Jorge Luis Borges



From "The Library of Babel"


The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps an infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with enormous ventilation shafts in the middle, encircled by very low railings. From any hexagon the upper or lower stories are visible, interminably. The distribution of the galleries is invariable. Twenty shelves--five long shelves per side--cover all sides except two; their height, which is that of each floor, scarcely exceeds that of an average librarian. One of the free sides gives upon a narrow entrance way, which leads to another gallery, identical to the first and to all the otehrs, To the left and to the right of the entrnce way are two miniature rooms. One allows standing room for leeping; the other, the satisfaction of fecal necessities. Through this section passes the spiral staircase, which plunges down into the abyss and rises up to the heights. In the entrance way hangs a mirror, which faithfully duplicates appearances. People are in the habit of inferring from this mirror that the Library is not infinite (if it really were, why this illusory duplication?); I prefer to dream that the polished surfaces feign and promise infinity. . . .


Light comes from spherical fruits called by the name of lamps. There are two, running transversally, in each hexagon. The light they emit is insufficient, incessant.


Like all men of the Library, I have traveled in my youth. I have journeyed in search of a book, perhaps of the catalogue of catalogues; now that my eyes can scarcely decipher what I write, I am preparing to die a few leagues from the hexagon in which I was born. Once dead, there will not lack pious hands to hurl me over the banister; my sepulchre shall be the unfathomable air: my body will sink lengthily and will corrupt and dissolve in the wind engendered by the fall, which is infinite. I affirm that the Library is interminable. the idealists argue that the hexagonal halls are a necessary form of absolute space or, at least, of our intuition of space. they contend that a triangular or pentagonal hall is inconceivable. (The mystics claim that to them ecstasy reveals a round chamber circling the walls of the room; but their testimony is suspect; their words, obscure. That cyclical book is God.) Let it suffice me, for the time being, to repeat the classic dictum: The Library is a sphere whose consummate center is any hexagon, and whose circumference is inacessible.



From “Funes the Memorious”:


We, at a stroke, perceive three cups lying on a table; Funes would see all the shoots and clusters and fruit comprised by a vine. He knew the shapes of the southern clouds at dawn on April 30, 1882, and could compare them in his memory with the streaks on a book of Spanish cover that he had seen only once and with the swirls on the foam raised by an oar in the Río Negro on the eve of the battle of the Quebracho.



From “Aleph”


“A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.”


“On the back part of the step, toward the right, I saw a small iridescent sphere of almost unbearable brilliance. At first I thought it was revolving; then I realised that this movement was an illusion created by the dizzying world it bounded. The Aleph's diameter was probably little more than an inch, but all space was there, actual and undiminished. Each thing (a mirror's face, let us say) was infinite things, since I distinctly saw it from every angle of the universe. I saw the teeming sea; I saw daybreak and nightfall; I saw the multitudes of America; I saw a silvery cobweb in the center of a black pyramid; I saw a splintered labyrinth (it was London); I saw, close up, unending eyes watching themselves in me as in a mirror; I saw all the mirrors on earth and none of them reflected me; I saw in a backyard of Soler Street the same tiles that thirty years before I'd seen in the entrance of a house in Fray Bentos; I saw bunches of grapes, snow, tobacco, lodes of metal, steam; I saw convex equatorial deserts and each one of their grains of sand; I saw a woman in Inverness whom I shall never forget; I saw her tangled hair, her tall figure, I saw the cancer in her breast; I saw a ring of baked mud in a sidewalk, where before there had been a tree; I saw a summer house in Adrogué and a copy of the first English translation of Pliny -- Philemon Holland's -- and all at the same time saw each letter on each page (as a boy, I used to marvel that the letters in a closed book did not get scrambled and lost overnight); I saw a sunset in Querétaro that seemed to reflect the colour of a rose in Bengal; I saw my empty bedroom; I saw in a closet in Alkmaar a terrestrial globe between two mirrors that multiplied it endlessly; I saw horses with flowing manes on a shore of the Caspian Sea at dawn; I saw the delicate bone structure of a hand; I saw the survivors of a battle sending out picture postcards; I saw in a showcase in Mirzapur a pack of Spanish playing cards; I saw the slanting shadows of ferns on a greenhouse floor; I saw tigers, pistons, bison, tides, and armies; I saw all the ants on the planet; I saw a Persian astrolabe; I saw in the drawer of a writing table (and the handwriting made me tremble) unbelievable, obscene, detailed letters, which Beatriz had written to Carlos Argentino; I saw a monument I worshipped in the Chacarita cemetery; I saw the rotted dust and bones that had once deliciously been Beatriz Viterbo; I saw the circulation of my own dark blood; I saw the coupling of love and the modification of death; I saw the Aleph from every point and angle, and in the Aleph I saw the earth and in the earth the Aleph and in the Aleph the earth; I saw my own face and my own bowels; I saw your face; and I felt dizzy and wept, for my eyes had seen that secret and conjectured object whose name is common to all men but which no man has looked upon -- the unimaginable universe.

