Hear Jorge Luis Borges Read 30 of His Poems (in the Original Spanish)

In a recent post on the math­e­mat­i­cal-mind­ed Dutch graph­ic artist M.C. Esch­er, Col­in Mar­shall referred to David Auer­bach’s short “Inquest on Left-Brained Lit­er­a­ture.” Here, Auer­bach sit­u­ates Jorge Luis Borges among writ­ers like Richard Pow­ers, Umber­to Eco, David Mitchell, Haru­ki Muraka­mi and oth­ers, who exist “on a par­al­lel track of lit­er­a­ture that is pop­u­lar specif­i­cal­ly among engi­neers.” From his obser­va­tions, Auer­bach draws only “one obvi­ous con­clu­sion… that engi­neers tend to like nov­el­ists that deal in math and sci­ence mate­r­i­al.”

Auerbach’s list seems legit­i­mate (he men­tions “anoth­er schol­ar who also works amongst engi­neers” and who “pro­duced near-dupli­ca­tion of this list”). But it prompts one impor­tant ques­tion for me: How do these writ­ers see them­selves? As pri­mar­i­ly lit­er­ary authors? Genre writ­ers? Engi­neers them­selves, of a sort?

In the case of Borges, we have an elo­quent self-descrip­tion from the author in his intro­duc­tion to the Select­ed Poems 1923–1967. “First and fore­most,” writes Borges, “I think of myself as a read­er, then as a poet, then as a prose writer.”

While Borges may hold tremen­dous appeal for left-brain thinkers like pro­gram­mer Jamie Zaw­in­s­ki, he began his career as a very right-brained poet, and con­tin­ued to see his work as pri­mar­i­ly “addressed to the imag­i­na­tion” rather than “to the rea­son.”

I can­not say whether my work is poet­ry or not; I can only say that my appeal is to the imag­i­na­tion. I am not a thinker. I am mere­ly a man who has tried to explore the lit­er­ary pos­si­bil­i­ties of meta­physics and of reli­gion.

Borges is inor­di­nate­ly mod­est. His work is poet­ry, espe­cial­ly, of course, his actu­al poetry—volumes of it, writ­ten over six decades of his life— from his first pub­lished col­lec­tion in 1923, Fer­vor de Buenos Aires, to his last, Los con­ju­ra­dos in 1985. It has always seemed to me some­thing of a tragedy that Borges is not bet­ter-known as a poet among his Eng­lish-speak­ing read­ers. It’s not for lack of excel­lent trans­la­tions, most of them guid­ed by the mul­ti-lin­gual Borges him­self.

The sit­u­a­tion is much dif­fer­ent, in my expe­ri­ence, among Span­ish-speak­ers. There is indeed a Latin-American—and specif­i­cal­ly Argentine—resonance in some of Borges’ verse that is impos­si­ble to trans­late. For those who can appre­ci­ate Borges in his orig­i­nal lan­guage, we bring you the album above, 30 poems read by the author him­self. You can hear one of those read­ings, “Arte Poet­i­ca,” in the video at the top of the post, with Eng­lish sub­ti­tles. The direc­tor, Neels Castil­lon, describes the short film as “a jour­ney around Argenti­na and Uruguay to illus­trate words of Jorge Luis Borges.”

Eng­lish speak­ers can also sam­ple trans­la­tions of Borges’ poet­ry here and here. Or dive into the trans­la­tion of “Arte Poet­i­ca,” or “The Art of Poet­ry” here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear the Enchant­i­ng Jorge Luis Borges Read “The Art of Poet­ry”

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

Borges Explains The Task of Art

What Does Jorge Luis Borges’ “Library of Babel” Look Like? An Accu­rate Illus­tra­tion Cre­at­ed with 3D Mod­el­ing Soft­ware

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness


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