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Czesław Miłosz papers

Call Number: GEN MSS 661

Scope and Contents

The Czesław Miłosz Papers document the life and work of the poet, essayist and Nobel Laureate Czesław Miłosz. The papers consist of writings, correspondence, photographs, personal papers, audio material, and printed material (including newspaper clippings, printed ephemera and clandestine samizdat publications), spanning the years 1880-2000, with the bulk of the material dating from 1940 to 1989. While some writings, photographs and personal documents pre-date the Second World War, the earliest correspondence dates from 1946.

The papers document all aspects of Miłosz's professional life and include original holograph and typescript drafts of his major works of poetry and prose from 1945 to 1992, drafts or transcripts of hundreds of essays, speeches and lectures, transcripts of radio broadcasts, teaching material, and documentation of his collaboration with Aleksander Wat.

The papers document the domains of Miłosz's eminent career as a poet, writer and scholar of Slavic literature, his creative writing process, the relation of literary figures to historical events and movements of the twentieth century (including the Second World War, the rise of Soviet-influenced Communist rule in Poland, and upheavals in the Polish government in the 1980s), and themes of exile and emigration, particularly as they relate to Polish émigrés in France and the United States. Correspondence and writings directly address the intellectual and political themes that are prevalent in Miłosz's work, such as the incompatibility of totalitarian government and creative expression, the nature of religious faith, and the pain of exile.

Miłosz maintained long-standing association with the Polish émigré community of Paris after he moved to the United States. He frequently corresponded with the affiliates of Institut Literacki. This relationship is also evident in his regular contributions to the monthly serial Kultura. Major correspondents in the papers include Józef Czapski, Jerzy Giedroyc, Jan Goślicki, Zbigniew Herbert, Zygmunt Hertz, Zofia Hertz, Konstanty Jeleński, Aleksander Wat and Paulina Wat.

In addition to Miłosz's writings, lectures and teaching, the papers include sporadic documentation of personal and financial matters. This documentation includes financial records, legal records (especially relating to immigration) and family photographs. Among the printed material that Miłosz collected are many clandestine (samizdat) publications that were produced in Poland despite prohibitive censorship. This collection, while fragmentary, is representative of clandestine publication activity during the 1980s.


  • 1880 - 2000
  • Majority of material found within 1940 - 1989


Language of Materials

The bulk of the material is in Polish and English. Includes material in French and other languages.

Conditions Governing Access

Correspondence with Jeanne Hersch, Jadwiga Tomaszewicz and Lillian Valee was formerly restricted until 2010. Five notebooks were formerly restricted until 2010. Correspondence with Józef Sadzik is restricted during the lifetime of John Peter Miłosz.

Boxes 254, 256-261: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. Consult Access Services for further information.

Box 255 (computer disk): Restricted Fragile Material. Reference copies of electronic files may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.

Box 162 (sound recordings): Restricted Fragile Material. Consult Access Services for further information.

Existence and Location of Copies

Portions of the collection are available on microfilm.

Conditions Governing Use

The Czesław Miłosz Papers is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The bulk of the papers were purchased from George Minkoff, 1987 and 1990 and Serendipity Books, 2001. Additional material was acquired by gift from Czesław Miłosz, 1966 and from Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1995-1997.


Organized into nine series: I. Correspondence, 1946-2000. II. Writings. 1934-2000. III. Interviews, Lectures, Broadcasts and Readings, 1946-1990. IV. Aleksander Wat Memoir and Translations, 1963-1991. V. Professional Papers, 1960-1993. VI. Personal Papers, 1937-1995. VII. Photographs, circa 1880-1989. VIII. Writings of Others, 1928-1998. IX. Printed Material, 1929-1999.

Associated Materials

Printed material received with the collection was removed for separate cataloging and can be accessed by searching the library's online catalog.


