Jorge Luis Borges’ 1967-8 Norton Lectures On Poetry (And Everything Else Literary)

Like most literary geeks, I’ve read a lot of Jorge Luis Borges. If you haven’t, look into the influences of your favorite writers, and you may find the Argentine short-story craftsman appearing with Beatles-like frequency. Indeed, Borges’ body of work radiates inspiration far beyond the realm of the short story, and even beyond literature as commonly practiced. Creators from David Foster Wallace to Alex Cox to W.G. Sebald to the Firesign Theater have all, from their various places on the cultural landscape, freely admitted their Borgesian leanings. That Borges’ stories — or, in the more-encompassing term adherents prefer to use, his “fictions” — continue to provide so much fuel to so many imaginations outside his time and tradition speaks to their simultaneous intellectual richness and basic, precognitive impact. Perhaps “The Garden of Forking Paths” or “The Aleph” haven’t had that impact on you, but they’ve surely had it on an artist you enjoy.

Now, thanks to YouTube (see video above), you can not only read Borges, but hear him as well. They offer MP3s of Borges’ complete Norton Lectures, which the writer gave at Harvard University in the fall of 1967 and the spring of 1968. A transcript of the lectures can be bought in book format. The names of the six lectures are listed below.

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

Nearing both 70 years of age and total blindness, Borges nonetheless gives a virtuosically wide-ranging series of talks, freely reaching across forms, countries, eras, and languages without the aid of notes. Entitled “This Craft of Verse,” these lectures ostensibly deal with poetry. Alas, like many literary geeks, I know too little of poetry, but if Borges can’t motivate you to learn more, who can? And if you’ve read any of his fictions, you’ll know that he treats all subjects as nexuses of subjects. To hear Borges speak on poetry is, in this case, to hear him speak on storytelling, cliché, the epic, human communication, the shortcomings of the novel, translation, and the falseness of happy endings — and, because nobody could digest it all the first time, to want to hear it again.

Related content:

Borges: The Task of Art

Las Calles de Borges: A Tribute to Argentina’s Favorite Son

Jorge Luis Borges: The Mirror Man

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (31)
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  • how wonderful! Thank you so much for posting this article with the links.

  • Paul Saxton says:

    Brilliant. Thank you.

  • Alex says:

    Absolutely fantastic. I’d never even heard Borges’ voice before this, so it was quite spine-tingling to hear at first. He was a truly inspiring man.

  • This was so inspiring and wonderful- a beautiful man I didn’t know much about, whose every mention I will now devour…

  • chirie says:

    This is superb..I haven’t heard Borges’ voice not until now..thank you:)

  • Leopold Green says:

    Thanks you – I’ve never heard Borges voice before… I am also pleased to discover he seemed to possess a familiar of our late lamented cat

  • Peter Smale says:

    Very happy to have found these – thanks so much for posting

  • Manuel López says:

    Thank you for sharing. :^)

  • Rafael Rolo says:

    After reading Italo Calvino’s and Umberto Eco’s Norton Lectures, listening to Borges is all the more impressive!

  • John Harper says:

    Is there any place where I may download these? I’m in the midst of moving so I don’t have time to sit down and listen to them off my laptop, but in three days I have a thirteen hour drive ahead of me and I’d love to burn these to a CD and listen to then.

  • Leon says:

    From the bottom of my heart, I think you for posting these links (you, whoever you are).

  • Leon says:


  • Pedro Schneider says:

    Borges es el ombre de la duda, en filosofia lo podriamos hacer partecipante del pensiero debole

  • Emma Zunz says:

    Glad to see the world cares and respects his work. Sadly back down here at Argentina he was always insulted and hated. Yeah well he was a rough prankster, lived out of this planet -the Paris review republished and old and GREAT interview, i´ll post verbatim sorry for flooding but it speaks a lot about who he was lol:
    Now, before we start, what kind of questions are they?


    Mostly about your own work and about English writers you have expressed an interest in.


    Ah, that’s right. Because if you ask me questions about the younger contemporary writers, I’m afraid I know very little about them. For about the last seven years I’ve been doing my best to know something of Old English and Old Norse. Consequently, that’s a long way off in time and space from the Argentine, from Argentine writers, no? But if I have to speak to you about the Finnsburg Fragment or the elegies or the Battle of Brunanburg . . .


    Would you like to talk about those?


    No, not especially.

    ROTFL! :D

  • Chela Chen says:

    Expressed an interest, thanx

  • Eduardo says:

    Argentinian writer and former Princeton professor Ricardo Piglia is making public classes about Borges in Argentina’s public channel (Spanish required)

  • Raymond says:

    My favorite group of lectures of all time. And I listen to a lot of lectures. It’s one of my hobbies to find and listen to lectures from authors and professors. There is just something about his wit, his passion for literature, his humility and the poetic way in which he expresses himself. I love him!

  • LK says:

    Thank you

  • Doc Strange says:

    What I didn’t realise until today is Borges is not only my favourite author, but my favourite Irish author.

  • Ignas Bednarczyk says:

    Borges trancsended the petty precepts and sceptical neurosis of assertion, that is the beauty of his literary aesthetic, where he brought humanity together. The strength of this success can be measured by Borges’ readers attempts to conclusively divide humanity after reading his work.

  • Carolina says:

    As a kid I fell inlove with “La casa de Asterion”. I felt that I was Asterion. Today I love it in a different way. Tomorrow I’ll love it in other way.

  • Romeo says:

    Many thanks!

  • Roma Estrada says:

    Can this be downloaded? :)

  • Nadia says:

    I had the honour of listening to him live in Milan , it’s stored in my memory, but having this … It means I can share it with my children and students! Really priceless. Don’t know how to thank you!
    Thank you for this and thank you for Open Culture, too

  • Adrian says:

    This is awesome! thanks a lot, I am from Argentina, and a natural reader of Borges of course. I was looking for this material and so on, might hear it…


  • Julia Garzón Funes says:

    Thank you for the pleasure o listening to him again in English as I used to listen to his lectures in person at the Instituto Nacional del Profesorado en Lenguas Vivas, the same school where his father taught psychology. I did not imagine as an immature undergraduate that the priviledge would be so great. Julia Garzón Funes

  • Martha Chirinos Huaco says:


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