Sunday, March 6, 2011
Number 88: Jorge Luis Borges "The Other Tiger"
The Other Tiger
A tiger comes to mind. The twilight here
Exalts the vast and busy Library
And seems to set the bookshelves back in gloom;
Innocent, ruthless, bloodstained, sleek
It wanders through its forest and its day
Printing a track along the muddy banks
Of sluggish streams whose names it does not know
(In its world there are no names or past
Or time to come, only the vivid now)
And makes its way across wild distances
Sniffing the braided labyrinth of smells
And in the wind picking the smell of dawn
And tantalizing scent of grazing deer;
Among the bamboo's slanting stripes I glimpse
The tiger's stripes and sense the bony frame
Under the splendid, quivering cover of skin.
Curving oceans and the planet's wastes keep us
Apart in vain; from here in a house far off
In South America I dream of you,
Track you, O tiger of the Ganges' banks.
It strikes me now as evening fills my soul
That the tiger addressed in my poem
Is a shadowy beast, a tiger of symbols
And scraps picked up at random out of books,
A string of labored tropes that have no life,
And not the fated tiger, the deadly jewel
That under sun or stars or changing moon
Goes on in Bengal or Sumatra fulfilling
Its rounds of love and indolence and death.
To the tiger of symbols I hold opposed
The one that's real, the one whose blood runs hot
As it cuts down a herd of buffaloes,
And that today, this August third, nineteen
Fifty-nine, throws its shadow on the grass;
But by the act of giving it a name,
By trying to fix the limits of its world,
It becomes a fiction not a living beast,
Not a tiger out roaming the wilds of earth.
We'll hunt for a third tiger now, but like
The others this one too will be a form
Of what I dream, a structure of words, and not
The flesh and one tiger that beyond all myths
Paces the earth. I know these things quite well,
Yet nonetheless some force keeps driving me
In this vague, unreasonable, and ancient quest,
And I go on pursuing through the hours
Another tiger, the beast not found in verse.
---Jorge Luis Borges
(Translated by John Updike)
The Other Tiger
I think of a tiger. The fading light enhances
the vast complexities of the Library
and seems to set the bookshelves at a distance;
powerful, innocent, bloodstained, and new-made,
it will prowl through its jungle and its morning
and leave its footprint on the muddy edge
of a river with a name unknown to it
(in its world, there are no names, nor past, nor future,
only the sureness of the present moment)
and it will cross the wilderness of distance
and sniff out in the woven labyrinth
of smells the smell peculiar to morning
and the scent on the air of deer, delectable.
Behind the lattice of bamboo, I notice
its stripes, and I sense its skeleton
under the magnificence of the quivering skin.
In vain the convex oceans and the deserts
spread themselves across the earth between us;
from this one house in a far-off seaport
in South America, I dream you, follow you,
oh tiger on the fringes of the Ganges.
Evening spreads in my spirit and I keep thinking
that the tiger I am calling up in my poem
is a tiger made of symbols and of shadows,
a set of literary images,
scraps remembered from encyclopedias,
and not the deadly tiger, the fateful jewel
that in the sun or the deceptive moonlight
follows its paths, in Bengal or Sumatra,
of love, of indolence, of dying.
Against the tiger of symbols I have set
the real one, the hot-blooded one
that savages a herd of buffalo,
and today, the third of August, ’59,
its patient shadow moves across the plain,
but yet, the act of naming it, of guessing
what is its nature and its circumstance
creates a fiction, not a living creature,
not one of those that prowl on the earth.
Let us look for a third tiger. This one
will be a form in my dream like all the others,
a system, an arrangement of human language,
and not the flesh-and-bone tiger
that, out of reach of all mythologies,
paces the earth. I know all this; yet something
drives me to this ancient, perverse adventure,
foolish and vague, yet still I keep on looking
throughout the evening for the other tiger,
the other tiger, the one not in this poem.