102.42 Linear Feet ((261 boxes) + 2 broadside folders)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The Czesław Miłosz Papers document the life and work of the poet, essayist and Nobel Laureate Czesław Miłosz. The papers consist of writings, correspondence, photographs, personal papers, audio material, and printed material (including newspaper clippings, printed ephemera and clandestine samizdat publications), spanning the years 1880-2000, with the bulk of the material dating from 1940 to 1989. While some writings, photographs and personal documents pre-date the Second World War, the earliest correspondence dates from 1946.

Czesław Miłosz, 1911-2004

Czesław Miłosz, poet, essayist and Nobel Laureate, was born on June 30, 1911 in Šeteniai (Szetejnie), Lithuania and died on August 14, 2004 in Kraków, Poland, at the age of 93. He married Janina Dłuska (1909-1986) in 1944 and they had two sons: Anthony and John Peter. His second wife Carol Thigpen, whom he married in 1992, died in 2002.

Miłosz grew up in Lithuania amid diverse languages and ethnicities (including Polish, Lithuanian, Russian and Jewish) yet retained a strong attachment to his native country and language throughout his decades of life in Western Europe and the United States. As a child and young adult, Miłosz lived under an unstable series of governments and regimes, witnessing the political and social upheavals of the two world wars and rise of the Eastern Bloc. Miłosz studied law at Stefan Batory University in Vilnius (also known as Vilnius University). It was during this time that he published his first poetry in the University publication Alma Mater Vilnensis (1930), and later in a slim printed collection Poemat o czasie zastygłym (1933). He also co-founded the literary group and journal Żagary in Vilnius. While traveling to Paris in the 1930s he met a distant relative, Oscar V. de Lubicz Milosz, who was to be an important lifelong influence.

After completing his studies Miłosz worked in radio, first for Polish Radio in Vilnius (1936-1937). His second collection of poems Trzy zimy (1936) was published during this time. When he was dismissed, apparently for political reasons (perhaps because he included Jewish authors in his literary programming), he moved to Warsaw and worked for Polish National Radio until the outbreak of the Second World War.

During the war, Miłosz produced several clandestine publications including the anthology Pieśń niepodległa (Invincible song) and the collection of his poems Wiersze (Poems, under the pseudonym Jan Syruć). His war-time poems are ironically juxtaposed to the profound trauma of the war and the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. In Świat (The World) Miłosz created defiantly serene portraits of faith, hope, love, fear and recovery that are nevertheless testament to the heaviness of war (and in stark contrast to his earlier poems written in Vilnius). This and other poetry from 1936-1945 is collected in Ocalenie (Rescue [1945]).

After the Second World War, Miłosz became a cultural attaché for the People's Republic of Poland in New York and Washington, D.C. He then accepted a post in France in 1950. Increasingly estranged from the Polish government, he defected in 1951, obtaining political asylum in France. His defection prompted criticism from leftist intellectuals (Pablo Neruda was among his outspoken critics). As Miłosz struggled with his exile and his role as a Polish-language poet in France, he published his analyses of contemporary political upheaval in numerous prose works and regular contributions to Kultura, the Polish-language literary monthly published in Paris. His first post-emigration volume of poems, Światło dzienne, was published by Institut Literacki in 1953. In Poland, his work was circulated chiefly in clandestine copies between 1951 and 1980 since his writing was censored.

Much of Miłosz's prose writing in the 1950s was semi-autobiographical. His early life in rural Lithuania inspired the characters in the novel Dolina Issy (The valley of Issa, 1955). Zniewolony umysł (The captive mind, 1953) and Zdobycie władzy (The seizure of power, 1955), which thrust him into the international spotlight, examined the moral and psychological pressures of life under a repressive totalitarian regime, providing context for his decision to defect. Rodzinna europa (Native realm, 1959) explores the difficulties of balancing his Eastern European identity and strong attachment to the Polish language with his life as an émigré.

