25 January 2008

Book Review: Jorge Luis Borges, Selected Poems, edited by Alexander Coleman (Penguin, 2000)

Jorge Luis Borges is best known in the English-speaking world as a writer of stories and essays, but it was as a poet that he first became known in his native Argentina. His Selected Poems gathers together translations of his poetry by a number of different highly talented hands. I opened it with some trepidation, wondering whether the poetry could possibly be as good as the fiction: I’m delighted to report that it is every bit as good.

The Selected Poems prints the Spanish original of each poem on the left and the English translation on the right. The translators have done a fine job of transporting Borges’ characteristic concerns and his clarity of expression from Spanish to English. Borges’ great interests – time, the infinite, doppelgangers, the mortal hazard posed by mirrors – are as omnipresent in the poetry as in the prose, but are expressed with even greater economy in the poetry, which swoops between the private and the universal with almost dizzying facility.

Borges’ work is at once funny and profound, tragic and comic, mired in dread and rife with beauty. In my opinion, Jorge Luis Borges was the greatest writer of the twentieth century.

Some Borges links


Jeff said...

I never read much by Borges until I moved to Buenos Aires, but I'm continually amazed at his great writings. To be able to walk along the same streets as Borges, some of the same streets mentioned in his stories, is a joy. I certainly have to agree about Borges being the greatest writer of the 20th century, even if he never did write a novel.

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Jeff - both for the comment and for the chance to look at your wonderful site. I've added your "30 Days with Borges" to a little list of Borges links above. I envy you your Borges walks!