The Other Tiger :: J. L. Borges

And the craft that createth a semblance

I think of a tiger. The gloom here makes
The vast and busy Library seem lofty
And pushes the shelves back;
Strong, innocent, covered with blood and new,
It will move through its forest and its morning
And will print its tracks on the muddy
Margins of a river whose name it does not know
(In its world there are no names nor past
Nor time to come, only the fixed moment)
And will overleap barbarous distances
And will scent out of the plaited maze
Of all the scents the scent of dawn
And the delighting scent of deer.
Between the stripes of the bamboo I decipher
Its stripes and have the feel of the bony structure
That quivers under the glowing skin.
In vain do the curving seas intervene
And the deserts of the planet;
From this house in a far-off port
In South America, I pursue and dream you,
O tiger on the Ganges’ banks.
In my soul the afternoon grows wider and I reflect
That the tiger invoked in my verse
Is a ghost of a tiger, a symbol,
A series of literary tropes
And memories from the encyclopaedia
And not the deadly tiger, the fateful jewel
That, under the sun or the varying moon,
In Sumatra or Bengal goes on fulfilling
Its rounds of love, of idleness and death.
To the symbolic tiger I have opposed
The real thing, with its warm blood,
That decimates the tribe of buffaloes
And today, the third of August, ’59,
Stretches on the grass a deliberate
Shadow, but already the fact of naming it
And conjecturing its circumstances
Makes it a figment of art and no creature
Living among those that walk the earth.

We shall seek a third tiger. This
Will be like those others a shape
Of my dreaming, a system of words
A man makes and not the vertebrate tiger
That, beyond the mythologies,
Is treading the earth. I know well enough
That something lays on me this quest
Undefined, senseless and ancient, and I go on
Seeking through the afternoon time
The other tiger, that which is not in verse.

[From Dreamtigers, by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Harold Morland]

9 thoughts on “The Other Tiger :: J. L. Borges

    • This is the Morland translation because it is part of “Dreamtigers,” a unique American publication of El hacedor translated by Mildred Boyer (the prose portion) and Morland (the poetry portion), which I wanted — for some reason foolish and vague, senseless and ancient — to post all together on this site in its entirety.

      I am unilingual; for me, to judge between two translations is to prefer one of two remarkably similar yet remarkably different English texts.

      The Alastair Reid translation . . . :

      And the craft createth a semblance.
      — Morris, Sigurd the Volsung (1876)

      I think of a tiger. The fading light enhances
      the vast complexities of the Library
      and seems to set the bookshelves at a distance;
      powerful, innocent, bloodstained, and new-made,
      it will prowl through its jungle and its morning
      and leave its footprint on the muddy edge
      of a river with a name unknown to it
      (in its world, there are no names, nor past, nor future,
      only the sureness of the present moment)
      and it will cross the wilderness of distance
      and sniff out in the woven labyrinth
      of smells the smell peculiar to morning
      and the scent on the air of deer, delectable.
      Behind the lattice of bamboo, I notice
      its stripes, and I sense its skeleton
      under the magnificence of the quivering skin.
      In vain the convex oceans and the deserts
      spread themselves across the earth between us;
      from this one house in a far-off seaport
      in South America, I dream you, follow you,
      oh tiger on the fringes of the Ganges.

      Evening spreads in my spirit and I keep thinking
      that the tiger I am calling up in my poem
      is a tiger made of symbols and of shadows,
      a set of literary images,
      scraps remembered from encyclopedias,
      and not the deadly tiger, the fateful jewel
      that in the sun or the deceptive moonlight
      follows its paths, in Bengal or Sumatra,
      of love, of indolence, of dying.
      Against the tiger of symbols I have set
      the real one, the hot-blooded one
      that savages a herd of buffalo,
      and today, the third of August, ’59,
      its patient shadow moves across the plain,
      but yet, the act of naming it, of guessing
      what is its nature and its circumstance
      creates a fiction, not a living creature,
      not one of those that prowl on the earth.

      Let us look for a third tiger. This one
      will be a form in my dream like all the others,
      a system, an arrangement of human language,
      and not the flesh-and-bone tiger
      that, out of reach of all mythologies,
      paces the earth. I know all this; yet something
      drives me to this ancient, perverse adventure,
      foolish and vague, yet still I keep on looking
      throughout the evening for the other tiger,
      the other tiger, the one not in this poem.

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