Even more obviously than his other writings, the poetry of Jorge Luis Borges focuses on psychological orientation, reconciling the cultural contradictions associated with the poet’s place in the world. In the early poetry, this issue of place tends to be quite literal, especially in his first volume, Fervor de Buenos Aires, about various locations in that city. Inspired partly by the French Symbolist poets he had read during his high school years in Switzerland, he made urban landscapes into representations of modern angst—consonant with the cynicism he was gleaning at that period from his literary mentor Macedonio Fernándéz but juxtaposed with his mother’s patriotism.
In his preface to a 1969 reprint of Luna de enfrente (moon across the way), he contrasts the introverted way he mapped the city in Fervor de Buenos Aires with the ostentation of the later volume. It ushers in a splattering of the lines with local slang, typical of those periods when he acted as if he had to prove his virility that way. This, however, never led him to abandon the allusive or metaphysical, since the goal was always to make the physical locations metaphors for states of mind. That situation becomes more explicit in his third volume, Cuaderno San Martín (San Martin copybook), with “Fundación mítica de Buenos Aires” (“The Mythical Founding of Buenos Aires”), in which, after speculating about the actual origins of Buenos Aires, he recognizes the place is for him an eternal mental state.
This marks a transition from his poetic apprenticeship toward his long second period of mastery. Beginning with his 1960 collection Dreamtigers, he tended to set poems in the mind itself (often in some version of a dream). After his mother’s death in 1975, he gradually shifted into a third period, old age. Particularly in the 1980’s during his relationship with Kodama, he achieved greater independence from his mother’s influence (for example, a growing pacifism and a lessening of embarrassment over not being a warrior). During this time, his poems incorporated more short sentences as if sometimes gasping for breath and were prone to complain of ill health, but they also celebrated his new love. It was a time of dreams coming true (albeit awkwardly and belatedly), as with the prose poem “Mi última tigre” (“My Last Tiger”), about the time when, blind and frightened, he nonetheless managed the courage to pet a real tiger.
Fervor de Buenos Aires
Although less directly than during his middle period, self-division characterizes Fervor de Buenos Aires . In “Las calles” (“The Streets”), for example, the speaker of the poem situates his soul as being on those streets—yet not on the avaricious, crowded ones (the core of the city) but on nearly empty, suburban ones, diminishing into eternal expanses. Despite this antiurban sentiment, the poem ends with an injunction to literal flag waving in praise of his country. Since the center of Buenos Aires was expensive property and its suburbs much less so, his rejecting the former for the latter has perhaps a liberal slant but not a populist one, because of his denouncing crowds. The poet longs for the timeless peripheries, where the streets (and presumably the speaker’s soul) end. Throughout Borges’s entire poetic opus, this is a common metaphor—a longing to move outside time, even at the cost of extinction, but in interviews, he said repeatedly that he kept remarking this precisely because he feared loss of himself. Indeed, in “The Streets,” the poet counters this drift toward the timeless void with the image of separate souls recognized as such by God and also by the poem’s patriotic affirmation of his country at the end. The streets themselves thus become a metaphor for a place where the poet’s soul connects difficult-to-join opposites. This poem establishes...
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