Campo dei Fiori by Czeslaw Milosz

First posted on January 24, 2017

By CZESLAW MILOSZ Translated by Louis Iribarne

Milosz’s poem has been described as one of the most moving tributes to the Holocaust victims ever written

In Rome on the Campo dei Fiori 

baskets of olives and lemons, 

cobbles spattered with wine 

and the wreckage of flowers. 

Vendors cover the trestles 

with rose-pink fish; 

armfuls of dark grapes 

heaped on peach-down


On this same square 

they burned Giordano Bruno. 

Henchmen kindled the pyre 

close-pressed by the mob. 

Before the flames had died 

the taverns were full again, 

baskets of olives and lemons 

again on the vendors’ shoulders. 


I thought of the Campo dei Fiori 

in Warsaw by the sky-carousel 

one clear spring evening 

to the strains of a carnival tune. 

The bright melody drowned 

the salvos from the ghetto wall, 

and couples were flying 

high in the cloudless sky. 


At times wind from the burning 

would drift dark kites along 

and riders on the carousel 

caught petals in midair. 

That same hot wind 

blew open the skirts of the girls 

and the crowds were laughing 

on that beautiful Warsaw Sunday. 


Someone will read as moral 

that the people of Rome or Warsaw 

haggle, laugh, make love 

as they pass by the martyrs’ pyres. 

Someone else will read 

of the passing of things human, 

of the oblivion 

born before the flames have died. 


But that day I thought only 

of the loneliness of the dying, 

of how, when Giordano 

climbed to his burning 

he could not find 

in any human tongue 

words for mankind, 

mankind who live on. 


Already they were back at their wine 

or peddled their white starfish, 

baskets of olives and lemons 

they had shouldered to the fair, 

and he already distanced 

as if centuries had passed 

while they paused just a moment 

for his flying in the fire. 


Those dying here, the lonely 

forgotten by the world, 

our tongue becomes for them 

the language of an ancient planet. 

Until, when all is legend 

and many years have passed, 

on a new Campo dei Fiori 

rage will kindle at a poet’s word

Warsaw, 1943

Campo dei Fiori by Czeslaw Milosz from The Collected Poems: 1931-1987