Jorge Luis Borges
El Hacedor, 1960

Arte Poética

Mirar el río hecho de tiempo y agua
y recordar que el tiempo es otro río,
saber que nos perdemos como el río
y que los rostros pasan como el agua.

Sentir que la vigilia es otro sueño
que sueña no soñar y que la muerte
que teme nuestra carne es esa muerte
de cada noche, que se llama sueño.

Ver en el día o en el año un símbolo
de los días del hombre y de sus años,
convertir el ultraje de los años
en una música, un rumor y un símbolo,

ver en la muerte el sueño, en el ocaso
un triste oro, tal es la poesía
que es inmortal y pobre. La poesía
vuelve como la aurora y el ocaso.

A veces en las tardes una cara
nos mira desde el fondo de un espejo;
el arte debe ser como ese espejo
que nos revela nuestra propia cara.

Cuentan que Ulises, harto de prodigios,
lloró de amor al divisar su Itaca
verde y humilde. El arte es esa Itaca
de verde eternidad, no de prodigios.

También es como el río interminable
que pasa y queda y es cristal de un mismo
Heráclito inconstante, que es el mismo
y es otro, como el río interminable.

Ars Poetica

To look at the river made of time and water
and to remember that time is another river,
to know that we lose ourselves like the river
and that faces pass by like the water.

To feel that wakefulness is another sleep
that dreams of not dreaming and that
the death that our flesh fears is that
death that comes every night,
which is called sleep.

To see in the day or the year a symbol
of the days of man and his years;
to turn the insult of the years
into a music, a murmur and a symbol.

To see sleep in death, in the sunset
a sad gold, such is poetry
that is immortal and poor. Poetry
returns like the dawn and the sunset.

At times in the evenings a face
looks at us from the depths of a mirror;
Art should be like that mirror
that reveals to us our own face.

They say that Ulysses, sick of marvels,
cried tears of love at the sight of his Ithaca
green and modest. Art is that Ithaca
of green eternity, not of marvels.

It is also like the endless river
that flows and remains and mirrors the same
inconstant Heraclitus, who is the same
and is another, like the endless river.

Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) was a literary chameleon, producing poetry, translations, critical essays and short stories across the span of his life. Borges is an ideal candidate for this issue dealing with the notion of time as his works often ponder the complexities of dreams, mirrors, refractions and alternate realities, all of which mimic the infinite and elusive nature of time. Furthermore, Borges himself read works in translation and wrote perhaps one of his most celebrated pieces in English rather than his native Spanish.

This piece can be translated as “Poetic Art” or “The Art of Poetry” because it is, at its base, a poem about poetry. Ultimately, it is often translated as “Ars Poetica” in reference to the eponymous poem by Horace in which he offers advice to aspiring poets. As such, “Arte Póetica” is Borges’s proposition of what poetry can be and what it can achieve. His play with repetition and metaphor demonstrates how to skillfully craft representation without being heavy-handed. We see many representations of time in Borges’s work: the endless river that represents the continuity of time, the mirror with infinite reflections and the interplay between sleep and death where dreams can be read as an alternative reality that overcomes death. The images capture the infinite nature of time which can only be conveyed through metaphor. It is thus the power of words in poetry that extends past the power of time by being able to represent time itself. Borges seeks to show that while human life cannot surpass time, poetry can withstand it. Time passes, yet poetry endures.

Borges, Jorge Luis. “Arte Poética.” Obra Poética. Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, 1989. 161-2. Print.

Prepared by Mai Hunt

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It is a real labyrinth of words. By the way, if Time equals Memory in Borges’s world, there is no future tense, but there is immortality. Nice option!