History tells us how in that past time
When all things happened, real,
Imaginary, and dubious, a man
Conceived the unconscionable plan
Of making an abridgment of the universe
In a single book and with infinite zest
He towered his screed up, lofty and
Strenuous, polished it, spoke the final verse.
About to offer his thanks to fortune,
He lifted up his eyes and saw a burnished
Disc in the air and realized, stunned,
That somehow he had forgotten the moon.
The story I have told, although a tale,
Can represent the witching spell
So many of us use when at our craft
Of transmuting our life into words.
The essence is always lost. This is the one
Lay of every word about inspiration.
Nor will this summary of mine avoid it
About my long traffic with the moon.
Where I saw it first I could not tell,
If in an earlier heaven than the teaching
Of the Greek, or some evening when it was reaching
Over the patio fig tree and the well.
As we know, this life being mutable
Can be, among many things, so beautiful
Because it brings some afternoon, with her,
The chance to gaze at you, oh varying moon.
But more than moons of the night I can
Remember those in verse: like that enchanted
Dragon moon so horrible in the ballad,
And then Quevedo with his moon of blood.
Of another moon of blood and scarlet
John spoke in his book about the ferocious
Monsters and their revelries;
And other clear moons with a silver sheen.
Pythagoras (so tradition tells)
Wrote words of blood on a looking glass
That men could read with the naked eye
Reflected in that mirror in the sky.
And there’s the forest of iron where lurks
The enormous wolf whose destiny
Is to shatter the moon and do it to death
When the last dawn reddens the sea.
(Of this the prophetic North is aware
And how on that day the opened seas
Through all the world will be scoured by a ship
Fashioned of dead men’s nails.)
When in Geneva or Zurich fortune willed
That I should be a poet too,
I secretly assumed, as poets do,
The duty on me to define a moon.
Of faraway ivory, smoke, and the cold
Of snows were the moons that lit
My verses, which certainly were not fit
For the difficult honor of reaching print.
I thought of the poet as being that man
Who, like red Adam in Paradise,
Lays down for everything its precise
And exact and not-known name.
Ariosto taught me that in the shifting
Moon are the dreams, the ungraspable,
Time that is lost, the possible
Or the impossible, which are the same.
Apollodorus let me descry
The magical shade of triform Diana;
And Hugo gave me a golden sickle,
An Irishman, his tragic obscure moon.
And, while I sounded the depths of that mine
Of mythology’s moons, just here
At the turn of a corner I could see
The celestial moon of every day.
Among all words I knew there is one
With the power to record and re-present.
The secret, I see, is with humble intent
To use it simply. Moon.
Now I shall never dare to stain
Its pure appearing with a futile image;
I see it indecipherable and daily
And out of reach of my literature.
I know that the moon or the word moon
Is a letter that was created to share
In the complex scripture of that rare
Thing that we are, both manifold and one.
It is one of those symbols given to man
By fate or chance, which one day he
May use to write his own true name,
Uplifted in glory or in agony.
[From Dreamtigers, by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Harold Morland]