Jorge Luis Borges Borges, Jorge Luis (Vol. 22) - Essay


(Poetry Criticism)

Jorge Luis Borges 1899–1986

(Also wrote with Adolfo Bioy Casares under joint pseudonyms of B. Lynch Davis, H[onorio] Bustos Domecq, and B. Suarez Lynch) Argentine short story writer, essayist, poet, translator, critic, biographer, travel writer, novelist, and scriptwriter.

Borges is best known for his erudite short stories, which blend fantasy and realism to address complex philosophical problems. Involving such thematic motifs as time, infinity, identity, and memory, Borges's stories combine elements of fiction and personal essay in hybrid forms that resist classification. Earlier in his career Borges wrote poetry and criticism almost exclusively. At this time he associated with the Ultraístas, an avant-garde literary group whose works fuse elements of Dadaism, Imagism, and German Expressionism. However, he later broke with the Ultraístas in favor of a more traditional mode of versification. Summarizing contemporary critical thought concerning Borges's poetry, Keith Botsford deemed the Argentine's later poems "among the most skillful and immaculate in Spanish. Strict in their rules and sober in their imagery, gentle in tone, recollected in tranquillity, they are elegiac, formal, symmetrical."

Biographical Information

Borges was born in Buenos Aires, where he lived for most of his childhood. His father, Jorge Guillermo Borges, was a respected lawyer, author, and educator. From an early age, Borges absorbed a wide range of world literature and learned to read English before Spanish due to the influence of his English grandmother. When the Borges family became stranded in Switzerland in 1914 by the advent of World War I, Borges enrolled at the Collège de Genève and received his degree in 1918. In the following year, he traveled to Spain, where he published critical reviews, essays, and poetry, and associated with the avant-garde Ultraístas, whose literary works appeared in the journal Ultra. Rejecting the traditional rhymed verse and baroque ornamentalism common to nineteenth-century Spanish poetry, the Ultraístas championed metaphor as a predominant mode of expression and strove in their poetry to transcend boundaries of time and space. Their influence permeates much of Borges's early work, particularly Fervor de Buenos Aires (1923), his first poetry collection. Borges returned to Buenos Aires in 1921, and helped launch several noted Argentine publications, including the literary magazine Prisma and the journal Proa. In the 1920s

Borges continued to focus his attention on poetry, publishing two more volumes of verse, Luna de enfrente (1925) and Cuaderno San Martín (1929). During this time, Borges, an acclaimed editor and essayist, produced his highly-regarded volumes of early essays, lnquisiciones (1925) and El idioma de los argentines (1928).

The following decades witnessed Borges's increasing interest in prose fiction, though he continued to write poetry throughout his life. An itinerant lecturer and teacher in the 1940s, Borges published his short story collection Ficciones in 1944; it is generally regarded as his most significant work. In 1955, he was named director of the prestigious National Library of Argentina and later awarded the Premio Nacional de Literatura, the country's highest literary honor. Yet Borges remained largely unknown outside Latin America. In 1961, he and Irish dramatist Samuel Beckett shared the Prix Formentor, an international prize recognizing authors whose work will "have a lasting influence on the development of modern literature"; this achievement helped establish his reputation throughout the world. Beginning in the late 1950s, Borges's eyesight had started to fail. Although his increasing blindness slowed his literary output, he continued to publish volumes of stories, poetry, and essays. In 1985, Borges was diagnosed with liver cancer. He left Buenos Aires for Geneva, Switzerland, where he married his companion and former student, Maria Kodama. Three weeks later, at age eighty-seven, he died.

Major Works

Although Borges is best known for his short stories, he wrote a significant amount of poetry, which has gained increasing critical attention. In his first collection, Fervor de Buenos Aires, he utilized Ultraíst concepts to portray colorful individuals and events in Buenos Aires. His next volume of poetry, Luna de enfrente, contains confessional and love poetry. Both collections are thought to anticipate Borges's later concerns with such topics as time, memory, and the architectural features of Buenos Aires. Cuaderno San Martin consists chiefly of tributes to deceased poets, among them Francisco López Merino, Borges's friend and associate, who committed suicide.

