Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986), a giant in Latin American letters, wrote numerous books of poetry, fiction, and essays, and was a prodigious translator of authors such as Kipling, Woolf, Faulkner, and Poe. He was a regular contributor to Victoria Ocampo’s journal Sur, and a frequent dinner guest of Silvina Ocampo and Bioy Casares. Over one of their legendary conversations, the three friends came upon the idea of editing the Antología de la Literatura Fantástica, which was published in 1940.

A Prophet in Reverse

Tullio Pericoli: Jorge Luis Borges, 1987

Jorge Luis Borges: History would be the art of divining the past, no?

Osvaldo Ferrari: Yes, the art of the historian. Borges: Yes, once something has happened, one demonstrates that it happened inevitably. But it would be more interesting to apply that to the future. Ferrari: That’s more difficult than to predict the past—it’s harder to be a prophet than a historian. Borges: Well, that’s how literary histories are written.

Borges and God

Jorge Luis Borges at the ruins of Selinunte, Sicily, 1984

Osvaldo Ferrari: Throughout your writing, you have referred to what’s divine, including the supernatural. That is, you seem to admit that transcendence exists but you don’t call it God.

Jorge Luis Borges: I do think that it’s safer not to call it God. On the other hand, if we employ other words, perhaps less precise or vivid ones, then we could approach the truth, if an approach to truth is possible. Or it could be something that we ignore.

A Lecture on Johnson and Boswell

Thomas Rowlandson: Walking up the High Street, 1786

We have to think that just as Sancho is the companion Quixote sometimes treats badly, we see Boswell in that same relation to Dr. Johnson: a sometimes stupid and loyal companion. There are characters whose role is to bring out the hero’s personality, and that character in Boswell’s work is Boswell himself. That is, Boswell appears as a despicable character. But it seems impossible to me that Boswell didn’t realize this. And this shows that Boswell positioned himself in contrast to Johnson. The fact that Boswell himself tells anecdotes in which he appears ridiculous makes him not seem ridiculous at all, for if he wrote them down, he did it because he saw that the purpose of the anecdote was to make Johnson stand out.

Of Heaven and Hell

The Inferno of God is not in need of the splendor of fire. When, at the end of things, Judgment Day resounds on the trumpets and the earth opens and yields up its entrails and nations reconstruct themselves from dust to bow before the unappealable …

The Rose of Paracelsus

Insolent vaunt of Paracelsus, that he would restore the original rose or violet out of the ashes settling from its combustion… —De Quincey: Writings, XIII, 345. Down in his laboratory, to which the two rooms of the cellar had been given over, Paracelsus prayed to his God, his indeterminate …

All Our Yesterdays

I need to know who lays claim to my past. Who, of all those I was? The Geneva boy Who learned some Latin hexameters with joy, Lines that the years and decades have erased? That child who searched his father’s library for Exact details, the …

Elegy for a Park

The labyrinth disappeared. The measured rows of eucalyptuses have also vanished, striped canopies of summer and the eternal sleeplessness of the mirror, that repeats every dumbshow of every human face, every ephemeron. The stopped clock, the matted tangle of the honeysuckle, the glorieta …

Poem about Quantity

I think about the scanty Puritan heavens Dotted with lost and solitary lights That Emerson must have seen so many times From the snowdrifts and austerity of Concord. Here where I am, there are too many stars. There are too many men. The innumerable …

For a Version of the I Ching

The future is as irreversible As ironclad yesterday. There is no matter Unless it be a dark and soundless letter Of the eternal Writ no tongue can tell,— Whose book is time. Whoever leaves his house Has already returned. This life we lead Is …

Camden, 1892

The smell of coffee and of newspapers. Sunday and Sunday’s tedium. Morning light, And on the glanced-at page, frivolous and slight, The unveiling of some allegorical verse By a successful colleague. The old man Lies ashen and exhausted in his decorous, Shabby bed-sitting room.

Robert Graves at Deyá

As I write these lines, perhaps even as you read them, Robert Graves, beyond time and free of its dates and numbers, is dying in Mallorca. He is in the throes of death but not agonizing, for agony implies struggle. Nothing further from struggle and closer to ecstasy than that …

A History of Night

Through the course of generations men brought the night into being. In the beginning were blindness and dream and thorns which gash the bare foot and fear of wolves. We shall never know who fashioned the word for the interval of darkness which …

Four Poems by Jorge Luis Borges

TO THE GERMAN LANGUAGE My destiny is in the Spanish language, the bronze words of Francisco de Quevedo, but in the long, slow progress of the night, different, more intimate musics move me. Some have been handed down to me by blood— voices of Shakespeare, …

James Joyce

In a man’s single day are all the days
of time from that unimaginable

first day, when a terrible God marked out

the days and agonies, to that other,

when the ubiquitous flow of earthly

time goes back to its source, Eternity,

and flickers out in the present, the past,

and the future—what now belongs to me.

Between dawn and dark lies the history

of the world. From the vault of night I see

at my feet the wanderings of the Jew,

Carthage put to the sword, Heaven and Hell.

Grant me, O Lord, the courage and the joy

to ascend to the summit of this day.

Borges on Borges

Kipling’s last stories were no less tormented and mazelike than those of Kafka or Henry James, which they doubtless surpass; but in 1885, in Lahore, the young Kipling began a series of brief tales, written in a straightforward manner, that he was to collect in 1890. Several of them—“In the …

Up from Ultraism

On the Classics Owing to unpredictable changes in the original meanings of words down through time, few disciplines are of greater interest than etymology. Given such changes, which in many cases touch on the paradoxical, the root of a word will prove of little or no use in understanding an …

Pedro Salvadores

I want to leave a written record (perhaps the first to be attempted) of one of the strangest and grimmest happenings in Argentine history. To meddle as little as possible in the telling, to abstain from picturesque details or personal conjectures is, it seems to me, the only way to …

Elvira De Alvear

She once had everything but one by one Each thing abandoned her. We saw her armed With beauty. The morning and the hard light Of noon from their pinnacle revealed to her The glorious kingdoms of the world. Evening Wiped them away. The luck of …