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Wednesday
May142008

Borges, "El hacedor"

A prose poem by this Argentine normally rendered as "The Maker," although in the native language of its subject it can also mean "The Poet."  You can read the original here

 
180px-Homer_Statue_Munich.jpgNever had he wallowed in the pleasures of memory.  Impressions slipped over him, vivid and evanescent; the vermillion of a potter, the sultry vault of stars which were also gods, the moon from which a lion had fallen, the smoothness of the marble below his slow and sensitive fingertips, the smell of boar flesh which he enjoyed tearing in sudden clean bites, a Phoenician word, the black shadow of a lance tossed into the yellow sand, the nearness of the sea or of women, the heavy wine whose roughness was alleviated by honey — these took complete dominion of the ambit of his soul.  He knew terror, but he also knew wrath and braveness; he had once been the first to scale an enemy rampart.  Greedy, curious, informal, bound by no law save that of immediate delight and immediate indifference, he walked through the varied grounds and saw, on both margins of the sea, the cities of men and their palaces.  In overcrowded markets or at the foot of a mountain of uncertain summit in which satyrs might well roam, he had listened to intricately woven tales that he accepted as he accepted reality, without indagation as to their veracity or their falseness.

Gradually the beautiful universe left, abandoning him.  A stubborn fog erased the lines of his hand, night depopulated itself of stars, and the ground beneath his feet grew less sure.  Everything was becoming more distant and confused.  When he knew that was going blind, he screamed; Stoic shame had yet to be invented and Hector would be able to flee without harm.  Never will I see again, he thought, the sky full of mythic fright, nor this face which the years will transform.  Days and nights passed in desperation of his flesh, but one morning he awoke and looked (now without astonishment) at those blurred things which surrounded him and inexplicably felt, just like someone recognizing a piece of music or a voice, that all of this had already occurred and that he had met the challenge, but not without fear.  But there was jubilation in that fear, there was hope, there was curiosity.  Then he descended into his memory which seemed to him endless, and managed to extract from that whirlpool that lost remembrance which illuminated anew like a coin beneath the rain.  Maybe this was why he had never looked so carefully at memory, except perhaps in a dream.

His remembrance was this.  Another boy had slandered him, and he had run to his father and told him the story.  His father let him talk as if he weren’t listening or didn’t understand, then he removed from the wall a bronze dagger, beautiful and laden with power, which the boy had secretly coveted.  Now he had it in his hands and the surprise upon such possession annulled the injurious talk.  But his father’s voice was saying: may someone know that you are a man, and there was an order in the voice.  Night blinded the roads; cradling the dagger which emitted a certain magic force, he went down the steep slope which engirded the house and ran to the shore of the sea, dreaming himself to be Ajax and Perseus and sprinkling the salted darkness with wounds and battles.  The exact taste of that moment was what he now sought; nothing else mattered: the affronts of the challenge, the torpid combat, the return with bloodied blade.

From that memory sprouted another of night and imminent adventure.  A woman, the first the gods provided him, had waited for him in the shade of a hypogeum, and he had looked for her in gallery after gallery, which were like stone webs, and in ramp after ramp which fled into shadow.  Why did these memories reach him and why did they arrive without bitterness as if they were a mere prefiguration of the present?

With grave amazement he understood.  In the night of his mortal eyes into which he had descended, both love and risk had awaited him.  Ares and Aphrodite, because he had already divined (because he was already being surrounded) a rumor of men who defended a temple which the gods would not save and of black ships who sought a beloved isle amidst the sea, a rumor of the Odysseys and Iliads which were his destiny to sing and let resound concave in human memory.  We know these things, but not what he felt when he descended into final darkness.

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