Ariosto and the Arabs :: J. L. Borges

No man can write a book. Because
Before a book can truly be
It needs the rise and set of the sun,
Centuries, arms, and the binding and sundering sea.

So Ariosto thought, who to the slow pleasure
Gave himself, in the leisure of the roads
With the shining statuary and black pines,
Of dreaming again on things already dreamed.

The air of his own Italy was dense
With dreams, which recalling and forgetting,
With shapes of war that through harsh centuries
Wearied the land, plaited and schemed.

A legion that lost itself in valleys
Of Aquitaine into ambush fell;
And thus was born that dream of a sword
And a horn that cried in Roncesvalles.

Over English orchards the brutal Saxon
Spread his armies and his idols
In a stubborn, clenching war; and of these things
A dream was left behind called Arthur.

From the northern islands, with the blind
Sun blurring the sea, there came
The dream of a virgin, waiting in sleep
For her lord, within a ring of flame.

From Persia to Parnassus — who knows where? —
That dream of an armed enchanter driving
A winged steed through the startled air
And suddenly into the western desert diving.

As if from this enchanter’s steed
Ariosto saw the kingdoms of the earth
All furrowed by war’s revelry
And by young love intent to prove his worth.

As if through a delicate golden mist
He saw a garden in the world that reached
Beyond its hedge into other intimacies
For Angelica’s and Medoro’s love.

Like the illusory splendors that in Hindustan
Opium leaves on the rim of sight,
The Furioso’s loves go shimmering by
In the kaleidoscope of his delight.

Neither of love nor irony unaware,
He dreamed like this, in a modest style,
Of a strange lone castle; and all things there
(As in this life) were the devil’s guile.

As to every poet what may chance —
Or fate allot as a private doom —
He traveled the roads of Ferrara
And, at the same time, walked the moon.

The dross of dreams that have no shape —
The mud that the Nile of sleep leaves by —
With the stuff of these for skein, he’d move
Through that gleaming labyrinth and escape;

Through this great diamond, in which a man
May lose himself by the hap of the game,
In the whereness of music drowsing,
Be beside himself in flesh and name.

Europe entire was lost. By the working
Of that ingenious and malicious art,
Milton could weep for Brandimarte’s
Death and Dolinda’s anguished heart.

Europe was lost. But other gifts were given
By that vast dream to fame’s true scions
That dwell in the deserts of the East,
And the night that was full of lions.

The delectable book that still enchants
Tells of a king who, at morning’s star,
Surrenders his queen of the night
Before the implacable scimitar.

Wings that are shaggy night, and cruel
Claws that an elephant grip,
Magnetic mountains that with loving
Embrace can shatter a ship,

The earth sustained by a bull, the bull
By a fish; abracadabras, and old
Talismans and mystic words
That in granite open caves of gold;

This the Saracen people dreamt
Who followed Agramente’s crest;
This the turban’d faces dreamed
And the dream now lords it over the West.

And Orlando is now a region that smiles,
A country of the mind for miles
Of wonders in abandoned dreams;
And not even finally smiles, but seems —

By the skill of Islam, brought so low
To fable merely and scholarship,
It stands alone, dreaming itself. (And glory
Is oblivion shaped into a story.)

Through the window, paling now, the quivering
Light of one more evening touches the book
And once again the gilding on the cover
Glows and once again it fades.

In the deserted room the silent
Book still journeys in time. And leaves
Behind it — dawns, night-watching hours,
My own life too, this quickening dream.

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

Androgué :: J. L. Borges

Let no fear be that in indecipherable night
I shall lose myself among the black flowers
Of the park, where the secret bird that sings
The same song over and over, the round pond,

And the summerhouse, and the indistinct
Statue and the hazardous ruin, weave
Their scheme of things propitious to the langour
Of afternoons and to nostalgic loves.

Hollow in the hollow shade, the coachhouse
Marks (I know) the tremulous confines
Of this world of dust and jasmine,
Pleasing to Verlaine, pleasing to Julio Herrera.

The eucalyptus trees bestow on the gloom
Their medicinal smell: that ancient smell
That, beyond all time and ambiguity
Of language, speaks of manorhouse time.

My footstep seeks and finds the hoped-for
Threshold. The flat roof there defines
Its darkened edge, and in measured time the tap
In the checkered patio slowly drips.

On the other side of the door they sleep,
Those who by means of dreams
In the visionary darkness are masters
Of the long yesterday and all things dead.

