Wednesday, November 01, 2017

`That Peculiar Happiness'

Something I wrote reminded Boris Dralyuk of a line by Yeats, which he quoted. The same sentence, while I was writing it, echoed faintly with a memory of something in Borges, but I haven’t been able to pin down the source. While hunting in Selected Poems (ed. Alexander Coleman, 1999), I heard another echo.“Things” (Cosas) begins with these lines (trans. Alastair Reid):

“The fallen volume, hidden by others
from sight in the recesses of the bookshelves,
and which the days and nights muffle over
with slow and noiseless dust.”

In English, “Things” is a forty-nine-line catalog of just that – things, some mundane, others marvelous. I especially like this, simply stated: “The indecipherable dust, once Shakespeare.” And two more entries: “The turtle in the bottom of the cistern. / And that which cannot be.” Borges is one of literature’s grand makers of lists, as readers of “The Library of Babel,” “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” and “The Aleph” will recall. But another memory nagged, and this one I found. Borges wrote a second poem titled “Things” (Las Cosas), a sonnet which concludes: “They will endure beyond our vanishing; / And they will never know that we have gone.” Clearly, the theme remained important to Borges. His lists seem at once comical, as is any human effort to be comprehensive, and poignant. Could his blindness have something to do with it? Another Borges poem, “June, 1968,” concludes:

“. . . in the afternoon that might be gold
he smiles at his curious fate
and feels that peculiar happiness
which comes from loved old things.”

1 comment:

zmkc said...

I want to thank you for youur piece on formalist poets in the LA Review of Books; I enjoyed it so much