To be able to truly appreciate this poem, it is my opinion that one needs not only to train the eye, but also the soul. Borges achieves both the beauty of simplicity and complexity in this poem. Simplicity, because he used simple, easy-to-understand words. Complexity, because although the presentation may be simple, the poem displays a universe of varying meanings, where every re-reading may yield new meanings, new perspective. To enjoy this poem, the reader needs to approach it with absolute honesty and truthfulness, otherwise, the reader may be missing a real, rare gem.
So there was night, and then a word for it. Borges does not get anywhere near a poetic expression of the transition between the wordless experience of night and the creation of a word for it. The constant references to knowledge which the reader may or may not have are both irritating and irrelevant. I repeat, a poem should contain all the information needed for an understanding of it. Whoever mentioned Shakespeare's neologisms as a response to my last comment is well off the track I beat thereby.
The night we know has beginning and end! But the night in the Universe is endless! The myths and the messages of night we all know from the poems of poets since long start from the first literary out put in the world. In this poem the poet touches of a few important aspects well!
In fact unlike Pieter I appreciate Michael Pruchnicki's response because most of these late poets' poems sound to the average Joe like a load of gibberish. (me in particular)
Perhaps something like 'expressive' is not worthy of a great poet if you can truly fathom his/her greatness. As far as poems are concerned I do believe seeing them from the poet's perspective makes it all the more better than what you make of it. Not everyone can know everything and simplest of poems do require some understanding of the use of words and phrases outside of it. In that sense as Straw says nothing is pure poetry.
I also loved this poem and some of his others. I believe there are many different ways to 'appreciate' poetry, and all of you are correct, in your own way. For me, Michael's explanations helped, both in teaching me new concepts/ideas, and refreshing old ones...and yes, understanding these ideas helped greatly 'break down' and explain the poem better, thereby giving me greater appreciation of its depth and hidden meanings.
There are also those who just wish to read the poem and gather what they may at that time, perhaps returning again to enjoy. Not all of us are intellects or academics who enjoy tearing things apart (and Shakespeare is MUCH more enjoyed when one understands all of the underlying social and political messages inherent in almost all Shakespeare, even some of his sonnets, let alone the bawdy and often coarse references he uses) .
So, as the reader from Palestine said (and well said indeed, and how COOL to see someone from Palestine here! !) , our discussion, heated though it may be, brings the poet to life once again, and from I've read of him, he would much enjoy this brief resurrection. All replies and retorts welcome!
Dear mr. Straw,
I have to dissagree with you. First of all, gongorism is a literary style, you may or you may not like it. And Shakespeare? It shows total lack of knowledge to say something like that. He is the writer who introduced many, but really many neologisms in the English language; do you think it was easy for an 16th century man to read his sonets? Defining poetry is very hard, almost impossible, and there cannot be a contradiction in poetry, for it is poetry; I don't believe you should be making such conclusions without thinking them through all the way.
I had no intention of insulting you while writing this, my goal was to defend an artist who has been underservedly criticised. A great artist.
Poetry which demands that we reach for our encyclopedias and reference books is not the purest poetry. Even if you know what is being talked about, even if you are in on the game, it is secondary poetry - indeed, I think it is not poetry - just someone pointing to outside the poem to knowledge the reader may or may not have. It is bad manners to assume knowledge in your reader. The meaning of poetry should be entirely contained within the poem. It may be that some things need explaining (archaic words etc) but given that, a poem should be entirely self-explanatory. You can read the whole of Shakespeare's Sonnets and need only a dozen or so words explained to understand them. Poetry which is a list of cultural references, which expects the reader to find the meaning of the poem elsewhere, is a contradiction in terms.
Some of the comments posted here border on the absurd that fascinated Jorge Luis Borges as both poet and novelist! Except, of course, that Borges's poem makes sense, while the comments do not. Borges specialized in blending myth, fantasy, symbolism and erudition in his work.
Who are the unruffled Fates? How do they spin our destiny? Who were the Chaldeans and their twelve houses? Define Zeno and his infinite words! What exactly are Latin hexameters? Who was Pascal and what was his terror? Why the allusion to those fragile instruments, the eyes? Do you know of any problems that Borges had with his own eyesight?
What does the title HISTORY OF THE NIGHT allude to? Comments posted here should be based on more than 'absolute brilliance, ' 'expressive poem, ' and other such emotional and subjective reactions! Poetry can be difficult and take some study and effort to comprehend fully, that's true, but most great poetry is NOT obscure. I do not know what 'encapsuled visions' of our predecessors has to do with 'poetic hindsight' or whatever!
Would it help to know that Chaldea was an ancient civilization on the Euphrates where magic and astrology (twelve signs of the zodiac) flourished? That the Fates were three Roman goddesses that controlled human destiny and life? That Zeno was a logician and sophist who could argue the logic of illogic? Blaise Pascal was a genius and philosopher in 17th century France who converted to Christianity and recorded his ideas about theology in his PENSEES!
This poem is remarkably beautiful. All these things which human beings have created, all of the predjudices, all of of the institutions, everything, depends on our own 'fragile instruments.' Humans have created, from their own perceptions, a world around them selves, based on mere sences. Would any of the world have such a context as it does now if we justed blocked off our sences? If we closed our eyes are nights so scary?