Sunday, May 10, 2015

Stars and men revolve in a cycle . . .

In a book-discussion group in which I participate, we are reading some of the short fiction of Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) and that reading has provoked me to dive again into my copy of his Selected Poems (Ed. Alexander Coleman, Penguin, 1999).  Here is one of Borges' poems that uses terminology from mathematics:

The Cyclical Night     by Jorge Luis Borges
                                             tr. Alistair Reid (1926-2014)
          to Sylvina Bullrich

 They knew it, the fervent pupils of Pythagoras:
 That stars and men revolve in a cycle,
 That fateful atoms will bring back the vital
 Gold Aphrodite, Thebans, and agoras. 

 In future epochs the centaur will oppress
 With solid uncleft hoof the breast of the Lapith;
 When Rome is dust the Minotaur will moan
 Once more in the endless dark of its rank palace.

 Every sleepless night will come back in minute
 Detail. This writing hand will be born from the same
 Womb, and bitter armies contrive their doom.
 (Edinburgh's David Hume made this very point.)

 I do not know if we will recur in a second
 Cycle, like numbers in a periodic fraction;
 But I know that a vague Pythagorean rotation
 Night after night sets me down in the world

 On the outskirts of this city. A remote street
 Which might be either north or west or south,
 But always with a blue-washed wall, the shade
 Of a fig tree, and a sidewalk of broken concrete.

 This, here, is Buenos Aires. Time, which brings
 Either love or money to men, hands on to me
 Only this withered rose, this empty tracery
 Of streets with names recurring from the past

 In my blood: Laprida, Cabrera, Soler, Suarez . . .
 Names in which secret bugle calls are sounding,
 Invoking republics, cavalry, and mornings,
 Joyful victories, men dying in action.

 Squares weighed down by a night in no one's care
 Are the vast patios of an empty palace,
 And the single-minded streets creating space
 Are corridors for sleep and nameless fear.

 It returns, the hollow dark of Anaxagoras;
 In my human flesh, eternity keeps recurring
 And the memory, or plan, of an endless poem beginning:
 "They knew it, the fervent pupils of Pythagoras . . ."

This link leads to more than twenty additional poetry/short prose items by Borges.

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