Happy Birthday, Jorge Luis Borges
Happy Birthday to Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges, born in Buenos Aires on August 24, 1899. Though perhaps best known as a writer of fiction, Borges always considered himself first and foremost a poet. As his eyesight declined in his later years, Borges turned increasingly to poetry, since he was able to memorize entire poems while composing them, and was less reliant upon a written text.
Borges published many collections of poetry, essays and fiction, and served as Director of Argentina's National Public Library from 1955 to 1973, when he resigned to protest the return of Juan Peron to political power. Borges received a number of literary awards during his lifetime, including the International Publisher's Prize (which he shared with Samuel Beckett in 1961), the Jerusalem Prize, and the Alfonso Reyes Prize. He died on June 14, 1986.
In English, Borges is most readily accessed through the Penguin Classics editions of his poetry and short fiction: Selected Poems (Penguin Classics, 2000), edited by Alexander Coleman and Collected Fictions (Penguin Classics, 1999) translated by Andrew Hurley. Borges: A Life (Viking Penguin, 2004) by Edwin Williamson is a very good and thoughtful biography; Borges has suffered a bit critically because of his political conservatism.
Here is a short poem:
TO A COIN
Cold and stormy the night I sailed from Montevideo.
As we rounded the Cerro,
I threw from the upper deck
a coin that glinted and winked out in the muddy water,
a gleam of light swallowed by time and darkness.
I felt I had committed an irrevocable act,
adding to the history of the planet
two endless series, parallel, possibly infinite:
my own destiny, formed from anxieties, love and futile upsets
and that of the metal disk
carried away by the waters to the quiet depths
or to far-off seas that still wear down
the leavings of Saxon and Viking.
Any moment of mine, asleep or wakeful,
matches a moment of the sightless coin's.
At times I have felt remorse,
at others, envy
of you, existing as we do, in time and its labyrinth,
but without knowing it.