A Birthday with Borges

27 July 2013 poetry

"Hey, let's surprise our friend on his birthday in a graveyard!". At first, I was a bit sceptical about this idea, but upon execution it was quite surprising to our friend and the whole thing went surprisingly well.

However, this was not some random graveyard, which, if it was, could have acted as an ironic remainder of his (and our) eventual demise, but a very specific graveyard: the Cimetière des Rois or Cemetery of Kings), where J. L. Borges is buried - our friend's favorite poet. We sat there by his tomb, a group of 11, and recited some of our favorite poems and short stories by him. Having only read one piece by him beforehand, a short story called Borges and I, or Borges y yo in the original language, I didn't have much choice in choosing my contribution. This piece, Borges and I, is a (really) short story he wrote about what he thinks of his image when he was an old and famous writer. I recommend reading it, both the original Spanish version and an English translation can be found here. Supposedly though Borges himself was against translations, as things tend to get lost in translation. We discussed about this right up to the limits of logic , as we came from varying cultures from four different continents, having only English as our common language. We finally agreed that whenever we had the occasion we read both versions of a given piece (as most of Borges' pieces were in Spanish); the original one for appreciation, and its translation for understanding.

One thing I immediately found curious, is that that on the rear side of his tombstone is written "Hann tekr sverthit Gram ok leggr i methal theira bert" - Old Nordic! I was amazed! Most of the words were very similar to their modern Icelandic counterparts, so I deciphered/translated it for my friends; He takes the sword Gram and lays the naked blade between them (a reference to Völsungasaga - The Saga of the Völsungs!) My friend explained that Borges used a lot of references in his works, often to the old Nordic sagas, which he highly appreciated. He liked the "get-straight-to-the-point" approach of old Nordic storytelling, greatly contrasting the long-phrased poems and prose common in the Spanish language.

Never have I felt more like being in the movie Dead Poets Society.

Well, until next time; ¡Arriba, abajo, al centro, adentro!

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