In his later poetry, Borges adopted a neoclassic approach, availing himself of the poetic elements of rhyme and meter discarded by the avant-garde poets. Moreover, he applied some of the principles used in his prose, such as intertexual reference and the articulation of the whole. El hacedor (1960; Dreamtigers), a collection of brief poems, quotations, and parables, uses the tiger as an ambivalent symbol of unnatural evil and natural change. In the title poem of Elogio de la sombra (1969; In Praise of Darkness) Borges proposed the paradoxical notion that old age and blindness may signify deep happiness because of the imminence of death. Dualities involving physical blindness and spiritual sight also pervade El oro de los tigres (1972; The Gold of Tigers.)

Critical Reception

A prolific writer in many and mixed genres, Borges is recognized as one of the most influential and innovative Latin American authors of the twentieth century. His experiments with the intermingling of fantasy and realistic detail presaged the realist style of writing practiced by such major Latin American authors as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Julio Cortázar; the latter writer referred to Borges as "the leading figure of our fantastic literature." His insights into the nature of learning, literature, and the fictive process have established him as one of modern literature's most philosophically accomplished authors. Although Borges has largely been recognized for the stylistic originality of his essays and the metaphysical experimentation of his short fiction, critics have also frequently praised his poetic works for their formal precision and mellifluous tone.

Principal Works

(Poetry Criticism)


Fervor de Buenos Aires 1923

Luna de enfrente 1925

Cuaderno San Martin 1929

Poemas, 1923-1943 1943

Poemas, 1923-1953 1954

Poemas, 1923-1958 1958

El hacedor [Dreamtigers] (poetry and prose) 1960

Obra poética, 1923-1964 1964

Para las seis cuerdas 1965

Obra poética, 1923-1966 1966

Obra poética, 1923-1967 [Selected Poems, 1923-1967] 1967

Elogio de la sombra [In Praise of Darkness] 1969

El otro, el mismo 1969

El oro de los tigres [The Gold of Tigers] 1972

Siete poemas sajones / Seven Saxon Poems 1974

La rosa profunda 1975

La moneda de hierro 1976

The Gold of Tigers: Selected Later Poems 1977

Historia de la noche 1977

La cifra 1981

Los conjurados 1985

Other Major Works

Inquisiciones (essays) 1925

El tamaño de mi esperanza (essays) 1926

El idioma de los argentines [with Jose Edmundo Clemente] (essays)...

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David William Foster (essay date 1962)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Borges and Dis-Reality: An Introduction to His Poetry," in Hispania, Vol. XLV, No. 4, December, 1962, pp. 625-29.

[In the following essay, Foster argues that Borges creates an atmosphere of "dis-reality" in Fervor de Buenos Aires, which transcends the ordinary boundaries of time and space.]

No habrá sino recuerdos

como parte de una Realidad innegable.

Reality and ir-reality are common words in our daily vocabulary. However, in the realm of art, there are not two "realities," but three. The other is a "dis-reality," a type of atmosphere created in which both reality,...

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John C. Murchison (essay date 1972)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Greater Voice: On the Poetry of Jorge Luis Borges," in Prose for Borges, edited by Charles Newman and Mary Kinzie, Northwestern University Press, 1972, pp. 256-66.

[In the following essay, Murchison argues that Borges's poetic voice is at once humble and intended to be the voice of the eternal creator.]

Not much has been written about Borges' poetry in Spanish, and still less in English. [This article was written for publication in 1970. Since then, of course, Seymour Lawrence has brought out a splendid edition, Jorge Luis Borges: Selected Poems 1923-1969 (New York, 1971), to which I refer the reader.] Borges himself has done a fair job of...

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The New York Review of Books (review date 1974)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: A Review of In Praise of Darkness, in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XXI, No. 5, April 4, 1974, p. 44.

[In the following review, the unsigned critic responds to the idiosyncratic imagination of Borges's poetry in In Praise of Darkness.]

Borges is the modern poet who best expresses not the power of the imagination but the seductiveness of the imaginative intellect, not one who evokes emotion raw or lyrical on the page but one who offers a highly idiosyncratic consciousness just prior to the awakening of an emotion or just after the emotion has passed. Immediacy has always been lacking in his works. And yet the world of Borges has its own majesty, its...

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Willis Barnstone (review date 1974)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of In Praise of Darkness, in The New York Times Book Review, Section 7, August 11, 1974, pp. 6-7.

