Taking Account

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A favorite poem of mine by Czeslaw Milosz suddenly takes on new meaning, starting with the title, “Account.” For him this was about taking account of the choices he had made in his life, much larger than money; for me, “account” is what I’ve been obsessing on: ledgers, columns, payoffs, bottom lines, bank accounts, interest rates, numbers of days between paychecks. But ultimately these are the same. What led me to spend without thinking, even as my better self twinged whenever I slapped down a credit card? Why did I tend, nevertheless, like a foolhardy moth to the flame?

The history of my stupidity would fill many volumes.
Some would be devoted to acting against consciousness,
Like the flight of a moth which, had it known,
Would have tended nevertheless toward the candle’s flame.
Others would deal with ways to silence anxiety,
The little whisper which, though it is a warning, is ignored.
I would deal separately with satisfaction and pride,
The time when I was among their adherents
Who strut victoriously, unsuspecting.
But all of them would have one subject, desire,
If only my own—but no, not at all; alas,
I was driven because I wanted to be like others.
I was afraid of what was wild and indecent in me.
The history of my stupidity will not be written.
For one thing, it’s late. And the truth is laborious.
Berkeley, 1980.
Desire. The brilliance here is that we go astray when we taken on others’ desires rather than our own, perhaps afraid of what is wild and indecent in us. With this little blog I am doing a bit to lay out the history of my stupidity, no matter how laborious the task.

 

[Twelve poems from The Collected Poems 1931-1987 by Czeslaw Milosz. Copyright © 1988 by Czeslaw Milosz Royalties, Inc. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers. Source: The Collected Poems: 1931-1987 (The Ecco Press, 1988). To find this and other poems, go to the Poetry Foundation.]