Friday, August 29, 2014

Borges's Libraries

I've been reading the Aleph and Other Stories and working in the library this week. Therefore, Borges.

Two poems by Jorge Luis Borges, both about books, and a link to his short story "The Library of Babel."


June 1968

On a golden evening,
Or in a quietness whose symbol
Might be a golden evening,
A man sets up his books
On the waiting shelves,
Feeling the parchment and leather and cloth
And the satisfaction given by
The anticipation of a habit
And the establishment of order.
Stevenson and that other Scotsman, Andrew Lang,
Will here pick up again, in a magic way,
The leisurely conversation broken off
By oceans and by death,
And Alfonso Reyes surely will be pleased
To share space close to Virgil.
(To arrange a library is to practice,
In a quiet and modest way,
The art of criticism.)
The man, who is blind,
Knows that he can no longer read
The handsome volumes he handles
And that they will not help him write
The book which in the end might justify him,
But on this evening that is perhaps golden
He smiles at his strange fate
And feels that special happiness
Which comes from things we know and love.


The Keeper of the Books

Here they stand: gardens and temples and the reason for temples;
Exact music and exact words;
The sixty-four hexagrams;
Ceremonies, which are the only wisdom
That the Firmament accords to men;
The conduct of that emperor
Whose perfect rule was reflected in the world, which mirrored him,
So that rivers held their banks
And fields gave up their fruit;
The wounded unicorn that’s glimpsed again, marking an era’s close;
The secret and eternal laws;
The harmony of the world.
These things or their memory are here in books
That I watch over in my tower.

On small shaggy horses,
The Mongols swept down from the North
Destroying the armies
Ordered by the Son of Heaven to punish their desecrations.
They cut throats and sent up pyramids of fire,
Slaughtering the wicked and the just,
Slaughtering the slave chained to his master’s door,
Using the women and casting them off.
And on to the South they rode,
Innocent as animals of prey,
Cruel as knives.
In the faltering dawn
My father’s father saved the books.
Here they are in this tower where I lie
Calling back days that belonged to others,
Distant days, the days of the past.

In my eyes there are no days. The shelves
Stand very high, beyond the reach of my years,
And leagues of dust and sleep surround the tower.
Why go on deluding myself?
The truth is that I never learned to read,
But it comforts me to think
That what’s imaginary and what’s past are the same
To a man whose life is nearly over,
Who looks out from his tower on what once was city
And now turns back to wilderness.
Who can keep me from dreaming that there was a time
When I deciphered wisdom
And lettered characters with a careful hand?
My name is Hsiang. I am the keeper of the books -
These books which are perhaps the last,
For we know nothing of the Son of Heaven
Or of the Empire’s fate.
Here on these high shelves they stand,
At the same time near and far,
Secret and visible, like the stars.
Here they stand - gardens, temples.


The Library of Babel
The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors. The distribution of the galleries is invariable...Also through here passes a spiral stairway, which sinks abysmally and soars upwards to remote distances. In the hallway there is a mirror which faithfully duplicates all appearances. Men usually infer from this mirror that the Library is not infinite (if it were, why this illusory duplication?); I prefer to dream that its polished surfaces represent and promise the infinite...

-from the first paragraph



No comments:

Post a Comment