The National Library of Poland, based in Warsaw, has been granted an invaluable endowment of papers, letters, memorabilia and a full library from the archives of poet Czesław Miłosz
In the words of library director Tomasz Makowski, the new acquisition is a "paradise for biographers, fans and scholars". Among the treasures are 103 of the poet's notebooks, which he kept from 1974 until shortly before his death and which have been made available to the public for the first time. "This is where he recorded his thoughts, quotes, sketches of works. This is a remarkable document of the intellectual biography of the Nobel Prize winner, a dynamic creative life, ideas that had been brought to fruition and some that he never managed to complete. It presents a man who is struggling with himself, with his work and his existence".
The archive includes the poet's correspondence with great figures of the 20th century including his fellow Nobel laureates Wisława Szymborska, Albert Einstein and Albert Camus, and with fellow émigré author Witold Gombrowicz. Makowski shares one gem from the collection, a touching letter from Katarzyna Herbert written just after the funeral of Zbigniew Herbert, in which she thanks Miłosz for his kind words and "the rose placed on the coffin, which is like the kiss of a brother".
Makowski spent weeks familiarising himself with the collection in Miłosz's U.S. home, which includes his Nobel Prize, a magnifying glass, passports, distinctions, diplomas, photographs and agendas. The collection of books from his California library is another part of the endowment. This is not merely a collection of tens of thousands of books, Makowski remarks, but texts that Miłosz had pored over and shared with his students, scribbling notes through the pages. "I found notes on the margins in the books of Dostoevsky - this is dream material for biographers".
Makowski said the poet's son Anthony found it difficult to part with many of the personal documents, such as lecture notes and informal jottings. The next step before opening up the archives is reviewing and cataloguing the materials, along with conservation works on some documents damaged over the years, or which had simply aged. The collection will be digitised before it is made public. The National Library's collection of Czesław Miłosz's manuscripts is already the largest in Poland and the second largest in the world, after the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.
See the online archives of the Polish National Library at bn.org.pl
Editor: Agnieszka Le Nart
Source: Original text by Anna Legierska on Culture.pl