Borges on Bloom

The introduction to this week’s Poem Worth Reading is taken from Bart Schneider’s forthcoming novel, the highly Minneapolized The Man in the Blizzard:

"Sometimes I wonder why Americans are as afraid of poetry as they are of al-Qaeda. Screw the ones who’ve decided that poetry’s an effete enterprise. Let ‘em party with the homophobes. It’s the others who concern me, the folks who claim they don’t get it, who think they’re too dumb to read poetry. Thing is, they’re not willing to be dumb enough. That’s their problem. If you want to get inside a poem, you need to dumb down your senses. That’s where the receptors are. You need to accept that you don’t know. Why should you know? What’s the matter with a little mystery? They think the poem’s a theorem. If they can’t solve it, if they can’t control it, then they’re afraid of it. It’s so American to want it all or nothing. If you can’t conquer it, what good is it? Americans have become so frozen with fear, they’ve lost their sense of play. It’s time to lighten up and lower our expectations. It’s time to rediscover our basic fluency. If a man’s not fluent, if he ain’t got flow, what chance does he have to converse with his soul?"

Isn’t that kind of great?

And now the actual poem. In honor of Bloomsday, which celebrates James Joyce’s Ulysses every June 16 (the date of the book’s action), I’m posting a piece by Jorge Luis Borges dedicated to Joyce. Here goes:

Invocation to Joyce

Scattered over scattered cities,
alone and many
we played at being that Adam
who gave names to all living things.
Down the long slopes of night
that border on the dawn,
we sought (I still remember) words
for the moon, for death, for the morning,
and for man’s other habits.
We were imagism, cubism,
the conventicles and sects
respected now by credulous universities.
We invented the omission of punctuation
and capital letters,
stanzas in the shape of a dove
from the libraries of Alexandria.
Ashes, the labor of our hands,
and a burning fire our faith.
You, all the while,
in cities of exile,
in that exile that was
your detested and chosen instrument,
the weapon of your craft,
erected your pathless labyrinths,
infinitesmal and infinite,
wondrously paltry,
more populous than history.
We shall die without sighting
the twofold beast or the rose
that are the center of your maze,
but memory holds the talismans,
its echoes of Virgil,
and so in the streets of night
your splendid hells survive,
so many of your cadences and metaphors,
the treasures of your darkness.
What does our cowardice matter if on this earth
there is one brave man,
what does sadness matter if in time past
somebody thought himself happy,
what does my lost generation matter,
that dim mirror,
if your books justify us?
I am the others. I am those
who have been rescued by your pains and care.
I am those unknown to you and saved by you.

Translated by Norman Thomas di Giovanni