I know every single object of this old
Building: the flakes of mica
On that gray stone that doubles itself
Endlessly in the smudgy mirror

And the lion’s head that bites
A ring and the stained-glass windows
That reveal to a child wonders
Of a crimson world and another greener world.

For beyond all chance and death
They endure, each one with its history,
But all this is happening in that destiny
Of a fourth dimension, which is memory.

In that and there alone now still exist
The patios and the gardens. And the past
Holds them in that forbidden round
Embracing at one time vesper and dawn.

How could I lose that precise
Order of humble and beloved things,
As out of reach today as the roses
That Paradise gave to the first Adam?

The ancient amazement of the elegy
Loads me down when I think of that house
And I do not understand how time goes by,
I, who am time and blood and agony.

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

Ars Poetica :: J. L. 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 mankind’s days and of his years,
To transform the outrage 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 afternoons 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, by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Harold Morland]

Luke XXIII :: J. L. Borges

Gentile or Hebrew or simply a man
Whose face has now been lost in time;
From oblivion we shall not redeem
The silent letters of his name.

Of clemency he knew no more
Than a robber whom Judea nails
To a cross. The time that went before
We cannot reach. But in his final

Job of dying crucified,
He heard among the jibes of the crowd,
That the fellow dying at his side
Was a god, and so he said to him, blind:

“Remember me when you shall come
Into your kingdom,” and the inconceivable voice
That one day will be judge of all mankind
Made promise, from the terrible Cross,

Of Paradise. And they said nothign more
Until the end came, but the pride
Of history will not let die the memory
Of that afternoon when these two died.

O friends, the innocence of this friend
Of Jesus Christ, this candor which made him
Ask for his Paradise and gain it so,
Even in the shame of punishment,

Is the same that many a time has brought
The sinner to sin — as it chanced, to murder.

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

On Beginning the Study of Anglo-Saxon Grammar :: J. L. Borges

At fifty generations’ end
(And such abysses time affords us all)
I return to the further shore of a great river
That the vikings’ dragons did not reach,
To the harsh and arduous words
That, with a mouth now turned to dust,
I used in my Northumbrian, Mercian days
Before I became a Haslam or Borges.
On Saturday we read that Julius Caesar
Was the first man out of Romeburg to strip the
………………………………………………..veil from England;
Before the clusters swell again on the vine
I shall have heard the voice of the nightingale
With its enigma, and the elegy of the warrior twelve
That surround the tomb of their king.
Symbols of other symbols, variations
On the English or German future seem these words to me
That once on a time were images
A man made use of praising the sea or sword;
Tomorrow they will live again,
Tomorrow fyr will not be fire but that form
Of a tamed and changing  god
It has been given to none to see without an ancient dread.

Praised be the infinite
Mesh of effects and causes
Which, before it shews me the mirror
In which I shall see no-one or I shall see another,
Grants me now this contemplation pure
Of a language of the dawn.

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

Ode Composed in 1960 :: J. L. Borges

Sheer accident or the secret laws
That rule this dream, my destiny,
Will — O needed and sweet homeland
That not without glory and without shame embrace
A hundred and fifty arduous years —
That I, the drop, should speak with you, the river,
That I, the instant, speak with you, who are time,
And that the intimate dialogue resort,
As the custom is, to the rites and the dark hints
Beloved of the gods, and to the decorum of verse.

My country, I have sensed you in the tumbledown
Decadence of the widespread suburbs,
And in that thistledown that the pampas wind
Blows into the entrance hall, and in the patient rain,
And in the slow coursing of the stars,
And in the hand that tunes a guitar,
And in the gravitation of the plain
That, from however far, our blood feels
As the Briton feels the sea, and in the pious
Symbols and urns of a vault,
And in the gallant love of jasmine,
And in the silver of a picture-frame and the polished
Rubbing of the silent mahogany,
And in the flavors of meat and fruits,
And in a flag sort of blue and white
Over a barracks, and in unappetizing stories
Of street-corner knifings, and in the sameness
Of afternoons that are wiped out and leave us,
And in the vague pleased memory
Of patios with slaves bearing
The names of their masters, and in the poor
Leaves of certain books for the blind
That fire scattered, and in the fall
Of those epic rains in September
That nobody will forget — but these things
Are not wholly you yourself nor yet your symbols.

You are more than your wide territory
And more than the days of your unmeasured time,
You are more than the unimaginable sum
Of your children after you. We do not know
What you are for God in the living
Heart of the eternal archetypes,
But by this imperfectly glimpsed visage
We live and die and have our being —

O never-from-me and mystery-my-country.

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

In Memoriam : A. R. :: J. L. Borges

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]