Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges

Edward Hirsch

Poems selected and introduced by Edward Hirsch.

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We tend to think of Jorge Luis Borges (1899--1986) exclusively in terms of fiction, as the author of luminous and mind-bending metaphysical parables that cross the boundaries between the short story and the essay. But Borges always identified himself first as a reader, then as a poet, finally as a prose writer. He found the borders between genres permeable and lived in the magic space, the imaginary world, created by books. "If I were asked to name the chief event in my life, I should say my father's library," he said in 1970. "In fact, sometimes I think I have never strayed outside that library."

Borges was so incited, so inflamed by what he read, so beholden to what he encountered, that it demanded from him an answer in kind, a creative response. He was an Argentine polyglot who learned English even before he learned Spanish (in a sense he grew up in the dual world of his father's library of unlimited English books and his monther's sensuous Hispanic garden). As a teenager in Geneva during World War I he also learned Latin and German, which he considered the language of the philosphers, and in old age he devoted himself to studying old Germanic languages. One could say that reading others spurred him into writing poetry, which was for him something so intimate, so essential, it could not be defined without oversimplifying it. "It would be like attempting to define the color yellow, love, the fall of leaves in autumn," he said. He loved Plato's characterization of poetry as "that light substance, winged and sacred."

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