Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004) has come to be regarded as the finest Polish writer of the 20th century, his work influencing generations of natives and foreigners alike. Not only an accomplished poet, prose writer, and essayist, but also a lawyer, diplomat, literary historian, and translator, this exceptional intellectual accumulated more distinctions than you can shake a stick at, including the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature, the Order of the White Eagle, the title of Righteous Among the Nations, and a Neustadt International Prize for Literature.
Born in what is now Lithuania, Miłosz opted to study law at uni, though the course was to prove a bit of a thorn in his backside – a fear of statistics saw him flunk numerous exams, before finally graduating in 1934. He published his first collection of poetry that same year, and in 1937 took a position at a Vilnius radio station. It was to prove a disastrous union and he was fired for his leftist views. He took another job in radio in Warsaw, though was out of town on holiday when the outbreak of WWII was announced. The next few years saw him lead a transient existence – from escaping the clutches of the Red Army in Lithuania, to seeking refuge in Romania, to working as a janitor in wartime Warsaw, before taking up digs at ul. Krupnicza 22 in Krakow.