Tuesday, January 3, 2012

History of the Night. Borges. I change "men" to "women"

Truth is, I'm in a fallow period. Fallow, like a field in the Bible awaiting a parable to make me spring me to life. I'm counting on Borges, fate, luck, the odds, to change my tide, or to release me from laziness.

One jumpstart is my appropriation and probably misappropriation of this poem. I read it four or five times today, and in each reading made an agreement with Borges that "men" was inclusive, a trope of language, of its time. And then as I copied it out, I was not happy.  

I thought, no, Sarah, look for a poem by a woman.  And I might have, except for the fact that this is a beautiful, haunting, terrifying, specific delineation.  So I just changed the word "men" to the word "women" both times it's used. Borges is larger than that. Equally true is that none of us are larger. Most true:  "History of the Night" is remarkable and you must read it.  The night, the dark, fear, blindness, ancient braveries, masteries, the heavens in their velvet revolving.

By the way.  Luis de León was a Sixteenth Century Spanish priest. He was a guest of the Inquisition not once but twice, translator (Song of Songs), academic and poet.     

History of the Night

Down through the generations
women built the night.
In the beginning it was blindness and sleep
and thorns that tear the naked foot
and fear of wolves.
We shall never know who forged the word
for the interval of shadow
which divides the two twilights;
we shall never know in what century it stood as a cipher
for the space between the stars.
Other women engendered the myth.
They made it the mother of the tranquil Fates
who weave destiny,
and sacrificed black sheep to it
and the cock which presages its end.
The Chaldeans gave it twelve houses;
infinite worlds, the Gateway.
Latin hexameters gave it form
and the terror of Pascal.
Luis de León saw it in the fatherland
of his shuddering soul.
Now we feel it to be inexhaustible
like an ancient wine
and no one can contemplate it without vertigo
and time has charged it with eternity.

And to think it would not exist
but for those tenuous instruments, the eyes.

Jorge Luis Borges, tr. Charles Tomlinson. Waiting for the Night, 1978-1985, in Poems of the Night, Penguin, 2010.

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