Sunday, January 1, 2012

Borges, my last of '11, my first of '12. "Someone," a poem

It seems the right thing, to remember the last poem I read in 2011, and to make it my first in 2012. It's from one of my bedside collections the past few months, Poems of the Night, a selection from three of Borges' books.

"Someone" ("Alguien" in Spanish) is from A Gift of Blindness, 1958-1977.

Like someone, I live with "reasons more terrible than a tiger." Please note and admire how Jorge Luis Borges defines our crouched fears as impossibly muscular.

This morning I jimmied a flyer for an Occupy Language event that will be held on January 26, 5-7:30, at the Bowery Poetry Club, and in hunting for a quote looked no further than James Baldwin. Every legend, moreover, contains its residium of truth, and the root function of language is to control the universe by describing it.

" control..." the universe seems too colonial, but "describing it," is just the ticket, a ticket I buy. Borges describes.


A man worn down by time,
a man who does not even expect death
(the proofs of death are statistics
and everyone runs the risk
of being the first immortal),
a man who has learned to express thanks
for the days' modest alms:
sleep, routine, the taste of water,
an unsuspected etymology,
a Latin or Saxon verse,
the memory of a woman who left him
thirty years ago now
whom he can call to mind without bitterness,
a man who is aware that the present
is both future and oblivion,
a man who has betrayed
and has been betrayed,
may feel suddenly, when crossing the street,
a mysterious happiness
not coming from the side of hope
but from an ancient innocence,
from his own roots or from some diffused god.

He knows better than to look at it closely,
for there are reasons more terrible than tigers
which will prove to him
that wretchedness is his duty,
but he accepts humbly
this felicity, this glimmer.
Jorge Luis Borges, A Gift of Blindness, 1958-1977, in Poems of the Night, Penguin, 2010. (Many translators are listed.)

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