Posts filed under ‘Jorge Luis Borges’

Ars Poetica

Jorge Luis Borges


To gaze at the river made of time and water
And recall that time itself is another river,
To know we cease to be, just like the river,
And that our faces pass away, just like the water.

To feel that waking is another sleep
That dreams it does not sleep and that death,
Which our flesh dreads, is that very death
Of every night, which we call sleep.

To see in the day or in the year a symbol
of makind’s days and of his years,
To transform the ourtage of the years
Into a music, a rumor and a symbol,

To see in death a sleep, and in the sunset
A sad gold, of such is Poetry
Immortal and a pauper. For Poetry
Returns like the dawn and the sunset.

At times in the afternoon a face
Looks at us from the depths of a mirror;
Art must be like that mirror
That reveals to us this face of ours.

They tell how Ulysses, glutted with wonders,
Wept with love to descry his Ithaca
Humble and green. Art is that Ithaca
Of green eternity, not of wonders.

It is also like an endless river
That passes and remains, a mirror for one same
Inconstant Heraclitus, who is the same
And another, like an endless river.

from Dreamtigers, 1964. Tr. by Harold Morland.

En español (thanks Vasha!),

Arte Poética

Mirar el río hecho de tiempo y agua
y recordar que el tiempo es otro río,
saber que nos perdemos como el río
y que los rostros pasan como el agua.

Sentir que la vigilia es otro sueño
que sueña no soñar y que la muerte
que teme nuestra carne es esa muerte
de cada noche, que se llama sueño.

Ver en el día o en el año un símbolo
de los días del hombre y de sus años,
convertir el ultraje de los años
en una música, un rumor y un símbolo,

ver en la muerte el sueño, en el ocaso
un triste oro, tal es la poesía
que es inmortal y pobre. La poesía
vuelve como la aurora y el ocaso.

A veces en las tardes una cara
nos mira desde el fondo de un espejo;
el arte debe ser como ese espejo
que nos revela nuestra propia cara.

Cuentan que Ulises, harto de prodigios,
lloró de amor al divisar su Itaca
verde y humilde. El arte es esa Itaca
de verde eternidad, no de prodigios.

También es como el río interminable
que pasa y queda y es cristal de un mismo
Heráclito inconstante, que es el mismo
y es otro, como el río interminable.

This poem from Dreamtigers ( a translation, of his El Hacedor, that is, The Creator), weaves a pattern with many comparisons, many things, some transient or others eternal, things that pass and those that remain. His poem is not about just the Art of Poetry, it is about Art itself, an exploration of representations of one with the other – for instance, sleep represents death or is death just another form of sleep?

Dreamtigers is a beautiful collection of works by Borges, odd samples of his poetry, prose, sketches, stories and quotations. In not having a fixed purpose or a central unifying theme they create a better reflection of his life, than any one book could aspire to. As the introduction elaborates, “with no other purpose than to show what time accumulates in the bottom of a writer’s desk drawer”. :)

Ars Poetica on pō’ĭ-trē by Archibald MacLeish and Czeslaw Milosz.


October 31, 2006 at 2:07 am 5 comments


Jorge Luis Borges

Listen (to Pavi read)

When sorrow lays us low
for a second we are saved
by humble windfalls
of the mindfulness or memory:
the taste of a fruit, the taste of water,
that face given back to us by a dream,
the first jasmine of November,
the endless yearning of the compass,
a book we thought was lost,
the throb of a hexameter,
the slight key that opens a house to us,
the smell of a library, or of sandalwood,
the former name of a street,
the colors of a map,
an unforeseen etymology,
the smoothness of a filed fingernail,
the date we were looking for,
the twelve dark bell-strokes, tolling as we count,
a sudden physical pain.

Eight million Shinto deities
travel secretly throughout the earth.
Those modest gods touch us–
touch us and move on.

Pavi writes,
“A poem about the glimpses of grace that are our unexpected and
unlikely salvation through troubled times. Mindfulness and memory he
says. Awareness in this moment and the gentle thrill-tipped
remembrance of things past that can sometimes come alive to comfort
and console us through the inconsolable. Our mortal hearts can lean
inexplicably on such little things (such little little things! where
the shape of a cloud is a blessing in an uncertain sky, and the colors
on a map can take your breath away) brief moments of beauty that throb
and swell with the implicit sensuous significance of what it means to
live in this world – to be tasting witness a participant to this
many-splendoured assault of quiet loveliness. Just the thought of
eight million beings wandering invisible and unassuming through this
earth, brushing past us light as a whisper soft as a sigh reorienting
us away from despair in all but imperceptible silver-threaded instants
is enough to make me look up from this clackety keyboard and into the
ready, steady beauty of this moment in silent wonder- and tardy


September 5, 2006 at 11:39 pm Leave a comment

Fundación mítica de Buenos Aires

Jorge Luis Borges

Listen (to Borges read)

¿Y fue por este río de sueñera y de barro
que las proas vinieron a fundarme la patria?
Irían a los tumbos los barquitos pintados
entre los camalotes de la corriente zaina.

