Two end of the year poems by Borges

One of the most beautiful moments of 2011 for me was the unbelievably fortuitous manner in which I stumbled upon Jorge Luis Borges’s poetry on the internet. I delve into the Penguin edition I now own every single day, and each time I feel more enriched and blessed. Though it is already 2012 in India and I should be talking about beginnings rather than endings, here are two beautiful end of the year poems by Borges for you to read. The first one is more obviously about the dying year, while the second talks of places we have never been to and those to which we may never return — this inevitably reminds one of the new year and the old.

Year’s End

Neither the symbolic detail
of a three instead of a two,
nor that rough metaphor
that hails one term dying and another emerging
nor the fulfillment of an astronomical process
muddle and undermine
the high plateau of this night
making us wait
for the twelve irreparable strokes of the bell.
The real cause
is our murky pervasive suspicion
of the enigma of Time,
it is our awe at the miracle
that, though the chances are infinite
and though we are
drops in Heraclitus’ river,
allows something in us to endure,
never moving.

(Translated by W.S. Merwin)

Limits

Of all the streets that blur in to 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 scale
for all the shadows, dreams, and forms
Woven into the texture of this life.

If there is a limit to all things and a measure
And a last time and nothing more and forgetfulness,
Who will tell us to whom in this house
We without knowing it have said farewell?

Through the dawning window night withdraws
And among the stacked books which throw
Irregular shadows on the dim table,
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 closed forever
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.

And the steadily flowing Rhone and the lake,
All that vast yesterday over which today I bend?
They will be as lost as Carthage,
Scourged by the Romans with fire and salt.

At dawn I seem to hear the turbulent
Murmur of crowds milling and fading away;
They are all I have been loved by, forgotten by;
Space, time, and Borges now are leaving me.

(Translated by Alastair Reid)

A poem…

‘A poem…begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion finds the thought and the thought finds the words.’

— Robert Frost

Robert Frost

In Lovers’ Lane

I know a place for loitering feet
Deep in the valley where the breeze
Makes melody in lichened boughs,
And murmurs low love-litanies.

There slender harebells nod and dream,
And pale wild roses offer up
The fragrance of their golden hearts,
As from some incense-brimméd cup.

It holds the sunshine sifted down
Softly through many a beechen screen,
Save where, by deeper woods embraced,
Cool shadows linger, dim and green.

And there my love and I may walk
And harken to the lapsing fall
Of unseen brooks and tender winds,
And wooing birds that sweetly call.

And every voice to her will say
What I repeat in dear refrain,
And eyes will meet with seeking eyes,
And hands will clasp in Lovers’ Lane.

Come, sweet-heart, then, and we will stray
Adown that valley, lingering long,
Until the rose is wet with dew,
And robins come to evensong,

And woo each other, borrowing speech
Of love from winds and brooks and birds,
Until our sundered thoughts are one
And hearts have no more need of words.

Lucy Maud Montgomery

 
I know a place for loitering feet
Deep in the valley where the breeze
Makes melody in lichened boughs,
And murmurs low love-litanies.

There slender harebells nod and dream,
And pale wild roses offer up
The fragrance of their golden hearts,
As from some incense-brimméd cup.

It holds the sunshine sifted down
Softly through many a beechen screen,
Save where, by deeper woods embraced,
Cool shadows linger, dim and green.

And there my love and I may walk
And harken to the lapsing fall
Of unseen brooks and tender winds,
And wooing birds that sweetly call.

And every voice to her will say
What I repeat in dear refrain,
And eyes will meet with seeking eyes,
And hands will clasp in Lovers’ Lane.

Come, sweet-heart, then, and we will stray
Adown that valley, lingering long,
Until the rose is wet with dew,
And robins come to evensong,

And woo each other, borrowing speech
Of love from winds and brooks and birds,
Until our sundered thoughts are one
And hearts have no more need of words.

Lucy Maud Montgomery

“Argument” by Elizabeth Bishop

Days that cannot bring you near
or will not,
Distance trying to appear
something more obstinate,
argue argue argue with me
endlessly
neither proving you less wanted nor less dear.

Distance: Remember all that land
beneath the plane;
that coastline
of dim beaches deep in sand
stretching indistinguishably
all the way,
all the way to where my reasons end?

Days: And think
of all those cluttered instruments,
one to a fact,
canceling each other’s experience;
how they were
like some hideous calendar
“Compliments of Never & Forever, Inc.”

The intimidating sound
of these voices
we must separately find
can and shall be vanquished:
Days and Distance disarrayed again
and gone
both for good and from the gentle battleground.

Elizabeth Bishop

 

“Tulips” by Sylvia Plath

The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses
And my history to the anaesthetist and my body to surgeons.

They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.

My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water
Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.
They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.
Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage —-
My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,
My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.

I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat
Stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.
They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations.
Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley
I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books
Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head.
I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.

I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free —-
The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them
Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.

The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
They are subtle: they seem to float, though they weigh me down,
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their colour,
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.

Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I hve no face, I have wanted to efface myself.
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.

Before they came the air was calm enough,
Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.
Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.
They concentrate my attention, that was happy
Playing and resting without committing itself.

The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health.

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds”

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

 

Adieu

Waving whispering trees,
What do you say to the breeze
And what says the breeze to you?
‘Mid passing souls ill at ease,
Moving murmuring trees,
Would ye ever wave an Adieu?

Tossing turbulent seas,
Winds that wrestle with these,
Echo heard in the shell,—
‘Mid fleeting life ill at ease,
Restless ravening seas,—
Would the echo sigh Farewell?

Surging sumptuous skies,
For ever a new surprise,
Clouds eternally new,—
Is every flake that flies,
Widening wandering skies,
For a sign—Farewell, Adieu?

Sinking suffering heart
That know’st how weary thou art,—
Soul so fain for a flight,—
Aye, spread your wings to depart,
Sad soul and sorrowing heart,—
Adieu, Farewell, Good-night.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti