• Mass Times

• Coming Events

• Sacraments

• Ministries

• Parish Staff

• Consultative Bodies

• Photo Gallery

• Virtual Tour

• History

• Contribute


• Bulletin

• In Your Midst

• Pastor's Desk


• Becoming Catholic

• Bookstore

• Faith Formation

• Funerals

• Immigrant Assistance

• Liturgy

• Mental Health

• Music

• Outreach/Advocacy

• Pastoral Care

• Weddings

• Young Adults

• Youth Ministry






A Song on the End of the World
On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.
On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.
And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.
Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.
Warsaw, 1944

Czeslaw Milosz was born to Polish parents in Lithuania in 1911. His family returned to Poland after World War I. Milosz began writing poetry in his teens, and during his 20s was part of a school of poets who were later called “catastrophists” because of the way their poetry ominously foretold the coming of the Second World War. After the Nazi occupation of Poland in 1939, Milosz became part of the underground Resistance movement. His work for the Resistance was writing and editing, including a book of poems published under a pseudonym. If this seems an odd assignment for a resistance fighter, Milosz and his contemporaries did not see it that way. For them, poetry only became more important in wartime. He said: “Poets in the East cannot afford to be preoccupied with themselves. They are drawn to write of the larger problems of their society… events burdening a whole community are perceived by a poet as touching him in a most personal manner.” Milosz defected from communist Poland in 1951, and became a US citizen in 1970. In 1980, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He died in Krakow in 2004.
Even in its title, this poem is a paradox. “A Song on the End of the World”: something beautiful; something cataclysmic. That juxtaposition continues in the first two stanzas, which are full of beautiful imagery. In fact, “on the day the world ends,” everything seems to be more beautiful than it normally is: the fisherman’s net is “glimmering,” porpoises are “happy,” birds play, and even the snake is “gold-skinned.” People are observed with particular care and attention: women and men, peddlars and drunkards. On the day the world ends, evening comes with remarkable beauty: “The voice of a violin lasts in the air / And leads into a starry night.”
This is the day the world ends, Milosz says, upsetting all expectations. Those who were waiting for drama—lightning and thunder, the trumpet of an archangel—are “disappointed” and “do not believe.” And that includes just about everyone: Milosz says that as long as the sun rises, “As long as rosy infants are born / No one believes it is happening now.”
No one believes. Except one person: an old man keeps saying, “There will be no other end of the world.” This man would be a prophet, except that he is “much too busy.” Even as he repeats his mantra, he is binding up his tomato plants.
Milosz was a Catholic, and this poem is full of echoes of the Scriptures, especially Matthew 24. That chapter in the Gospel has its own share of paradoxes. Jesus speaks of the end of the world in cataclysmic terms: “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light… he will send out his angels with a trumpet blast.” But a few verses later, Jesus recalls the time of the flood, when people “were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark.” The day the world ends will take us by surprise: in the words of our poet, it may well be a day when bees are in clover, when infants are born, when the sun shines.
At the end of the poem, Milosz adds these significant words – “Warsaw, 1944.” That was the year of the Warsaw Uprising, when the Polish Resistance sought to liberate the city from Nazi occupation. Fierce fighting went on for three months. By the end of the uprising, 16,000 resistance fighters were dead, along with as many as 200,000 civilians, most of whom died in mass executions. By the time the Germans abandoned Warsaw in January of 1945, 85% of the city had been destroyed.
Situating the poem within this historical context, Milosz invites us to reflect on the end of the world, not as a vague future event, but as something that comes when we do not expect it—something that is happening now. Milosz is that prophet among the tomato plants, quietly but insistently urging us to look around and recognize the signs. A critic has written of Milosz: his poetry “does not promise any final solutions to the unleashed elements of nature and history here on earth, but it enlarges the space in which one can await the Coming with hope.”




Return to St. James Cathedral Parish Website

804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303