Complete Poetry by Jorge Luis Borges (part II) (♦♦♦♦♦)


Para las Seis Cuerdas [For the Six Chords (of a guitar)] (1965)

In For the Six Chords, Borges dedicates milongas (rhymed poems that can be accompanied by a guitar) to outlaws who became famous around 1890. In these milongas the themes are the knife fights and death.

Among these my favorite poem is Milonga de Manuel Flores.


Elogio de la Sombra (Praise to the Shadow) (1969)

Borges expresses in the prologue to Praise to the Shadow, “to mirrors, labyrinths and swords that my resigned reader already anticipates, two new themes have been added [to this collection]: growing old and ethics.” He also adds that “in these pages coexist, I believe without discordance, the forms of prose and verse.” Those two quotes describe, without doubt, the content of this collection of poems.

In its prologue, Borges also writes “I longed at some point for the vast respiration of the psalms or of Whitman; with the years I find out, not without melancholy, that I have limited myself to alternate some classic verses: the alexandrine, endecasyllabic, and heptasyllabic.”

Borges starts this collection of poetry with Juan I, 14 (John I,14) (an enumeration of the things that were part of Jesus’ life)—an example of prose and ethics he talked about in the prologue. Heráclito is also an example of prose in verse, and so are Cambridge, The unending gift and Mayo 20, 1928. In A cierta sombra, 1940 (To a certain shadow, 1940), Borges alludes to the threat of war looming over England from Germany and Italy during WWII.

James Joyce, Rubaiyat, Acevedo, and New England, 1967 are examples of rhymed poems in this collection. In New England, 1967 Borges alludes to his nostalgia about being away from Buenos Aires when he writes “Buenos Aires, I’m still walking round your corners without knowing why or when.” In Ricardo Güiraldes and El laberinto (The Labyrinth), also examples of rhymed verses, death is the underlying theme. In Laberinto (Labyrinth) the theme is destiny. In Las Cosas (The Things), one of his most famous poems, Borges talks about how constant the things we surround ourselves of are; in it Borges expresses: “They will last beyond our oblivion; they’ll never know that we are gone.”

There are other poems that are variations of a theme such as Junio, 1968 (June, 1968), El guardián de los libros (The guardian of the books) y Un lector (A reader), in which Borges expresses his love of books; Israel, 1969 and A Israel (To Israel) are songs to the land of Israel, while Israel expresses what it means to be a Jew.

This collection concludes with Elogio de la Sombra (Praise to the Shadow), in which Borges talks about him growing old and the shadows (because he is partially blind) in which he senses a street of his adored Buenos Aires, a friendly face, a woman he loved, books and its stories.

In this collection my favorite poem is Las Cosas (The Things).


El Oro de los Tigres (The Gold of the Tigers) (1972)

In the prologue of The Gold of the Tigers, Borges expresses “[I] opted for accepting […] the miscellaneous themes that were offered to my writing routine. The parable succeeds to confidence, free verse to the sonnet.” He adds that “to a true poet, every moment of life, every act, should be poetic, because it is inherently so…”

As Borges expresses, this collection of poems is varied in themes and mostly written in free verses. The compilation opens with Tamerlán (1336-1405) [Tamerlane (1336-1405)], which describes the Mongol-Turkish warrior of the same name, who proclaimed himself “Sword of Islam”—as many of the subjects Borges writes on, I had to consult Wikipedia. A stanza of Tamerlane (1336-1405) says this:

[…] When I was born, from firmament
a sword with talismanic signs fell;
I am, I shall always be, that sword.
I have defeated the Greek and the Egyptian,
I have devastated the indefatigable
Russian steppes with my rough Tatars…

After Tamerlán (1336-1405) [Tamerlane (1336-1405)], the poem that follows is El pasado (The past), which can be considered a variation of the theme in Tamerlane since in The past, among other things, Borges talks about the swords and warriors that have founded empires. Borges ends the poem expressing:

The illusory yesterday is an enclosure,
of immobile wax figures
or of literary reminiscences
that time shall lose in its mirrors…

As usual, Borges dedicates poems to famous writers, one is titled Al primer poeta de Hungría (To the first poet of Hungary), describing the things he and that poet have in common, and another dedicated to Keats, titled A John Keats (1795-1821) [To John Keats (1795-1821)].

To John Keats (1795-1821) is one of the few rhymed poems in this collection, along with El gaucho, On his blindness, and Lo perdido (The lost thing). In the last two, just as in Susana Bombal, J.M., and El amenazado (The threatened), the theme is love, a topic Borges has avoided until now in his poetry.

In La busca (The search), Borges alludes to his search for his ancestors in the ordinary things; in 1971 he writes about the American astronauts who stepped on the moon. El gaucho tells about the fight for survival of his compatriots. El mar (The Sea) describes the sea, which is witness to combats and the making of myths.

El advenimiento (The advent) is one of the descriptive poems in this compilation; it paints a scene in which a caveman sees for the first time at dawn a stampede of bisons and then paints the images on the cave’s walls. The other descriptive poem is La tentación (The temptation), which tells the story of how Argentinean tyrant Rosas gave the order to kill the general Juan Facundo Quiroga, who never believed there was a man alive who could summon enough courage to kill him—this story was immortalized in the novel Facundo by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, which is on my TBR list. Other two descriptive poems are 1891 and 1929.

As he did in El Otro, El Mismo (The Other, The Same), Borges writes again about England’s Nordic heritage in Hengist quiere hombres (Hengist needs men), and to the Iceland of the Vikings he writes in A Islandia (To Iceland).

This collection concludes with poems inspired on animals, such is the case with A un gato (To a cat), Al coyote (To a coyote), and El Oro de los Tigres (The Gold of the Tigers), which gives title to this compilation.

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