Vague chance or the precise laws
That govern this dream, the universe,
Granted me to share a smooth
Stretch of the course with Alfonso Reyes.
He knew well that art which no one
Wholly knows, neither Sinbad nor Ulysses,
Which is to pass from one land on to others
And yet to be entirely in each one.
If memory ever did with its arror
Pierce him, he fashioned with the intense
Metal of the weapon the rhythmical, slow
Alexandrine or the grieving dirge.
In his labors he was helped by mankind’s
Hope, which was the light of his life,
To create a line that is not to be forgotten
And to renew Castilian prose.
Beyond the Myo Cid with slow gait
And that flock of folk that strive to be obscure,
He tracked that fugitive literature
As far as the suburbs of the city slang.
In the five gardens of the Marino
He delayed, but he had something in him
Immortal, of the essence which preferred
Arduous studies and diviner duties.
To put it better, he preferred the gardens
Of meditation, where Porphyry
Reared before the shadows and delight
The Tree of the Beginning and the End.
Reyes, meticulous providence
That governs the prodigal and the thrifty
Gave some of us the sector or the arc,
But to you the whole circumference.
You sought the happy and the sad
That fame or frontispieces hide;
Like the God of Erigena you desired
To be no man so that you might be all.
Vast and delicate splendors
Your style attained, that manifest rose,
And turned that fighting blood of your forbears
Into cheerful blood to wage in God’s own wars.
Where (I ask) will the Mexican be?
Will he contemplate with Oedipus’ horror
Before the stranger Sphinx, the unmoving
Archetype of Visage and of Hand?
Or is he wandering, as Swedenborg says,
Through a world more vivid and complex
Than our earthly one, which is scarcely the reflex
Of that high, celestial something impenetrable?
If (as the empires of lacquer
And ebony teach) man’s memory shapes
Its own Eden within, there is now in glory
One Mexico more, another Cuernavaca.
God knows the colors that fate
Has in store for man beyond his day;
I walk these streets — and yet how little
Do I catch up with the meaning of death.
One thing alone I know. That Alfonso Reyes
(Wherever the sea has brought him safe ashore)
Will apply himself happy and watchful
To other enigmas and to other laws.
Let us honor with the palms and the shout
Of victory the peerless and unique;
No tears must shame the verse
Our love inscribes to his name.
[From Dreamtigers, by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Harold Morland]