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)

COMPASS — a poem by Jorge Luis Borges

Every single thing becomes a word
in a language that Someone or Something, night and day,
writes down in a never-ending scribble,
which is the hiostory of the world, embracing

Rome, Carthage, you, me, everyone,
my life, which I do not understand, this anguish
of being enigma, accident, and puzzle,
and all the discordant languages of Babel.

Behind each name lies that which has no name.
Today I felt its nameless shadow tremble
in the blue clarity of the compass needle,

whose rule extends as far as the far seas,
something like a clock glimpsed in a dream
or a bird that stirs suddenly in its sleep.

(Translated by Alastair Reid)

UNKNOWN STREET by Jorges Luis Borges

“The twilight of the dove”
the Hebrews called the fall of evening,
when darkness does not yet hinder our steps
and the oncoming night makes itself felt
like an old, longed-for music,
like a welcome downward path.
In that hour when the light has the fineness of sand,
I happened on a street unknown to me,
ample and broadly terraced,
whose walls and cornices
took on the pastel color of the sky
that nudged the horizon.
Everything — the drab houses,
the crude banisters, the doorknockers,
perhaps the hopes of a girl dreaming on a balcony —
all entered into my vain heart
with the clarity of tears.
Perhaps that moment of the silver evening
suffused the street with a tenderness,
making it as vivid as a verse
forgotten and now remembered.
Only later did I come to think
that the street of that afternoon was not mine,
that every house is a branching candlestick
where the lives of men burn
like single candles,
that each haphazard step we take
treads on Golgothas.

(Translated by Alexander Coleman)

Three wonderful poems by Jorge Luis Borges

Anticipation of Love

Neither the intimacy of your look, your brow fair as a feast day,
nor the favor of your body, still mysterious, reserved, and childlike,
nor what comes to me of your life, settling in words or silence,
will be so mysterious a gift
as the sight of your sleep, enfolded
in the vigil of my arms.
Virgin again, miraculously, by the absolving power of sleep,
quiet and luminous like some happy thing recovered by memory,
you will give me that shore of your life that you yourself do not own.
Cast up into silence
I shall discern that ultimate beach of your being
and see you for the first time, perhaps,
as God must see you —
the fiction of Time destroyed,
free from love, from me.

(Translated by Robert Fitzgerald)

Shinto

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 us,
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
travel secretly throughout the earth.
Those modest gods touch us–
touch us and move on.

(Translated by Hoyt Rogers)

Happiness

Whoever embraces a woman is Adam. The woman is Eve.
Everything happens for the first time.
I saw something white in the sky. They tell me it is the moon, but
what can I do with a word and a mythology.
Trees frighten me a little. They are so beautiful.
The calm animals come closer so that I may tell them their names.
The books in the library have no letters. They spring forth when I
open them.
Leafing through the atlas I project the shape of Sumatra.
Whoever lights a match in the dark is inventing fire.
Inside the mirror an Other waits in ambush.
Whoever looks at the ocean sees England.
Whoever utters a line of Liliencron has entered into battle.
I have dreamed Carthage and the legions that destroyed Carthage.
I have dreamed the sword and the scale.
Praised be the love wherein there is no possessor and no possessed,
but both surrender.
Praised be the nightmare, which reveals to us that we the power to
create hell.
Whoever goes down to a river goes down to the Ganges.
Whoever looks at an hourglass sees the dissolution of an empire.
Whoever plays with a dagger foretells the death of Caesar.
Whoever dreams is every human being.
In the desert I saw the young Sphinx, which has just been sculpted.
There is nothing else so ancient under the sun.
Everything happens for the first time, but in a way that is eternal.
Whoever reads my words is inventing them.

(Translated by Stephen Kessler)

Jorge Luis Borges