Miłosz emigrated to the United States in 1960. He initially accepted a temporary lectureship at the University of California, Berkeley and was appointed Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures in 1961. He maintained close ties with the Polish émigré community in Paris, visiting frequently and continuing his association with Instytut Literacki. His works of literary criticism and anthologies of Polish poetry published in the 1960s (including Postwar Polish poetry [1965] and History of Polish literature [1969]) drew increasing attention to Polish literature in Europe and the United States.

In the United States, Miłosz was confronted with the fact that Polish literature was little-known in American circles, referring to himself as "Wrong Honorable Professor Milosz/Who wrote poems in some unheard-of tongue" (Magic Mountain [1975]). Any trace of self-conceived obscurity vanished in 1980 when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The decision to award Miłosz the prize was made just before the democratic Solidarity labor strikes in Poland became widespread (activity that led to the imposition of martial law in Poland and eventually to the democratic change of government in 1989). These events, together with the appointment of Pope John Paul II two years prior, constituted a dynamic affirmation of Polish culture in the world spotlight.

In 1981, Miłosz visited Poland for the first time since his defection thirty years earlier. He was welcomed by immense crowds who celebrated his writing and his recognition as Nobel Laureate. He met with numerous literary and political figures, including Lech Wałęsa (leader of the Solidarity movement and future President of the Republic of Poland).

Miłosz continued to travel extensively after his retirement from teaching in 1978, accepting appointments as a visiting lecturer from, among others, Harvard University and the University of Michigan. He traveled to Poland regularly and his visits were increasingly lengthy until he moved to Kraków in 2000. He continued to publish numerous volumes of poetry and prose works, including translations of his own poetry into English.

Miłosz was a prolific translator to and from Polish and his translations introduced many modern Polish poets (including Aleksander Wat and Anna Świrszczyńska) to English-language readers. He undertook the monumental task of translating portions of the Bible after studying the fifteenth-century Puławski Psalter. His English translations of Polish poetry are are compiled in anthologies such as Czas niepokoju (1958) and Mowa wiązana (1986).

Miłosz received numerous prizes and honors, including the Prix Littéraire Européen (1953), the Neustadt International Prize for Literature (1978), the Nobel Prize for Literature (1980), and a National Medal of Arts (1990). Additional information on Czesław Miłosz is available in standard print and online biographical resources.

Processing Information

The Czesław Miłosz Papers contain material formerly classed as Uncat MS Vault 489, Uncat MS Vault 577, Uncat MS Vault 736, Uncat MS Vault 797, Uncat MSS 114 and Uncat MS Vault Milosz.

Each of the three largest accessions that comprise the Czesław Miłosz Papers was prepared for sale by Miłosz and his assistants. This organization and identification has been retained where appropriate and the three accessions have been interfiled. Several smaller accessions (including a 1966 donation from Miłosz and donations from Farrar, Straus & Giroux) were interfiled.

Students who assisted in the processing of this collection include Rebecca Henriksen, Zakhar Ishov, Claire Morelon and Ewelina Rudnicka. Visiting archivist Henryk Citko identified and described a portion of the papers.

While the primary language of the finding aid is English, much of the descriptive language (folder titles, titles of works, personal names and place names) is in Polish. Alphabetical listings in Polish therefore follow Polish conventions (e.g. ł follows l and ę follows e). Since many of the Polish names cited in the finding aid are of émigrés or people who published widely outside of Poland, readers may find some inconsistency in the spelling of Polish names (e.g. Oscar Milosz is used throughout the finding aid rather than the Polish spelling Oskar Miłosz). Additionally, Polish names and titles that are cited in English-language works are often transliterated and therefore do not use Polish characters (e.g. A Poet's Work: An Introduction to Czeslaw Milosz). The usage followed in this finding aid reflects the material being described and therefore is not normalized.

Electronic files were refreshed into the Yale University Library Rescue Repository. Technical specifications are filed with the media in Restricted Fragile Papers.

Guide to the Czesław Miłosz Papers
by Lisa Conathan and Henryk Citko
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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