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Lithuanian by Birth and in Spirit: Czesław Miłosz / Česlovas Milošas


In 2011 Lietuvos paštas issued a stamp, designed by Aušrelė Ratkevičienė, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of ethnically Polish, Lithuanian-born, Czesław Miłosz, who died in 2004 in Kraków, Poland.


Miłosz was the self-proclaimed "last citizen of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania," and held three passports at his death: American, Polish, and Lithuanian. He was a world-renowned writer and poet, and winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature. Born 1911 in what was then Kovno guberniya in the Empire of Russia -- in an area that was never part of the Kingdom of Poland -- his ancestral village and his grandparents' manor, Kunatai, was in Šeteniai, on the eastern shore of Nevėžis, 70km / 43.5 miles north of Kaunas.


Late in life he was declared an honorary citizen of Vilnius, the city where, in the years between the world wars, when the Vilnius area was occupied by Poland, he was educated: first Sigismund Augustus Gymnasium, and then the Faculty of Law and Social Sciences at Stephen Bathory University (today's Vilniaus universitetas), earning a master's degree in law. In 1937 he moved to Warsaw, where he also spent World War II. In 1947 he was appointed Polish Cultural Attaché in Washington. In 1950 he became the first secretary of the Polish Embassy in Paris, but a year later he severed all ties with the government of the Soviet-occupied Polish People's Republic and sought asylum in France. In 1953 he was awarded the European Prize for Literature: "Prix Littéraire Européen." He became, in 1961, a professor in the Department of Slavic Language and Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, and in 1970 became a naturalized U.S. citizen.


My favorite book by him: "The Issa Valley," a novel about rural Lithuania, translated in 1981 from the Polish by Louis Iribarne.


From his 1980 Nobel Prize speech: "It is good to be born in a small country where Nature was on a human scale, where various languages and religions cohabited for centuries. I have in mind Lithuania, a country of myths and of poetry. My family already in the Sixteenth Century spoke Polish, just as many families in Finland spoke Swedish and in Ireland – English; so I am a Polish, not a Lithuanian, poet. But the landscapes and perhaps the spirits of Lithuania have never abandoned me."

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