Day 18/30 - to live and to dream
After a week of really serious poems and a whole lot of serious meetings, I wanted to share a funny light TGIF kind of poem to de-stress. But I found myself drawn instead to re-read Jorge Louis Borges (1889-1986)
Borges was Latin America’s literary powerhouse. He needs little introduction.
This is a person who held the universe in his imagination yet knew the limits of imagination, and in that, knew best its freedom. And in that he knew too the limits of man, however great the man; history, however exciting or correct its telling; and the realities we perceive in time, however real the experience or dream.
And in line with this, if there is one thing about Borges’ personal life you must know, it is this fact that is so literary it feels fictional. After the Peron dictatorship which he opposed fell, Borges was appointed the Director of Argentina’s National Public Library; and in that same year he became completely blind! In his poem “Poem about Gifts”, he writes:
Let none think I by tear or reproach make light
Of this manifesting mastery
Of God, who with excelling irony
Gives me at once books and night.
But I will share this short prose piece “Dreamtigers” from his book of the same name instead. When Borges writes poetry it has prosaic clarity, and when he writes prose, it has poetic resonance.
In my childhood I was a fervent worshiper of the tiger: not the Jaguar, the spotted “tiger” of the Amazonian tangles and the isles of vegetation that float down the Paraná, but that striped Asiatic, royal tiger that can only be faced by a man of war, on a castle atop an elephant. I used to linger endlessly before one of the cages at the zoo; I judged vast encyclopedias and books of natural history by the splendor of their tigers. (I still remember those illustrations: I who cannot rightly recall the smile or brow of a woman.) Childhood passed away, and the tigers and my passion for them grew old, but still they are in my dreams. At that submerged or chaotic level they keep prevailing. And so, as I sleep, some dream beguiles me, and suddenly I know I am dreaming. Then I think: This is a dream, a pure diversion of my will; and now that I ha e unlimited power, I am going to cause a tiger.
Oh, incompetence! Never can my dreams engender the wild beast I long for. The tiger indeed appears, but stuffed or flimsy, or with impure variations of shape, or of an implausible size, or all too fleeting, or with a touch of the dog or the bird.