--Jorge Luis Borges
Translated by Alastair Reid
The Other Tiger
I think of a tiger. The gloom here makes
The vast and busy Library seem lofty
And pushes the shelves back;
Strong, innocent, covered with blood and new,
It will move through its forest and its morning
And will print its tracks on the muddy
Margins of a river whose name it does not know
(In its world there are no names nor past
Nor time to come, only the fixed moment)
And will overleap barbarous distances
And will scent out of the plaited maze
Of all the scents the scent of dawn
And the delighting scent of deer.
Between the stripes of the bamboo I decipher
Its stripes and have the feel of the bony structure
That quivers under the glowing skin.
In vain do the curving seas intervene
And the deserts of the planet;
From this house in a far-off port
In South America, I pursue and dream you,
O tiger on the Ganges’ banks.
In my soul the afternoon grows wider and I reflect
That the tiger invoked in my verse
Is a ghost of a tiger, a symbol,
A series of literary tropes
And memories from the encyclopaedia
And not the deadly tiger, the fateful jewel
That, under the sun or the varying moon,
In Sumatra or Bengal goes on fulfilling
Its rounds of love, of idleness and death.
To the symbolic tiger I have opposed
The real thing, with its warm blood,
That decimates the tribe of buffaloes
And today, the third of August, ’59,
Stretches on the grass a deliberate
Shadow, but already the fact of naming it
And conjecturing its circumstances
Makes it a figment of art and no creature
Living among those that walk the earth.
We shall seek a third tiger. This
Will be like those others a shape
Of my dreaming, a system of words
A man makes and not the vertebrate tiger
That, beyond the mythologies,
Is treading the earth. I know well enough
That something lays on me this quest
Undefined, senseless and ancient, and I go on
Seeking through the afternoon time
The other tiger, that which is not in verse.
--Jorge Luis Borges
translated by Harold Morland
Hap Notes: Ah, the problems/joys of translation is displayed in all its glory here. I hope to let the poet (and the translators) do all the talking today. Come on, it's nice to have a day when I am more or less silent, isn't it? The Bible that we all read has been translated from Hebrew/Aramaic to Latin to English- think there may be some differences in the texts? Don't get daunted by this Borges project... just read and enjoy. Which translation do you like? (If you're asking- I think they all have merit, actually. See how hard it is to translate, though?)
Here's what I will say, and then, I'll give you some helpful quotes from the author: I do love Pablo Neruda but I think the most brilliant writer of the 20th century may have been Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) who wrestled with the ideas of perception, dimension and the senses-things that are vital to the 21st century human being. (His name is pronounced Horhay Lweess Borhays- more or less... close enough.) Here's something that could help- have someone read one translation and you read another- line by line. It would be better if there were three to do it. Or, barring that, copy and paste the poems side by side...)
Here are a few quotes to help you as you figure out which translation means the most to you, with first, a prose selection from the same book:
In my infancy I adored tigers with fervor: not the egg-coloured tigers of the floating-islands of Paraná, or the Amazonian confusion, but the royal Asiatic tiger, with stripes, which can only be confronted by men of war, on a tower mounted on an elephant. I used to linger endlessly before one of the cages in the Zoological gardens; I appreciated the vast encyclopedias and the books of natural history, for the splendour of their tigers. (I have total recall of these figures: I who cannot recall, without error, the face or smile of a woman.) Infancy passed, and the tigers, and my passion for them faded, but they are always still in my dreams. In subconscious sleep, or the chaos which generally follows, it's like this: I sleep, and am distracted by some sort of dream, and immediately I know that it is a dream. At such times I think: This is a dream, a purely voluntary diversion, and now that I have unlimited power I am going to evoke a tiger.
O, incompetence! My dreams are never able to engender the fierce things longed for. The tiger appears, indeed, but desiccated, or enfeebled, or with irregular variations of form, or of an inadmissible size, or completely fugitive, or similar to a dog or bird. ( Borges translated by James Duvall)
"Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges."
"Writing is nothing more than a guided dream."