Until recently, English translations of Borges' poetry have been exceedingly rare. Only now, with the release of Selected Poems, can a reader ignorant of Spanish enjoy the marvelous poetry of Jorge Luis Borges. For that reason, this section of "Borges' Works" remains incomplete and very sketchy. I would certainly welcome any commentary from Spanish-speaking visitors! Until then, I will offer a few words touching the new Viking collection; and merely outline the twelve or so volumes comprising Borges' poetic oeuvre, filling them in as I progress through the poems sampled in Selected Poems.
Edited by Alexander Coleman.
1. Viking, 1999; 0-670-84941-3, Hardcover $40.00. Out of Print. [Search for a Copy]
2. Viking, 2000; ISBN 0-14-058721-7, Paperback $17.95. [Browse/Purchase]
Published in 1999 by Viking-Penguin as the second volume in a set of three major Borges collections, Selected Poems finally brings the majority of Borges' poetry to an English-speaking audience. It is organized chronologically, covering his work from Fervor de Buenos Aires to Los Conjurados.
My own remarks will appear in the following sections, where I offer commentary on the poems under the collections in which they originally appeared. Booklist has this to say about Selected Poems:
Poetry is the heart of Borges' metaphysical, mythical, and cosmopolitan oeuvre, and this bilingual collection of nearly 200 poems aptly forms the centerpiece of a triptych of new volumes that began with Borges' fiction and will conclude with nonfiction. Borges' first published works were poems, and it was poetry he returned to in his later years once his eyesight began to fail. Borges acknowledged the persistence and significance of poetry in his 1960 poem "Ars Poetica": "To see in death sleep, and in the sunset/a sad gold--such is poetry,/Which is immortal and poor. Poetry/Returns like the dawn and the sunset." Over the decades, Borges pondered time, conjured the many moods of his beloved Buenos Aires, and wrote of tigers, rivers, mirrors, and the moon, often in response to the musings of great poets and novelists of the past. Editor Coleman commissioned a wealth of new translations for this unprecedented and invaluable collection, and the roster of translators includes such luminaries as Robert S. Fitzgerald, W. S. Merwin, Mark Strand, and John Updike.
--Donna Seaman; Copyright© 1999, American Library Association. All rights reserved
Fervor de Buenos Aires
Borges' first book of poetry. Buenos Aires Fever contains works inspired by his return to his home city after seven years in Europe. Later Borges remarked that he was embarrassed by its title and his "ultraist" enthusiasm, and he revised the poems slightly in 1969. According to Borges, he "moderated its baroque excesses," "polished some rough spots," and "eliminated sentimentality and haziness."
As one would expect from the title, the poems are all essentially grounded in Borges' youthful and sentimental view of Buenos Aires. But despite the apparent simplicity of the settings, the poems clearly touch upon themes that would become staples in Borges' later and more mature works. "El Sur" seeks the heart of poetry in the delicate apprehension of the senses; "Break of Day" is a mediation on Schopenhauer's idea of the world as a consensual hallucination of souls; and "Benares" can be read as a youthful precursor to 1960's "The Other Tiger." Mirrors, gardens, and twilight streets all emerge from poems otherwise fixed on card games, patios, and ancestral epitaphs; there is always present the quest for meaning in a world of symbols, and the gulf between the "real" and the language used to describe it.
Luna de enfrente
Second book of poetry, Moon Across the Way. Borges later called this "a kind of riot of sham local color," and believed that he should have suppressed it, as it is filled with pretensions and "tomfooleries." Later, Borges revised it, dropping some of the poorer poems and cleaning up its eccentric and "pretentious" style, remarking that he felt "distant" from them; "unconcerned about their mistakes or their possible virtues."
Despite what the volume titles might lead one to believe, the poems of Luna de enfrente are more a "Buenos Aires fever" than the more intimate reflections in Fervor de Buenos Aires. Perhaps some of Borges' most atypical work, many of these poems attempt to capture the rhythms of the BA streets, and are filled with colorful and idiomatic themes: gauchos, poverty, guitars and dark Spanish women all make their appearances; and it is easy to see why the more mature Borges found them somewhat embarrassing. The most "Borgesian" elements often occur towards the end of a poem, where the "Anticipation of Love" suddenly reflects on the absolute; or a tale about the assassination of a gaucho freezes into a supernatural chill. There is also "Manuscript Found in a Book by Joseph Conrad," a short poem that sheds "sham local color" and gently touches upon the eternal present. (It was also Borges' favorite in the collection.)
Cuaderno San Martín
Third book of poems, named not after the national hero, but after the brand of copybook into which he first wrote the verses. Borges also revised these in his later years, and considers a few of them to be "quite legitimate pieces."
El Hacedor (aka: Dreamtigers)
Translated by Mildred Boyer and Harold Morland.
University of Texas Press, 1964, ISBN 0-292-71549-8; Paperback $8.89. [Browse/Purchase]
A collection of poetry and short prose pieces originally published in 1960, Borges considered El Hacedor (The Maker) to be his most intimate work, and his best. It was released in the United States as Dreamtigers in 1964, closely following the publication of Ficciones by Grove Press.
El Hacedor is a brilliant but unusual work, a collection of poems, unsettling parables, and unique prose fragments. All the pieces are short, and a dreamy feeling of dislocation drifts through the entire collection: I imagine Ficciones as reflected in a mirror, submerged under water and shattered into fragments. I would not, however, recommend this book to the Borges beginner; the pieces are more rewarding to someone already familiar with Borges, as they are considerably more personal than his earlier short stories and essays. To the Borges enthusiast, however, El Hacedor provides an invaluable window into the mind of the author, just reaching the end of his middle age and saying farewell to the creative fires of his youth.
El Otro, el mismo
Fourth book of poems, The Self and the Other.
Para las seis cuerdas
Fifth book of poems, For Six Strings.
Elogio de la sombra
New York: E. P. Dutton, 1969.
Sixth book of poems, In Praise of Darkness, has been translated into English by Norman Thomas di Giovanni. With "darkness" standing for both death and blindness, the poems are of an ethical nature, irrespective of any religious bias.
El oro de los tigres
New York: E. P. Dutton, 1972.
Seventh book of poetry and prose The Gold of the Tigers, has been translated into English by Alastair Ried. The gold in the title refers to the one shade of color that the blind Borges could still manage to dimly perceive. Selected poems from this volume have also appeared in the Dutton and UK Penguin editions of The Book of Sand.
La rosa profunda
Eighth book of poems, The Unending Rose. Translated by Alastair Reid, selected poems from this volume have also appeared in the Dutton and UK Penguin editions of The Book of Sand.
La moneda de hierro
Ninth book of poems, The Iron Coin.
Historia de la noche
Tenth book of poems, The History of the Night.
Eleventh book of poems, The Limit.
Twelfth book of poetry and prose.
Selected Poems, 1923-1967
New York: E. P. Dutton, 1970. Out of Print.
Edited and translated by Norman Thomas di Giovanni, in collaboration with Borges himself.
The Gold of the Tigers, Selected Later Poems: A Bilingual Edition
New York: E. P. Dutton, 1977.
Translated by Alastair Reid, these poems found new life as a companion to the Dutton/Penguin UK edition of The Book of Sand.
The "Borges Works" Pages
Borges Works Main Page -- Back to the Main Page, where you will find the standard Garden of Forking Paths menu.
Fictions and Artifices -- Short stories; the core Borges works.
Nonfiction -- Collections of essays and lectures.
Collaborations -- Works of fiction and nonfiction created in collaboration with others.
Interviews -- Collections of interviews or conversations.
Bibliography -- A list of Borges' short stories with their original titles and publishing information.