Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Yellow Rose

"Myth is the nothing that is all." ~Fernando Pessoa

Every now and then you experience something that touches you in a deeper place than the other mundane things you encounter daily. Something deep within you stirs, awakens. An inner voice whispers, "What is this that has so moved me?"

This can happen in certain geographic localities where we suddenly find ourselves startled. Goethe, upon arriving in Rome, declared, "At last I am born!" For another it might have been Africa, Paris, or an Irish countryside.

It can also be people who awaken us. This includes the minds of those we encounter when we read a great story or a great book. The person behind the ink, as it were, is a mind alive that can leave its mark on those who chance upon it. It may be a small thing but it transcends explaining.

For me, one such experience was a single description on a page of a story by Hemingway, The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife from his first collection of short stories, In Our Time. Several years later it occurred again when I picked up an old Antioch Review from a garage sale and read the story which I have reproduced here, A Yellow Rose, by Jorge Luis Borges.

What is it in this very short burst of light that touched me so deeply? Perhaps it was the density of the prose. Or perhaps it was the scope of the story, extending from the birth of man through the Renaissance into the present and envisioning our very own futures.

A Yellow Rose

Neither that afternoon nor the next did the illustrious Giambattista Marino die, he whom the unanimous mouths of Fame — to use an image dear to him — proclaimed as the new Homer and the new Dante. But still, the noiseless fact that took place then was in reality the last event of his life. Laden with years and with glory, he lay dying in a huge Spanish bed with carved bedposts. It is not hard to imagine a serene balcony a few steps away, facing the west, and, below, marble and laurels and a garden whose various levels are duplicated in a rectangle of water. A woman has placed in a goblet a yellow rose. The man murmurs the inevitable lines that now, to tell the truth, bore even him a little:

Purple of the garden, pomp of the meadow,
Gem of the spring, April’s eye . . .

Then the revelation occurred: Marino saw the rose as Adam might have seen it in Paradise, and he thought that the rose was to be found in its own eternity and not in his words; and that we may mention or allude to a thing, but not express it; and that the tall, proud volumes casting a golden shadow in a corner were not — as his vanity had dreamed — a mirror of the world, but rather one thing more added to the world.

Marino achieved this illumination on the eve of his death, and Homer and Dante may have achieved it as well.

Note: This particular translation is by Mildred Boyer and currently resides in a short volume Borges' writings titled Dreamtigers. If you are a fan of Borges, you might enjoy a few stories of my own inspired by this master storyteller. They can be found in my eBook Unremembered Histories.

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