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To a Cat -- Jorge Luis Borges

Guest poem submitted by Nivedita Magar:
(Poem #401) To a Cat
Mirrors are not more wrapt in silences
nor the arriving dawn more secretive ;
you, in the moonlight, are that panther figure
which we can only spy at from a distance.
By the mysterious functioning of some
divine decree, we seek you out in vain ;
remoter than the Ganges or the sunset,
yours is the solitude, yours is the secret.
Your back allows the tentative caress
my hand extends. And you have condescended,
since that forever, now oblivion,
to take love from a flattering human hand.
you live in other time, lord of your realm -
a world as closed and separate as dream.
-- Jorge Luis Borges
I love Borges. And I've always wanted to send a poem by him in, I couldn't
decide which one though. Also I can't think what 'comments' to put down for any
of his poems. For me a perfect poem is one that can stand by itself and doesn't
need any comments. In which case, I think of any analysis like a Post Mortem
procedure - a desecration!!!

This poem is so perfect there's little I'd want to add to it. 'To a Cat' was my
introduction to Borges. I stumbled upon it just after my cat died of a neural
disease. It has always baffled me how some bits of poetry *find* you, like this
poem did.

Borges like Blake seems so intimately 'to speak one's condition' that I always
thought of him as my private possession. It therefore came as a surprise to
realise how enormously popular he is...

Nivedita.

[Biography]

        b. Aug. 24, 1899, Buenos Aires, Arg.
        d. June 14, 1986, Geneva, Switz.

Argentine poet, essayist, and short-story writer whose works have become
classics of 20th-century world literature.

Borges was reared in the then-shabby district of Palermo, the setting of some of
his works. His family, which had been notable in Argentine history, included
British ancestry, and he learned English before Spanish. The first books that he
read--from the library of his father, a man of wide-ranging intellect who taught
at an English school--included The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the novels of
H.G. Wells, The Thousand and One Nights, and Don Quixote, all in English. Under
the constant stimulus and example of his father, the young Borges from his
earliest years recognized that he was destined for a literary career.

In 1914, on the eve of World War I, Borges was taken by his family to Geneva,
where he learned French and German and received his B.A. from the Collège de
Genève. Leaving there in 1919, the family spent a year in Majorca and a year in
Spain, where Borges joined the young writers of the Ultraist movement, a group
that rebelled against what it considered the decadence of the established
writers of the Generation of '98.

Returning to Buenos Aires in 1921, Borges rediscovered his native city and began
to sing of its beauty in poems that imaginatively reconstructed its past and
present. His first published book was a volume of poems, Fervor de Buenos Aires,
poemas (1923; "Fervour of Buenos Aires, Poems"). He is also credited with
establishing the Ultraist movement in South America, though he later repudiated
it. This period of his career, which included the authorship of several volumes
of essays and poems and the founding of three literary journals, ended with a
biography, Evaristo Carriego (1930).

During his next phase, Borges gradually overcame his shyness in creating pure
fiction. At first he preferred to retell the lives of more or less infamous men,
as in the sketches of his Historia universal de la infamia (1935; A Universal
History of Infamy). To earn his living, in 1938 he took a major post at a Buenos
Aires library named for one of his ancestors. He remained there for nine unhappy
years.

In 1938, the year his father died, Borges suffered a severe head wound and
subsequent blood poisoning, which left him near death, bereft of speech, and
fearing for his sanity. This experience appears to have freed in him the deepest
forces of creation. In the next eight years he produced his best fantastic
stories, those later collected in the series of Ficciones ("Fictions") and the
volume of English translations entitled The Aleph and Other Stories, 1933-69.
During this time, he and another writer, Adolfo Bioy Casares, jointly wrote
detective stories under the pseudonym H. Bustos Domecq (combining ancestral
names of the two writers' families), which were published in 1942 as Seis
problemas para Don Isidro Parodi (Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi). The works
of this period revealed for the first time Borges' entire dreamworld, an
ironical or paradoxical version of the real one, with its own language and
systems of symbols.

When the dictatorship of Juan Perón came to power in 1946, Borges was dismissed
from his library position for having expressed support of the Allies in World
War II. With the help of friends, he earned his way by lecturing, editing, and
writing. A 1952 collection of essays, Otras inquisiciones (1937-1952) (Other
Inquisitions, 1937-1952), revealed him at his analytical best. When Perón was
deposed in 1955, Borges became director of the national library, an honorific
position, and also professor of English and American literature at the
University of Buenos Aires. By this time, Borges suffered from total blindness,
a hereditary affliction that had also attacked his father and had progressively
diminished his own eyesight from the 1920s onward. It had forced him to abandon
the writing of long texts and to begin dictating to his mother or to secretaries
or friends.

The works that date from this late period, such as El hacedor (1960; "The Doer,"
Eng. trans. Dreamtigers) and El libro de los seres imaginarios (1967; The Book
of Imaginary Beings), almost erase the distinctions between the genres of prose
and poetry. Later collections of stories included El informe de Brodie (1970;
Dr. Brodie's Report), which dealt with revenge, murder, and horror, and El libro
de arena (1975; The Book of Sand), both of which are allegories combining the
simplicity of a folk storyteller with the complex vision of a man who has
explored the labyrinths of his own being to its core.

[Assessment]

After 1961, when he and Samuel Beckett shared the prestigious Formentor Prize,
Borges' tales and poems were increasingly acclaimed as classics of 20th-century
world literature. Prior to that time, Borges was little known, even in his
native Buenos Aires, except to other writers, many of whom regarded him merely
as a craftsman of ingenious techniques and tricks. By the time of his death, the
nightmare world of his "fictions" had come to be compared with the world of
Franz Kafka and to be praised for concentrating common language into its most
enduring form. Through his work, Latin-American literature emerged from the
academic realm into the realm of generally educated readers throughout the
Western world.

[Links]

Couldn't resist adding the final word: I love post-modernist prose in general
and Borges in particular. Here's a _lovely_ site which talks about both:

[broken link] http://rpg.net/quail/libyrinth/libyrinth.omphalos.html

thomas.

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politelyhomicidal said...

Here's my translation of that Borges poem:

As silent as mirrors at midnight,
more furtive than slinking grey dawn;
a downscaled black panther in moon light;
glimpsed, baring teeth in a yawn.

The occulted working of some divine law
ensures that in vain do we seek tail or claw,
as far as the Ganges or some dying sun:
yours is a sleek secret army of one.

Your stilled graceful haunch permits my rough hand
to model your powerful form as you stand;
my breed's ugly past you forgive, for you can:
you've never expected a great deal of man.

Lean, dark and elegant, the shadow lord reigns,
his treacherous dream zones, ancestral domains.

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