When sorrow lays us low
for a second we are saved
by humble windfalls
of the mindfulness or memory:
the taste of a fruit, the taste of water,
that face given back
to us by a dream,
the first jasmine of November,
the endless yearning of the compass,
a book we thought was lost,
the throb of a hexameter,
the slight key that opens a house to
the smell of a library, or of sandalwood,
the former name of a street,
the colors of a map,
an unforeseen etymology,
the smoothness of a filed fingernail,
the date we were looking for,
the twelve dark bell-strokes, tolling
as we count,
a sudden physical pain.
Eight million Shinto deities
throughout the earth.
Those modest gods touch us--
touch us and move on.
A tiger comes to mind. The twilight here
the vast and busy Library
And seems to set the bookshelves back in gloom;
Innocent, ruthless, bloodstained, sleek
It wanders through its
forest and its day
Printing a track along the muddy banks
Of sluggish streams whose names it does not know
(In its world
there are no names or past
Or time to come, only the vivid now)
And makes its way across wild distances
Sniffing the braided labyrinth
And in the wind picking the smell of dawn
And tantalizing scent of grazing deer;
Among the bamboo's slanting stripes I glimpse
The tiger's stripes and sense the bony frame
Under the splendid, quivering cover of skin.
Curving oceans and the planet's wastes
Apart in vain; from here in a house far off
In South America I dream of you,
Track you, O tiger of the Ganges' banks.
It strikes me now as evening fills my soul
That the tiger addressed in my poem
Is a shadowy beast, a tiger
And scraps picked up at random out of books,
A string of labored tropes that have no life,
And not the fated tiger,
the deadly jewel
That under sun or stars or changing moon
Goes on in Bengal or Sumatra fulfilling
Its rounds of love and
indolence and death.
To the tiger of symbols I hold opposed
The one that's real, the one whose blood runs hot
As it cuts down
a herd of buffaloes,
And that today, this August third, nineteen
Fifty-nine, throws its shadow on the grass;
But by the act of giving
it a name,
By trying to fix the limits of its world,
It becomes a fiction not a living beast,
Not a tiger out roaming the wilds of earth.
We'll hunt for a third tiger now, but like
The others this one too will be a form
I dream, a structure of words, and not
The flesh and one tiger that beyond all myths
Paces the earth. I know these things quite well,
Yet nonetheless some force keeps driving me
In this vague, unreasonable, and ancient
And I go on pursuing through the hours
Another tiger, the beast not found in verse.
Adam Cast Forth
Was there a Garden or was the Garden
Amid the fleeting light, I have slowed myself and queried,
Almost for consolation, if the bygone period
Over which this Adam,
wretched now, once reigned supreme,
not have been just a magical illusion
Of that God I dreamed. Already it's imprecise
In my memory, the clear Paradise,
But I know
it exists, in flower and profusion,
not for me. My punishment for life
Is the stubborn earth with the incestuous strife
Of Cains and Abels and their brood; I await no pardon.
Yet, it's much to have loved, to have known true joy,
To have had -- if only for just one day --
The experience of touching
the living Garden.
Decides To Be a Poet
In these red labyrinths of London
that I have chosen
the strangest of all callings,
save that, in its way, any calling is strange.
Like the alchemist
who sought the philosopher's stone
I shall make everyday words--
the gambler's marked cards, the common
give off the magic that was their
Thor was both the god and the din,
the thunderclap and the prayer.
In today's dialect
I shall say, in my fashion, eternal things:
I shall try to be worthy
of the great echo
This dust that I am will be invulnerable.
If a woman shares my love
my verse will touch the tenth sphere of the concentric
if a woman turns my love aside
will make of my sadness a music,
a full river to resound through time.
I shall live by forgetting myself.
I shall be the face I glimpse
I shall be Judas who takes on
the divine mission of being a betrayer,
I shall be Caliban in his bog,
I shall be a mercenary who dies
without fear and without faith,
I shall be Polycrates, who looks in awe
the seal returned by fate.
I will be the friend who hates me.
The persian will give me the nightingale, and Rome the sword.
will weave and unweave my life,
and in time I shall be Robert Browning.
To a Cat
Mirrors are not more silent
nor the creeping dawn more secretive;
in the moonlight, you are
we catch sight of from afar.
By the inexplicable workings of a divine law,
we look for you in vain;
More remote, even, than the Ganges or the setting sun,
the solitude, yours the secret.
Your haunch allows the lingering
caress of my hand. You have accepted,
since that long forgotten
the love of the distrustful hand.
belong to another time. You are lord
of a place bounded like a dream.
