The Moon :: J. L. Borges

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]

Mirrors :: J. L. Borges

I, who felt the horrors of mirrors
Not only in front of the impenetrable crystal
Where there ends and begins, uninhabitable,
An impossible space of reflections,

But of gazing even on water that mimics
The other blue in its depth of sky,
That at times gleams back the illusory flight
Of the inverted bird, or that ripples,

And in front of the silent surface
Of subtle ebony whose polish shows
Like a repeating dream the white
Of something marble or something rose,

Today at the tip of so many and perplexing
Wandering years under the varying moon,
I ask myself what whim of fate
Made me so fearful of a glancing mirror.

Mirrors in metal, and the masked
Mirror of mahogany that in its mist
Of a red twilight hazes
The face that is gazed on as it gazes,

I see them as infinite, elemental
Executors of an ancient pact,
To multiply the world like the act
Of begetting. Sleepless. Bringing doom.

They prolong this hollow, unstable world
In their dizzying spider’s-web;
Sometimes in the afternoon they are blurred
By the breath of a man who is not dead.

The crystal spies on us. If within the four
Walls of a bedroom a mirror stares,
I’m no longer alone. There is someone there.
In the dawn reflections mutely stage a show.

Everything happens and nothing is recorded
In these rooms of the looking glass,
Where, magicked into rabbis, we
Now read the books from right to left.

Claudius, king of an afternoon, a dreaming king,
Did not feel it a dream until that day
When an actor shewed the world his crime
In a tableau, silently in mime.

It is a strange dream, and to have mirrors
Where the commonplace, worn-out repertory
Of every day may include the illusory
Profound globe that reflections scheme.

God (I keep thinking) has taken pains
To design that ungraspable architecture
Reared by every dawn from the gleam
Of a mirror, by darkness from a dream.

God has created nighttime, which he arms
With dreams, and mirrors, to make clear
To man he is a reflection and a mere
Vanity. Therefore these alarms.

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

Nineteen Hundred and Twenty-Odd :: J. L. Borges

The wheeling of the stars is not infinite
And the tiger is one of the forms that return,
But we, remote from chance of hazard,
Believed we were exiled in a time outworn,
Time when nothing can happen.
The universe, the tragic universe, was not here
And maybe should be looked for somewhere else;
I hatched a humble mythology of fencing
walls and knives
And Ricardo thought of his drovers.

We did not know that time to come held a lightning bolt;
We did not forsee the shame, the fire, and the fearful
night of the Alliance;
Nothing told us that Argentine history would be thrust
out to walk the streets,
History, indignation, love,
The multitudes like the sea, the name of Córdoba,
The flavor of the real and the incredible, the
horror and the glory.

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

To Luís de Camoëns :: J. L. Borges

Without lament or anger time will nick
The most heroic swords. Poor and in sorrow,
You came home to a land turned from tomorrow,
O captain, came to die within her, sick,
And with her. In the magic desert-wastes
The flower of Portugal was lost and died,
And the harsh Spaniard, hitherto subdued,
Was menacing her naked, open coasts.
I wish I knew if on this hither side
Of the ultimate shore you humbly understood
That all that was lost, the Western Hemisphere
And the Orient, the steel and banner dear,
Would still live on (from human change set free)
In your epic Lusiados timelessly.

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

The Borges :: J. L. Borges

I know little — or nothing — of my own forebears;
The Borges back in Portugal; vague folk
That in my flesh, obscurely, still evoke
Their customs, and their firmnesses and fears.
As slight as if they’d never lived in the sun
And free from any trafficking with art,
They form an indecipherable part
Of time, of earth, and of oblivion.
And better so. For now, their labors past,
They’re Portugal, they are that famous race
Who forced the shining ramparts of the East,
And launched on seas, and seas of sand as wide.
The king they are in mystic desert place,
Once lost; they’re one who swears he has not died.

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

Referring to the Death of Colonel Francisco Borges (1835-1874) :: J. L. Borges

I leave him on his horse, and in the gray
And twilit hour he fixed with death for a meeting;
Of all the hours that shaped his human day
May this last long, though bitter and defeating.
The whiteness of his horse and poncho over
The plain advances. Setting sights again
To the hollow rifles death lies under cover.
Francisco Borges sadly crosses the plain.
This that encircled him, the rifles’ rattle,
This that he saw, the pampa without bounds,
Had been his life, his sum of sights and sounds.
His every-dailiness is here and in the battle.
I leave him lofty in his epic universe
Almost as if not tolled for by my verse.

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

Referring to a Ghost of Eighteen Hundred and Ninety-Odd :: J. L. Borges

Nothing. Only Muraña’s knife.
Only in the gray afternoon the story cut short.
I don’t know why in the afternoons I’m companioned
By this assassin that I’ve never seen.
Palermo was further down. The yellow
Thick wall of the jail dominated
Suburb and mud flat. Through this savage
District went the sordid knife.
The knife. The face has been smudged out
And of that hired fellow whose austere
Craft was courage, nothing remained
But a ghost and a gleam of steel.
May time, that sullies marble statues,
Salvage this staunch name: Juan Muraña.

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