Pensando bien la cosa, supondremos que el río
era azulejo entonces como oriundo del cielo
con su estrellita roja para marcar el sitio
en que ayunó Juan Díaz y los indios comieron.

Lo cierto es que mil hombres y otros mil arribaron
por un mar que tenía cinco lunas de anchura
y aún estaba poblado de sirenas y endriagos
y de piedras imanes que enloquecen la brújula.

Prendieron unos ranchos trémulos en la costa,
durmieron extrañados. Dicen que en el Riachuelo,
pero son embelecos fraguados en la Boca.
Fue una manzana entera y en mi barrio: en Palermo.

Una manzana entera pero en mitá del campo
expuesta a las auroras y lluvias y suestadas.
La manzana pareja que persiste en mi barrio:
Guatemala, Serrano, Paraguay, Gurruchaga.

Un almacén rosado como revés de naipe
brilló y en la trastienda conversaron un truco;
el almacén rosado floreció en un compadre,
ya patrón de la esquina, ya resentido y duro.

El primer organito salvaba el horizonte
con su achacoso porte, su habanera y su gringo.
El corralón seguro ya opinaba YRIGOYEN,
algún piano mandaba tangos de Saborido.

Una cigarrería sahumó como una rosa
el desierto. La tarde se había ahondado en ayeres,
los hombres compartieron un pasado ilusorio.
Sólo faltó una cosa: la vereda de enfrente.

A mí se me hace cuento que empezó Buenos Aires:
La juzgo tan eterna como el agua y el aire.

English Translation (by Alastair Reid):

The Mythical Founding of Buenos Aires

And was it along this torpid muddy river
that the prows came to found my native city?
The little painted boats must have suffered the steep surf
among the root-clumps of the horse-brown current.

Pondering well, let us suppose that the river
was blue then like an extension of the sky,
with a small red star inset to mark the spot
where Juan Diaz* fasted and the Indians dined.

But for sure a thousand men and other thousands
arrived across a sea that was five moons wide,
still infested with mermaids and sea serpents
and magnetic boulders that sent the compass wild.

On the coast they put up a few ramshackle huts
and slept uneasily. This, they claim, in the Riachuelo,
but that is a story dreamed up in Boca.
It was really a city block in my district – Palermo**.

A whole square block, but set down in open country,
attended by dawns and rains and hard southeasters,
identical to that block which still stands in my neighbourhood:
Guatemala – Serrano – Paraguay – Gurruchaga.

A general store pink as the back of a playing card
shone bright; in the back there was poker talk.
The corner bar flowered into life as a local bully,
already cock of his walk, resentful, tough.

The first barrel organ teetered over the horizon
with its clumsy progress, its habaneras, its wop.
The cart-shed wall was unanimous for YRIGOYEN***.
Some piano was banging out tangos by Saborido.

A cigar store perfumed the desert like a rose.
The afternoon had established its yesterdays,
and men took on together an illusory past.
Only one thing was missing – the street had no other side.

Hard to believe Buenos Aires had any beginning.
I feel it to be as eternal as air and water.

What better way to begin a series of poems by writers (arguably) better known for their prose than with a poem about foundations, about beginnings?

Borges has always struck me as one of those writers in whose work the line between poetry and prose blurs. On the one hand, his best short stories have an intensity and a vision that is authentically poetic, on the other hand, some of his finest poems read like stories that have been stripped of all but the most essential details, so that the narrative, stripped to its essence, achieves the purity of verse.

Today’s poem is like that. There isn’t anything too dramatically stunning about Borges’ description, no one line or metaphor that reaches out to grab you by the throat, and yet in these eight and a half quatrains Borges captures the essence of a city’s beginnings, the excitement and risk of all our pioneer journeys, the incredible sense of possibility that walked the streets in those early days. The founding is mythical not only because it is factually inaccurate, combining as it does different stages in the city’s history, but because in Borges’ magical hands, the images of those early days have been transformed into the stuff of legend. This is magic realism applied to poetry, and the way in which this imagined and dreamlike history comes to seem so incredibly authentic is trademark Borges.

Nor is the poem quite as simple as it appears. What seems like a random collection of images is, I suspect, the product of careful and painstaking selection, and notice how cleverly the different scenes flow into each other – the pink of the store “as the back of a playing card” melting effortlessly into the poker game. It is no accident that these few short lines create a picture so vivid, evoke an atmosphere so charged. This is why Borges is the Master craftsman that he is.

Notes on the poem (taken from Borges’ Selected Poems):

*Juan Diaz de Solis was an explorer who rowed into the River Plate in 1516 and was promptly devoured by Indians.
** Palermo is a district in the city of Buenos Aires, originally the Italian quarter, where Borges spent his childhood.
*** Irigoyen was the twice-elected president of Argentina and victim of a military coup in 1930

Other links:

Audio excerpts from Borges’s lectures at Harvard on The Craft of Verse

Borges biography

Borges on Minstrels

A lovely post and interesting discussion (even if I do say so myself) on Borges over at Middle Stage (see comments)

Finally, my thanks to Black Mamba for digging up this recording and providing the link to the Borges lectures. I’m not quite sure why I’m the one posting this piece, but well, there it is.


August 6, 2006 at 6:51 pm 4 comments