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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