Borges in Another Métier
As ever in Borges, the fictive tiger is more real, more satisfying, than the tiger who paws the earth or curls, sleeping, in the folds of the cerebrum. The fiction flares, takes on memorable life, between the unspoken world and the unspoken mind.
The bulk of these poems appear in Alastair Reid's translations, and one can only be grateful to him for devoting his considerable poetic gifts to Borges (as he has, in years past, to Neruda and others). If anything, Reid seems to improve upon the Spanish. In the above passage, for instance, Borges writes about the third tiger becoming "un sistema de palabras/Humanas," or "a system of human words." Reid's phrase, "an arrangement of human language," interprets and extends what Borges has written in thrilling ways, faithful to the text yet substituting for the easy, more literal translation an equivalent that possesses a life itself as poetry in English.
In poem after poem of this period, Borges mixes desire and metaphysical speculations tinged with lamentations for "this dear world losing shape, fading away/into a pale uncertain ashy-gray/that feels like sleep, or else oblivion." In the beautiful "Rain," he reflects on the elusive nature of memory and time, using the literal phenomenon of rain as a springboard for larger musings: "Quite suddenly the evening clears at last/as now outside the soft small rain is falling./Falling or fallen." Soon memories of rain fetch recollections of lost time: "The evening's rain/brings me the voice, the dear voice of my father,/who comes back now, who never has been dead."
Although his finest poems appeared between 1955 and 1965, Borges returned again and again to the form, often finding that "modest and secret complexity" he longed for in poems such as "Things," "Fragments from an Apocryphal Gospel," "In Praise of Darkness," "The Gold of the Tigers" and "The Unending Rose." With remarkable consistency over a lifetime, the same themes and images sustained his attention, and one can hear the earliest Borges, with some adjustments, in the latest.
A fitting epilogue for his work, perhaps, can be found in "The Suicide," a fierce, eloquent poem in which the poet eerily reconsiders his legacy, which is no more (or less) than the legacy of his readers:
Not a single star will be left in the night.
The night will not be left.
I will die and, with me,
the weight of the intolerable universe.
I shall erase the pyramids, the medal lions,
the continents and faces.
I shall erase the accumulated past.
I shall make dust of history, dust of dust.
Now I am looking on the final sunset.
I am hearing the last bird.
I bequeath nothingness to no one.