Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Pair of Poems by Two Great Literary Figures: Borges and Pessoa

THROWBACK THURSDAY
I owe my discovery of the influential Argentine writer Borges to a late 1960's edition of Antioch Review. Or was it an audio book with its mind-blowing story, The Garden of Forking Paths?

I owe my discovery of Pessoa, the enigmatic Portuguese literary figure, to an economics professor from Brazil. Or was it an artist from Lisbon who introduced his writings to me?

Each has produced a body of work that is wholly original, that continuously surprises. Here are a pair of examples, the first by Fernando Pessoa.
* * * *

There's no one who loves me.
Hold on, yes there is;
But it's hard to feel certain
About what you don't believe in.

It isn't out of disbelief
That I don't believe, for I know
I'm well liked. It's my nature
Not to believe, and not to change.

There's no one who loves me.
For this poem to exist
I have no choice
But to suffer this grief.

How sad not to be loved!
My poor, forlorn heart!
Et cetera, and that's the end
Of this poem I thought up.

What I feel is another matter...
                      December 25, 1930

From A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe, Selected Poems of Fernando Pessoa


* * * *

I owe a great debt to Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine author who unveiled for me the possibilities of fiction. I read, and savored, every story.

In addition to being a writer of stories, he was also an essayist and a poet. Here is a poem that takes you to a different sort of place and reveals the nature of his thought.

The Watcher

The light enters and I remember who I am; he is there.
He begins by telling me his name which (it should now be clear) is mine.
I revert to the servitude which has lasted more than seven times ten years.
He saddles me with his rememberings.
He saddles me with the miseries of every day, the human condition.
I am his old nurse; he requires me to wash his feet.
He spies on me in mirrors, in mahogany, in shop windows.
One or another woman has rejected him, and I must share his anguish.
He dictates to me now this poem, which I do not like.
He insists I apprentice myself tentatively to the stubborn Anglo-Saxon.
He has won me over to the hero worship of dead soldiers, people with whom I could
scarcely exchange a single word.
On the last flight of stairs, I feel him at my side.
He is in my footsteps, in my voice.
Down to the last detail, I abhor him.
I am gratified to remark that he can hardly see.
I am in a circular cell and the infinite wall is closing in.
Neither of the two deceives the other, but we both lie.
We know each other too well, inseparable brother.
You drink the water from my cup and you wolf down my bread.
The door to suicide is open, but theologians assert that, in the subsequent shadows of the other kingdom, there will I be, waiting for myself.

Spanish; trans. Alastair Reid

* * * *

Borges was famous for his labyrinthian stories which circle about recurring themes, so it is not surprising to find a short reflection called Borges and I, which elucidates the same notion. And then there is his story The Other, in which he as an older man meets his younger self in a quirked jag of time.

Learn more about this remarkably innovative and influential man whose profound perspectives continue to awaken minds to the possibilities of fiction.

* * * *

"Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash."
--Leonard Cohen

No comments: