Magazine article New Criterion

Three Late Poems by Jorge Luis Borges

Magazine article New Criterion

Three Late Poems by Jorge Luis Borges

Article excerpt

During a particularly awkward interview, Jorge Luis Borges was asked whether he considered himself to be more a "writer" than a "poet." Responding with his accustomed self-deprecating humility, Borges answered by saying that "I am a poet, absolutely. I don't think that I am anything but a poet. I may be a clumsy poet, but I do hope that I am a poet." These declarations might surprise most Anglophone readers of this elusive artist who identify him with the famous essays and short stories. Besides, the English translation of Borges's Selected Poems (1972) has been long out of print. This spring, Viking will publish a more generous selection in a bilingual edition, from which the following translations are taken.

Borges was right. The distinction between "writer" and "poet" makes no sense when applied to him. All of Borges's work --from the short stories and essays to the parables and verse--are stunning examples of the unleashed poetic imagination. Moreover, we should recall that the first three books he published in Buenos Aires during the Twenties were indeed books of verse. He published his first poem in 1919, the "Hymn to the Sea." It begins "O sea! O myth! O wide resting place!" Not much needs to be said about this adolescent effusion except that it is written in the shadow of his then idol Walt Whitman. Borges didn't want to imitate Walt Whitman; he wanted to be Walt Whitman, just as his future character Pierre Menard wanted to be Cervantes and write the Quixote again for the twentieth century. …

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