Read May 2021
★ ★ ★ 1/2
When Florencia shared a poem by Jorge Luis Borges in her review, I was inspired enough to track down more of his work. Luckily, I happened upon this lengthy compellation of poems that spanned most of his career. Never heard of the guy? Me neither, but I’m telling you, if you are at all interested in 20th century literature, you should have or should rectify it. He also wrote short stories, essays and translations, and was hugely influential, quite possibly the genesis of magic realism in Spanish literature. This book is ginormous, about 500 pages, fitting an illustrious career.
I wonder where my life is, the one that could
have been and never was, the daring one
or the one of gloomy dread, that other thing
which could as well have been the sword or shield
but never was?from What Is Lost
A man that traveled the world, shared the first Formentor Prize with Samuel Beckett and was director of the Argentine National Public Library, he was often focused on themes of place and life paths. Labyrinths, myths, dreams and books also frequently appear, along with meditations on seeing. These are all the more poignant as I realized he was gradually losing vision until he went blind at 55.
Old age (the name that others give it)
can be the time of our greatest bliss.
The animal has died or almost died.
The man and his spirit remain.
I live among vague, luminous shapes
that are not darkness yet.from In Praise of Darkness
He also drew on references to classical literature, which were more likely to miss me in his works, but some of them moved me nonetheless:
In my life there were always too many things.
Democritus of Abdra plucked out his eyes in order to think:
Time has been my Democritus.from In Praise of Darkness
What I loved most about this collection is that each poem had the Spanish version on the facing page.
La vejez (tal es el nombre que los otros le dan)
puede ser el tiempo de nuestra dicha.
El animal ha muerto o casi ha muerto.
Quedan el hombre y su alma.
Vivo entre formas luminosas y vagas
que no son aún la tiniebla.
And the second:
Siempre en mi vida fueron demasiadas las cosas;
Demócrito de Abdera se arrancó los ojos para pensar:
el tiempo ha sido mi Demócrito.
There’s something really beautiful about his writing and it’s seeming simplicity in Spanish. Of course, it wasn’t long before I started wandering down the translation accuracy philosophy, and wondering about how well that works in poetry, where I feel the poets work very deliberately at word choice. On a couple of occasions after reading the original, I felt myself wondering at the translator. In this edition, there was a collection of translators, so their initials were under the translated versions.
While I attempted to do my skim-until-a-poem-noticed-me approach, I found myself stopping quite often, despite the length of the book. So much spoke to me.
When sorrow lays us low
for a second we are saved
by humble windfalls
of 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
Cuando nos anonada la desdicha,
durante un sequndo nos salvan
las aventuras infimas
de la atención o de las memoria:
el sabor de una fruta, el sabor del agua,
esa cara que un sueno no devuelve,
los primos jazmines de noviembre,
el anhelo infinito de la brújula,
un libro que creíamos perdido
It was about five hundred pages; there were so many works that it became overwhelming at times. Each section was from one of his collections and had a very short description of the book. I think I would have liked a little more context, as a Borges newbie. Arranged chronologically, I didn’t have as much understanding as to where it fell in this personal history; his awards, his brief marriage, his blindness, his career. But I’m very glad for such an introduction into an extremely interesting and moving writer.