The OF Blog: Borges Month: El otro, el mismo (1964), Para las seis cuerdas (1965)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Borges Month: El otro, el mismo (1964), Para las seis cuerdas (1965)

As I noted in my commentary on El Hacedor, by the time Jorge Luis Borges became almost-completely blind in the early 1960s, he had returned to publishing volumes of his poetry.  Unlike his first three poetry collections, each published in the 1920s, most of the poems in Borges' 1964 collection, El otro, el mismo had little to do with the city of Buenos Aires (his short 1965 release of tango lyrics, Para la seis cuerdas did touch more directly upon his beloved hometown).  Many of the themes in these poems are recognizable to those who are familiar with Ficciones, El Aleph, or El Hacedor, but there is something about the way that Borges puts these together in poetic form that transforms them into something else.  Take for instance the poem "The Golem", of which I'll excerpt the first three stanzas:

Si (como el griego afirma en el Cratilo)
el nombre es arquetipo de la cosa,
en las letras de rosa está la rosa
y todo el Nilo en la palabra Nilo.

Y, hecho de consonantes y vocales,
habrá un terrible Nombre, que la esencia
cifre de Dios y que la Omnipotencia
guarde en letras y sílabas cabales.

Adán y las estrellas lo supieron
en el jardín.  La herrumbre del pecado
(dicen los cabalistas) lo ha borrado
y las generaciones lo perdieron.

If (as the Greek affirms in the Cratylus)
the name is the archetype of the thing,
in the letters of "rose" is the rose
and all of the Nile in the word "Nile."

And, made of consonants and vowels,
there will be a terrible Name, which the essence
encodes of God and that the Omnipotent
guards in cabalical letters and syllables.

Adam and the stars knew it
in the Garden.  The rust of Sin
(the cabalists say) has erased it
and the generations have lost it.

This is part of a much longer poem, one that extends over three full pages in my omnibus edition of Borges' poetry.  But it, along with "El otro," "A quien ya no es joven," "Jonathan Edwards (1703-1785)", and "Una mañana de 1649" I have marked down for their references not just to issues of eternity, but also to the ancient Greeks, to American sermons of fire and brimstone, and to a very curious poem that touches upon the last day of King Charles I of England.  There is a more subdued tone to these poems when compared to those of Fervor de Buenos Aires, for example.  But with this comes a greater subtlety of thought and poetic thoughts that have lingered with me more during this last re-read, compared to the three prior volumes.  Although the milongas and tango lyrics presented in Para las seis cuerdas by themselves did not grab my attention, I did find myself wondering how they would have sounded like if they had been put to music and sung.

So, for those readers who have not tried Borges as a poet (not counting those prose poems and short poems found in El Hacedor, I would highly recommend El otro, el mismo as a place to start (I believe there may be an anthology of Borges' poetry that's been translated into English, but I am uncertain).  Many of the same themes as those which appear in his most famous works, but cast into poems that often compare well to their prose brethren.  Highly recommended.

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