I felt infinite wonder, infinite pity.”

To the One Who is Reading Me

You are invulnerable. Didn't they deliver
(those forces that control your destiny)
the certainty of dust? Couldn't it be
your irreversible time is that river
in whose bright mirror Heraclitus read
his brevity? A marble slab is saved
for you, one you won't read, already graved
with city, epitaph, dates of the dead.
And other men are also dreams of time,
not hardened bronze, purified gold. They're dust
like you; the universe is Proteus.
Shadow, you'll travel to what waits ahead,
the fatal shadow waiting at the rim.
Know this: in some way you're already dead.


Of these streets that deepen the sunset,
There must be one (but which) that I've walked
Already one last time, indifferently
And without knowing it, submitting

To One who sets up omnipotent laws
And a secret and a rigid measure
For the shadows, the dreams, and forms
That work the warp and weft of this life.

If all things have a limit and a value
A last time nothing more and oblivion
Who can say to whom in this house
Unknowingly, we have said goodbye?

Already through the grey glass night ebbs
And among the stack of books that throws
A broken shadow on the unlit table,
There must be one I will never read.

In the South there's more than one worn gate
With its masonry urns and prickly pear
Where my entrance is forbidden
As it were within a lithograph.

Forever there's a door you have closed,
And a mirror that waits for you in vain;
The crossroad seems wide open to you
And there a four-faced Janus watches.

There is, amongst your memories, one
That has now been lost irreparably;
You'll not be seen to visit that well
Under white sun or yellow moon.

Your voice cannot recapture what the Persian
Sang in his tongue of birds and roses,
When at sunset, as the light disperses,
You long to speak imperishable things.

And the incessant Rhone and the lake,
All that yesterday on which today I lean?
They will be as lost as that Carthage
The Romans erased with fire and salt.

At dawn I seem to hear a turbulent
Murmur of multitudes who slip away;
All who have loved me and forgotten;
Space, time and Borges now leaving me.

On His Blindness
In the fullness of the years, like it or not,
a luminous mist surrounds me, unvarying,
that breaks things down into a single thing,
colourless, formless. Almost into thought.
The elemental, vast night and the day
teeming with people have become the fog
of constant, tentative light that does not flag,
and lies in wait at dawn. I longed to see
just once a human face. Unknown to me
the closed encyclopaedia, the sweet play
in volumes I can do no more than hold,
the tiny soaring birds, the moons of gold.
Others have the world, for better or worse;
I have this half-dark, and the toil of verse.

Remorse For Any Death

Free of memory and of hope,
limitless, abstract, almost future,
the dead man is not a dead man: he is death.
Like the God of the mystics,
of Whom anything that could be said must be denied,
the dead one, alien everywhere,
is but the ruin and absence of the world.
We rob him of everything,
we leave him not so much as a color or syllable:
here, the courtyard which his eyes no longer see,
there, the sidewalk where his hope lay in wait.
Even what we are thinking,
he could be thinking;

we have divvied up like thieves
the booty of nights and days.

History Of The Night

Throughout the course of the generations
men constructed the night.
At first she was blindness;
thorns raking bare feet,
fear of wolves.
We shall never know who forged the word
for the interval of shadow
dividing the two twilights;
we shall never know in what age it came to mean
the starry hours.
Others created the myth.
They made her the mother of the unruffled Fates
that spin our destiny,
they sacrificed black ewes to her, and the cock
who crows his own death.
The Chaldeans assigned to her twelve houses;
to Zeno, infinite words.
She took shape from Latin hexameters
and the terror of Pascal.
Luis de Leon saw in her the homeland
of his stricken soul.
Now we feel her to be inexhaustible
like an ancient wine
and no one can gaze on her without vertigo
and time has charged her with eternity.

And to think that she wouldn't exist
except for those fragile instruments, the eyes.


Oh destiny of Borges
to have sailed across the diverse seas of the world
or across that single and solitary sea of diverse
to have been a part of Edinburgh, of Zurich, of the
two Cordobas,
of Colombia and of Texas,
to have returned at the end of changing generations
to the ancient lands of his forebears,
to Andalucia, to Portugal and to those counties
where the Saxon warred with the Dane and they
mixed their blood,
to have wandered through the red and tranquil
labyrinth of London,
to have grown old in so many mirrors,
to have sought in vain the marble gaze of the statues,
to have questioned lithographs, encyclopedias,
to have seen the things that men see,
death, the sluggish dawn, the plains,
and the delicate stars,
and to have seen nothing, or almost nothing
except the face of a girl from Buenos Aires
a face that does not want you to remember it.
Oh destiny of Borges,
perhaps no stranger than your own.

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