa Valley," published in 1955, tells the story of the poet's childhood. "A View of San Francisco Bay," published in 1969, traces the poet's efforts to find his own place in the United States where, in his words, he "remained an outcast."

Aleksander Fiut, a philology professor at Krakow's Jagiellonian University said Milosz attained new relevance amid the post-communist change that swept Poland.

Milosz looked "for hope in what's beyond the sphere of everyday life which is so fragile, beyond the consumption," Fiut told The Associated Press.