Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Grey, Incomprehensible Powder

I accidentally found this Jorge Luis Borges poem while searching on my hard drive for something else. The poem was so beautiful, and the sentiment so appropriate to its discovery, that I had to share it. (The unraveling of that last paradox is left as an exercise for the reader.) The translation is by Robert Mezey and Richard Barnes.


Book fallen back, now hidden by the others

In the deep recesses of the shelf and covered

Slowly and silently by the thick dust

Of many days and nights. Phoenician anchor

The seas of England in their blind abyss

Press hard in on. Looking glass that copies

Nobody's face now that the house is empty.

Fingernail parings that we leave behind

Along the road of time and space. The grey,

Incomprehensible powder that was Shakespeare.

The ever-changing figures of the clouds.

The rose, symmetrical and momentary,

That chance once flashed upon the inward glass

Of a boy's kaleidoscope. The sweating oars

Of Jason's Argo, the first ship. The footsteps

The sleepy, mortal wave washes the sand of.

The radiances of Turner when the lights

Go out in the long gallery one by one

And no step echoes in the lofty dark.

The back of the densely printed map of the world.

The gossamer cobweb in the pyramid.

The blind stone. The inquisitive, tactile hand.

Dreams I have had just before dawn, and lost

When daylight came, clearing it all away.

The beginning and the end of the epic poem

Of Finnesburh, now but a few precious lines

Of iron not worn away by the centuries.

The letter's mirror-image on the blotter.

The turtle lying in the cistern's depths.

What cannot ever be. The other horn

Of the unicorn. The Being both Three and One.

Triangular disc. Point the mind cannot grasp

When Zeno's arrow, motionless in air,

Arrives at last at the target. Flower pressed

Between the pages of a book by Becquer.

The pendulum whose swing time has arrested.

The sword that Odin drove into the tree.

The text on uncut pages. The resounding

Clatter of hoofs in the onslaught at Junin,

A battle which in some eternal way

Has not ended, is still part of the plot.

Sarmiento's shadow on the sunlit walls.

The voice the shepherd heard on the mountainside.

The pile of bones whitening in the desert.

The ball that shot Francisco Borges dead.

The reverse side of the tapestry. The things

That no one sees but Bishop Berkeley's God.

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