12 July 2011

Borges on Learning Old English

The great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges is almost the last person I would imagine studying Old English. Modern English, yes, to get at the full flavour of the English writings he enjoyed, but Old English? Well, he did, and wrote a sonnet about why. I find it moving.

"Poem Written in a Copy of Beowulf"
by Borges (trans. by Alastair Reid)

At various times, I have asked myself what reasons
moved me to study, while my night came down,
without particular hope of satisfaction,
the language of the blunt-tongued Anglo-Saxons.

Used up by the years, my memory
loses its grip on words that I have vainly
repeated and repeated. My life in the same way
weaves and unweaves its weary history.

Then I tell myself: it must be that the soul
has some secret, sufficient way of knowing
that it is immortal, that its vast, encompassing
circle can take in all, can accomplish all.

Beyond my anxiety, beyond this writing,
the universe waits, inexhaustible, inviting.

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