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The Other Tiger -- Jorge Luis Borges

Guest poem submitted by Juned Shaikh:
(Poem #475) The Other Tiger
A tiger comes to mind. The twilight here
Exalts the vast and busy Library
And seems to set the bookshelves back in gloom;
Innocent, ruthless, bloodstained, sleek
It wanders through its forest and its day
Printing a track along the muddy banks
Of sluggish streams whose names it does not know
(In its world there are no names or past
Or time to come, only the vivid now)
And makes its way across wild distances
Sniffing the braided labyrinth of smells
And in the wind picking the smell of dawn
And tantalizing scent of grazing deer;
Among the bamboo's slanting stripes I glimpse
The tiger's stripes and sense the bony frame
Under the splendid, quivering cover of skin.
Curving oceans and the planet's wastes keep us
Apart in vain; from here in a house far off
In South America I dream of you,
Track you, O tiger of the Ganges' banks.

It strikes me now as evening fills my soul
That the tiger addressed in my poem
Is a shadowy beast, a tiger of symbols
And scraps picked up at random out of books,
A string of labored tropes that have no life,
And not the fated tiger, the deadly jewel
That under sun or stars or changing moon
Goes on in Bengal or Sumatra fulfilling
Its rounds of love and indolence and death.
To the tiger of symbols I hold opposed
The one that's real, the one whose blood runs hot
As it cuts down a herd of buffaloes,
And that today, this August third, nineteen
Fifty-nine, throws its shadow on the grass;
But by the act of giving it a name,
By trying to fix the limits of its world,
It becomes a fiction not a living beast,
Not a tiger out roaming the wilds of earth.

We'll hunt for a third tiger now, but like
The others this one too will be a form
Of what I dream, a structure of words, and not
The flesh and one tiger that beyond all myths
Paces the earth. I know these things quite well,
Yet nonetheless some force keeps driving me
In this vague, unreasonable, and ancient quest,
And I go on pursuing through the hours
Another tiger, the beast not found in verse.
-- Jorge Luis Borges
My girlfriend introduced me to Borges. Must admit she has taste. He helped me
get back to the fold of 'connoisseurs of poetry'. The initial disenchantment can
be attributed to a school teacher, who believed in rote learning rather than in
appreciating the beauty and complexity of thought, emotion and expression..

'The Other Tiger' exemplifies the unsatiable yearning for Experience and
capturing it in words. Borges has doubts about the path he has selected
(poetry), but this does not dim his desire.  Re-read the poem and let it linger.

PS: Don't you think these lines are fantastic:

"Yet nonetheless some force keeps driving me
In this vague, unreasonable, and ancient quest,
And I go on pursuing through the hours
Another tiger, the beast not found in verse."


[thomas adds]

There's a neat (and rather scary) sf short story called 'The Other Tiger'...
hmm, now who was it by, Clarke? Anyway. _That_ particular story took its name
from Frank Stockton's classic 'The Lady and the Tiger'. All well worth reading
(imho, at least).

About the poem itself: Jorge Luis Borges is one of my favourite contemporary
writers (I confess myself a modernist in prose - I like Borges, Pynchon, Rushdie
and the like - and a classicist in verse - Shakespeare, Donne and Milton are my
favourites) - I love the elaborate mind and word games he plays, blurring the
boundaries of fiction and reality... it all ties in with my fondness (oft
remarked upon in this forum) for self-reference and complexity. And the
interplay of signs and symbols, signifiers and semiotics in today's poem is all
very Borges...

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