Oh destiny of Borges
have sailed across the diverse seas of the world
or across that single and solitary
sea of diverse names,
to have been a part of Edinburgh, of Zurich, of the two Cordobas,
of Colombia and of Texas,
to have returned
at the end of changing generations
to the ancient lands of his forebears,
to Andalucia, to Portugal and to those counties
where the Saxon
warred with the Dane and they mixed their blood,
to have wandered through the red
and tranquil labyrinth of London,
to have grown old in so many mirrors,
to have sought in vain the marble gaze of the statues,
questioned lithographs, encyclopedias, atlases,
to have seen the things that men
death, the sluggish dawn, the plains,
and the delicate stars,
and to have seen nothing, or almost nothing
except the face of a girl from Buenos Aires
a face that does not
want you to remember it.
Oh destiny of Borges,
perhaps no stranger than your own.
days devoted to the useless burden
of putting out of mind the biography
of a minor poet of the Southem Hemisphere,
to whom the fates or perhaps the stars have given
a body which will leave behind
and blindness, which is semi-darkness and jail,
and old age, which is the dawn of death,
and fame, which absolutely
and the practice of weaving hendecasyllables,
and an old love of encyclopedias
and fine handmade maps and smooth
and an incurable nostalgia for the Latin,
and bits of memories of Edinburgh and Geneva
and the loss
of memory of names and dates,
and the cult of the East, which the varied peoples
of the teeming East do not themselves share,
and evening trembling with hope or expectation,
and the disease of entymology,
and the iron of Anglo-Saxon syllables,
and the moon, that always catches us by surprise,
and that worse of all bad
habits, Buenos Aires,
and the subtle flavor of water, the taste of grapes,
and chocolate, oh Mexican delicacy,
a few coins and an old hourglass,
and that an evening, like so many others,
be given over to these lines of verse.
Remorse For Any Death
Free of memory and of hope,
limitless, abstract, almost future,
the dead man is not a dead man: he is death.
Like the God of the mystics,
of Whom anything that could be said must be
the dead one, alien everywhere,
but the ruin and absence of the world.
We rob him of everything,
we leave him not so much as a color or syllable:
courtyard which his eyes no longer see,
there, the sidewalk where his hope
lay in wait.
Even what we are thinking,
could be thinking;
we have divvied up like thieves
the booty of nights and days.
With lingering love she
gazed at the dispersed
Colors of dusk. It pleased her utterly
To lose herself in the complex melody
in the cunous life to be found in verse.
lt was not the primal red but rather
That spun the fine thread of her destiny,
For the nicest distinctions and all spent
In waverings, ambiguities,
Lacking the nerve to tread this treacherous
Labyrinth, she looked in on, whom without,
The shapes, the
turbulence, the striving rout,
(Like the other lady of the looking glass.)
The gods that dwell too far away for prayer
Abandoned her to the final tiger, Fire.
The Blind Man
He is divested of the diverse world,
of faces, which still stay
as once they were,
of the adjoining streets, now far away,
and of the concave sky, once infinite.
Of books, he keeps
no more than what is left him
by memory, that brother of forgetting,
which keeps the formula but not the feeling
and which reflects no more than tag and name.
Traps lie in wait for me. My
might be a fall. I am a prisoner
shuffling through a time which feels like dream,
taking no note
of mornings or of sunsets.
It is night. I am alone. In verse like this,
I must create my insipid universe.
Since I was born, in 1899,
beside the concave vine and the deep cistern,
frittering time, so brief in
kept taking from me all my eye-shaped world.
Both days and nights would wear away the profiles
letters and of well-loved faces.
My wasted eyes would ask their useless questions
of pointless libraries and lecterns.
and vermilion both are now a fog,
both useless sounds. The mirror I look into
is grey. I breathe a rose across the garden,
a wistful rose, my friends, out of the twilight.
Only the shades of yellow
stay with me
and I can see only to look on nightmares.
Of all the streets that blur into the sunset,
There must be one (which, I am not sure)
That I by now have walked
for the last time
Without guessing it, the pawn of that Someone
Who fixes in advance omnipotent laws,
Sets up a secret and unwavering
for all the shadows, dreams, and forms
Woven into the texture of this life.
If there is a limit to all things and
And a last time and nothing more and forgetfulness,
Who will tell us to whom in this house
We without knowing it have
Through the dawning window night withdraws
And among the stacked books which throw
Irregular shadows on the
There must be one which I will never read.
There is in the South more than one worn gate,
With its cement
urns and planted cactus,
Which is already forbidden to my entry,
Inaccessible, as in a lithograph.
There is a door you have
And some mirror is expecting you in vain;
To you the crossroads seem wide open,
Yet watching you, four-faced,
is a Janus.
There is among all your memories one
Which has now been lost beyond recall.
You will not be seen going down
to that fountain
Neither by white sun nor by yellow moon.
You will never recapture what the Persian
Said in his language
woven with birds and roses,
When, in the sunset, before the light disperses,
You wish to give words to unforgettable things.
steadily flowing Rhone and the lake,
All that vast yesterday over which today I bend?
They will be as lost as Carthage,
by the Romans with fire and salt.
At dawn I seem to hear the turbulent
Murmur of crowds milling and fading away;
are all I have been loved by, forgotten by;
Space, time, and Borges now are leaving