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Iain Higgins
Professor

Affiliation with UVic English: Faculty

Special Book: Bobo’s Metamorphosis (in Selected Poems), Czeslaw Milosz

When did you first read this book: Sometime in the early 1980s, when I stumbled across a copy of Milosz’s Selected Poems. The poem in question dates from the early 1960s.

Which sentence from this book has special significance for you?

Bobo, a nasty boy, was changed into a fly.
In accordance with the rites of the flies he washed himself by a rock of sugar
And ran vertically in caves of cheese.
He flew through a window into the bright garden.

What does the sentence mean to you?

These lines come from a longer Polish poem translated into English as “Bobo’s Metamorphosis,” though its original title (“Gucio Zaczarowany”) means “Gus Spellbound.” Like the Gus of this poem, who is enchanted by the world in all its intoxicatingly rich thinginess, I was and still am enchanted by the poem’s way of evoking and extending that world. This is a magical, impish, provocative, searching, anti-idealist philosophical poem in praise of being that, if written in English, would have been written by Swift crossed with Hopkins. Unlike Kafka, who imagines Gregor Samsa’s metamorphosis into an insect as a kind of horror, Milosz imagines Gus’s transformation as an opportunity to see the world afresh, impishly even. Kafka’s Die Verwandlung is one of my favourite books too, so I am not rejecting his dark vision. Rather, I also want to acknowledge Milosz’s embrace of the world in all its enchanting richness. There is much more to the poem than these lines, though, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves both poetry and the world.

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