Monday, March 13, 2006

Duke Altum's Poem of the Week #27

Here's a mindbender from a writer known for mindbenders, the great Argentinian poet and short story wizard Jorge Luis Borges. Borges is probably best known for the latter (his short stories), which don't seem to have any parallel in modern times... but he was also a prolific and gifted poet. He loved to plumb the depths of the ineffable, the unsearchable mysteries of realms physical and metaphysical, in his art... and few mysteries this side of heaven are more deep and profound than the darkness of the night. Here is his fascinating take on a natural phenomenon that has been vexing us since the first man stepped out of his cave and gazed dumbstruck at the stars. (I love the inspired phrase "inexhaustible/like an ancient wine".)


History of the Night

Throughout the course of the generations
men constructed the night.
At first she was blindness;
thorns raking bare feet,
fear of wolves.
We shall never know who forged the word
for the interval of shadow
dividing the two twilights;
we shall never know in what age it came to mean
the starry hours.
Others created the myth.
They made her the mother of the unruffled Fates
that spin our destiny,
they sacrificed black ewes to her, and the cock
who crows his own death.
The Chaldeans assigned to her twelve houses;
to Zeno, infinite words.
She took shape from Latin hexameters
and the terror of Pascal.
Luis de Leon saw in her the homeland
of his stricken soul.
Now we feel her to be inexhaustible
like an ancient wine
and no one can gaze on her without vertigo
and time has charged her with eternity.

And to think that she wouldn't exist
except for those fragile instruments, the eyes.


Mutt Ploughman said...

Another great poem. I just loved the last two lines - she 'wouldn't exist' without our 'fragile instruments'. Of course, if we didn't see it, the sky would still be there, the night would still be there, but Borges makes a point about perceived reality there, what we see is real to us. And that is something that runs through a lot of his other work.

Borges was an incredibly interesting and gifted writer. I have his collected fictions which is a truly amazing book. You can also purchase his collected poems, but I do not know if i had ever seen a Borges poem before this one. Fascinating stuff. He's one of those writers that didn't win the Nobel Prize in his lifetime that probably should have, but I think he had sympathy for some dictatorships in South America that made his selection politically untenable. And the Nobel Award has certainly gotten no better at making their selections based on true artistic merit rather than political views or statements, tragically.

Duke continues to keep the mix of poetry on this blog interesting and highly relevant.

Duke Altum said...

Glad you're out there reading and listening! I had always wondered about Borges not winning the Nobel prize, but I didn't realize that might be one of the reasons. I have that 'Collected Fictions' on my shelf, I need to break into it soon... I thought this one was an interesting take on a subject that has baffled probably every person who ever lived, at one time or another... think about it: from a very early age we become aware of the darkness at night and wonder what it is and (usually) fear it before we ever come to terms with it. In fact, my own son is in such a stage right now, where he's become acutely aware of the dark and doesn't like to venture into it alone. That fear of the unknown is so deep-seated within all of us... to attempt a "history" of our confrontation with such fears in a fascinating idea in and of itself.

Aura McKnightly said...

To help Duke and Mutt further explore the power that darkness can have over us, I thought I
would submit these highly relevant song lyrics by a British scribe who goes by the name of Steve
Harris. As you will see, Mr. Harris perfectly captures the nighttime world in a few brushstrokes
and as such, it is a perfect compliment to the magnetic poetry of Professor Borges.

Fear Of The Dark


I am a man who walks alone
And when I'm walking a dark road
At night or strolling through the park.

When the light begins to change
I sometimes feel a little strange
A little anxious when it's dark.

Fear of the dark, fear of the dark
I have constant fear that something's always near
Fear of the dark, fear of the dark
I have a phobia that someone's always there

Have you run your fingers down the wall
And have you felt your neck skin crawl
When you're searching for the light ?
Sometimes when you're scared to take a look
At the corner of the room
You've sensed that something's watching you.

Have you ever been alone at night
Thought you heard footsteps behind
And turned around and no-one's there ?
And as you quicken up your pace
You find it hard to look again
Because you're sure there's someone there.

Watching horror films the night before
Debating witches and folklore
The unknown troubles on your mind.
Maybe your mind is playing tricks
You sense,and suddenly eyes fix
On dancing shadows from behind.

Fear of the dark, fear of the dark
I have a constant fear that something's always near.
Fear of the dark, fear of the dark
I have a phobia that someone's always there.

When I'm walking a dark road
I am a man who walks alone."