[In the following review, Barnstone offers a positive assessment of In Praise of Darkness.]

Like Miguel de Cervantes, about whom he often writes, the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges sees himself primarily as a poet. But Cervantes's quixotic notion of being a great poet was wrong, for the Spaniard's verses are largely mannered imitations in the Italian style and meter of the other Golden Age poets. Conversely, Borges, known largely for his ficciones, has now published his fifth volume of poems [titled In Praise of Darkness], a unified...

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H. Ernest Lewald with Jorge Luis Borges (interview date 1974)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Borges: His Recent Poetry," in Chasqui, Vol. IV, No. 1, November, 1974, pp. 19-33.

[In the following interview, Lewald and Borges discuss several common themes in Borges 's poetry.]

[H. Ernest Lewald]: In this interview I would like to ask a few questions about certain themes that I feel recur in your poetry …

[J. L. Borges]: Go ahead.

I shall name just a few and then I'll just ask about seven specific questions.

Seven is the magic number, no?


Yes, there are seven planets, seven days of the week …



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Nancy B. Mandlove (essay date 1980)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Chess and Mirrors: Form as Metaphor in Three Sonnets of Jorge Luis Borges," in Kentucky Romance Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 3, 1980, pp. 289-98.

[In the following essay, Mandlove explores Borges 's use of archetypal patterns in his sonnets "Ajedrez I, " "Ajedrez II, " and "A un poeta del siglo XIII."]

"To the Looking-glass world it was Alice that said,
'I've a sceptre in hand, I've a crown on my head;
Let the Looking-glass creatures, whatever they be,
Come and dine with the Red Queen, the White Queen and me!'"
Lewis Carroll

The mirror appears frequently in Borges'...

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Willis Barnstone with Jorge Luis Borges (interview date 1982)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Nightmare, That Tiger of the Dream," in Borges at Eighty: Conversations, edited by Willis Barnstone, Indiana University Press, 1982, pp. 135-52.

[In the following interview, Borges discusses the poetic influences of Walt Whitman, Edgar A. Poe, and others.]

[Willis Barnstone]: In the years that we have known each other we have spoken almost exclusively about poetry.

[Jorge Luis Borges]: Yes. It's the only subject, really.

A few days ago when we took a plane in New York, you asked what the name of the airline was, and I said TWA. You asked what that stood for, and I said Trans World Airlines. Do you remember what...

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Linda S. Maier (essay date 1994)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Borges' Early Love Poetry," in Chasqui, Vol. XXIII, No. 2, November, 1994, pp. 48-53.

[In the following essay, Maier endeavors to establish Borges's early poetry as romantic love poetry.]

The name Jorge Luis Borges rarely comes to mind in a survey of Hispanic love poets. The omission may be attributed to a general lack of familiarity with Borges' poetry, in particular his early work written as a young man during the late 1910s and 1920s. [Borges began his literary career in Spain with the publication of the poem "Himno del mar" in Grecia on 31 Dec. 1919. This and other early works, such as "Paréntesis pasional" (Grecia 20 Jan. 1920), contain...

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Thorpe Running (essay date 1996)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "The 'Secret Complexity' of Jorge Luis Borges's Poetry," in The Critical Poem: Borges, Paz, and Other Language-Centered Poets in Latin America, Bucknell University Press, 1996, pp. 125-38.

[In the following essay, Running studies the "secret complexity " of Borges's poetry, which arises from the poet's awareness of the ambiguity of language and of human experience.]

Ever since the final years of the Ultraist decade of the twenties in Argentina, Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina, 1899-1986) tried to undo or to discredit almost everything that he believed or wrote during those years. This purposeful rejection of what was, after all, a synthetic approach to art, a...

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Further Reading

(Poetry Criticism)


Aizenberg, Edna, ed. Borges and His Successors: The Borgesian Impact on Literature and the Arts. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1990, 296 p.

Collection of essays that link postmodern texts to their roots in Borges's writing.

Borges, Jorge Luis. "Foreword." In Homage to Walt Whitman: A Collection of Poems from the Spanish, translated and annotated by Didier Tisdel Jaén, pp. xiii-xvii. University of Alabama Press, 1969.

Borges discusses Whitman's influential weaving together of biography and myth.

Collmer, Robert G....

(The entire section is 364 words.)