Jorge Luis Borges’ 1967-8 Norton lectures on poetry

Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), Argentine poet, essayist and short-story writer. Although better known for his prose, Borges began his writing career as a poet and was known primarily for his poetry in Latin America particularly.

This lecture series was given at Harvard University in the fall of 1967 and the spring of 1968, on the following six topics:

1. The Riddle of Poetry

2. The Metaphor

3. The Telling of the Tale

4. Word-Music, and Translation

5. Thought and Poetry

6. A Poet’s Creed

The introduction about Borges on “Poetry Foundation” impressed me with two points:

  1. Borges’s international appeal was partly a result of his enormous erudition, which becomes immediately apparent in the multitude of literary allusions from cultures around the globe that are contained in his writing. “The work of Jorge Luis Borges,” Anthony Kerrigan wrote in his introduction to the English translation of Ficciones, “is a species of international literary metaphor. He knowledgeably makes a transfer of inherited meanings from Spanish and English, French and German, and sums up a series of analogies, of confrontations, of appositions in other nations’ literatures. His Argentinians act out Parisian dramas, his Central European Jews are wise in the ways of the Amazon, his Babylonians are fluent in the paradigms of Babel.” In the National Review, Peter Witonski commented: “Borges’s grasp of world literature is one of the fundamental elements of his art.”
  2. Borges expertly blended the traditional boundaries between fact and fiction and between essay and short story, and was similarly adept at obliterating the border between other genres as well. In a tribute to Borges that appeared in the New Yorker after the author’s death in 1986, Mexican poet and essayist Octavio Paz wrote: “He cultivated three genres: the essay, the poem, and the short story. The division is arbitrary. His essays read like stories, his stories are poems; and his poems make us think, as though they were essays.” In Review, Ambrose Gordon, Jr. similarly noted, “His essays are like poems in their almost musical development of themes, his stories are remarkably like his essays, and his poems are often little stories.” Borges’s “Conjectural Poem,” for example, is much like a short story in its account of the death of one of his ancestors, Francisco Narciso de Laprida. Another poem, “The Golem,” is a short narrative relating how Rabbi Low of Prague created an artificial man.

The Garden of Forking Paths” or “The Aleph