Jorge Luis Borges Borges, Jorge Luis (Vol. 19)

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Martin S. Stabb

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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[Borges] reveals more of himself in his verse than in any other kind of writing. The capriciousness, the learned frivolity and playfulness of much of his prose are rarely found in his poetry. By contrast we see in it the other Borges—the sincere and ardent youth of the 1920's or the contemplative and nostalgic writer of the 1950's and 1960's. For many this is an unknown Borges: perhaps it is the real Borges. (p. 27)

At first glance the forty-five short pieces of free verse in Borges' first collection [Fervor de Buenos Aires] seem to be little more than a group of vignettes describing familiar scenes in and around his native city. However, to say that Fervor de Buenos Aires is a group of poems describing the city of Buenos Aires, would be equivalent to saying that Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale" is a poem about a bird….

It is true that about half of the compositions employ thematic materials drawn from Borges' observation of Buenos Aires' streets, gardens, cemeteries, and buildings. A few pieces, by contrast, present exotic scenes…. A limited number of poems are purely introspective and as such they do not describe any specific external reality…. [Neither] regular meter, rhyme, nor regularized strophes are in evidence. The absence of traditional forms does not mean that these poems have no structure: like other writers of free verse, Borges does incorporate formal devices into his poetry. (p. 31)

Despite the word "Fervor" in the collection's title, the reader soon becomes aware that this is a restrained fervor, a reflective passion directed toward an internalization of all that surrounds the poet. This goal is best achieved by selecting that portion of reality which is most easily assimilated: not the bustling downtown streets, but the passive, tree-shaded streets of the old suburbs. It may be a valid generalization to say that in all his writing, Borges seeks out the passive and manageable facets of reality in order to facilitate the creation of his own internal world. (pp. 31-2)

His vocabulary throughout the Fervor is revealing. It clearly indicates that he is seeking tranquillity, familial solidarity, and a kind of serenity which can only be associated with parental protectiveness. (p. 32)

Closely related to Borges' poetic transmutation of "hard" reality into a pliable, manageable reality is his recourse to a certain philosophical notion which has come to occupy a central position in all his work…. Berkeley, as a corollary to his idealism, posited God as the maintainer of the universe—if and when there might be no human beings available to perceive and hence to guarantee its existence. But Borges injects another thought …, one which is alien to Berkeleyan philosophy. He suggests that there is some danger that God might choose to take advantage of this brief period when the universe hangs by a thread. The implication here is that a capricious, vindictive, or negligent God may actually wish to destroy the world. Rather than in Berkeley, the source for this notion is to be found in Gnosticism, a philosophical current that has shaped much of Borges' thought. (pp. 33-4)

With a host of other writers past and present Borges shares the very human desire to stop time, to restore the past, or to dispel the fears of the future. In the everyday world, we know that to do these things is impossible, yet poets have always felt that their peculiar sensitivity to time may, in some way, permit them to accomplish these miracles. (p. 35)

The futility of trying to check the flow of time by literary creations, by recalling the past, or by surrounding oneself with old things appears clearly in the Fervor and has since become a dominant theme in all of Borges' writing. Yet his attitude is ambivalent and leads to a poetic tension for he knows that time—in the brutally real, everyday sense—flows on, that the world will change, that Borges will grow old, and that the past is forever gone. Yet he is reluctant to give in without a struggle, though he...

(The entire section is 14,125 words.)