Something about Poetry


I’m not a big fan of poetry. I just don’t get it. But I’ve recently taken to reading some Jorge Luis Borges. His short stories are genius, and on a fancy, I picked up one of those collected works books recently. In the book is a bunch of poetry. Wanting to get my money’s worth out of the book, I started reading some of the poetry. The investment of time has been worth it so far.

It’s interesting to read collected works, especially if the author gives a little retrospective of their work, which this collection contains. Although he is most known for his prose, Borges’s first published work was a book of poetry:  Fervor de Buenes Aires. This was published in the early 1920s. In his three paragraph retrospective, written in the late 1960s, Borges describes his early poetry as “timid” because he was “fearful of [his] own inner poverty.” And as for the inspiration for his poetry, he says he sought “late afternoons, drab outskirts, and unhappiness.”

So for no reason in particular, other than I’m all about some Borges these days, here’s one of those poems inspired by the late afternoons in Buenes Aires in 1920. I like this poem because there’s a hunger in it — a hunger for acceptance and peace. (And it kind of reminds me of the theme song from Cheers.)


The garden gate is opened
as easily as a turned page
questioned by regular devotion,
and once inside, our gazes
have no need to fix on things
that already exist completely in memory.
I am familiar with the customs and the souls
and that dialectic of allusions
which any gathering of humans weaves.
I need not speak
nor claim false privileges;
those who surround me know me well,
know well my afflictions and my weakness.
That is to attain the highest thing,
what will perhaps be given us by Heaven:
not veneration or victories,
but simply to be accepted
as part of an undeniable Reality,
like stones and trees.

9 Responses to “Something about Poetry”

  1. urbino Says:

    Poetry is one of those things I don’t seek out, but every now and then I stumble across it and am brought up short by something just astonishing compact and perfect. Like you (and most people, I gather), I can’t say I really understand poetry most of the time, but one in a while it catches me.

    I do appreciate poetry’s utterly distilled, condensed use of language. In this one, “dialect of allusions” catches my eye and makes me say, “Yes. That.”

  2. alsturgeon Says:

    Ever read any Wendell Berry poems? I’m like you and Urbino, but I’ve enjoyed reading some of Berry’s stuff, and it has that “sense of place” approach that Urbino and I talked about recently. I’ll try to remember to bring it home from the office and share one.

    Or one of mine – I wrote 2-3 this past year just to say I’ve written a “real” poem (if there can be such a thing).

  3. michaellasley Says:

    Do share, Al. I hope your poems are pretentious. I love pretentious poets!

    Agree with you, JU. I usually don’t take the time to “get” poetry. It often takes too much work on my part. And it also seems pretentious most of the time.

    In this poem, I like the image of a page questioned by regular devotion. And the idea that most people aren’t inspired by heroics near so much as they are by being accepted, which is sometimes a heroic feat in itself.

    Borges also has a great poem about his grandfather. I’ll try to post it sometime. It’s a bit sentimental, but maybe that’s why I like it so much. I’m such a sentimentalist.

  4. mrspeacock Says:

    Any Billy Collins fans? His poetry is one of my favorite things to read. Maybe I love it because it’s so easy to understand but never seems dumbed-down.

    He wrote a poem about his neighbor’s barking dog called “Another reason I don’t carry a gun.” I thought about it all the time when I had an apartment. Can’t imagine why.

  5. michaellasley Says:

    I’ve never read any Billy Collins. I prefer my poets dead. So I’ll wait a few years before reading his work. I love the title to that poem, though.

  6. urbino Says:

    I thought “Susudio” was catchy.

  7. michaellasley Says:

    That was back when he was on the cutting edge. His later work seemed to lose that edge, be too mainstream. I’m a purist. If lots of people like it — it can’t be “art!”

  8. alsturgeon Says:

    Here’s some Wendell Berry, an old Kentucky farmer/poet:

    My personal favorite:

    We travelers, walking to the sun, can’t see
    Ahead, but looking back the very light
    That blinded us shows us the way we came,
    Along which blessings now appear, risen
    As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,
    By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward
    That blessed light that yet to us is dark.


    I dream of a quiet man
    who explains nothing and defends
    nothing, but only knows
    where the rarest wildflowers
    are blooming, and who goes,
    and finds that he is smiling
    not by his own will.

    And another good one, titled, “The Ongoing Holy War Against Evil”:

    Stop the killing, or
    I’ll kill you, you
    God-damned murderer!

  9. urbino Says:

    A Philip Larkin poem I was reminded of in another thread:

    Annus Mirabilis

    Sexual intercourse began
    In nineteen sixty-three
    (which was rather late for me) –
    Between the end of the Chatterley ban
    And the Beatles’ first LP.

    Up to then there’d only been
    A sort of bargaining,
    A wrangle for the ring,
    A shame that started at sixteen
    And spread to everything.

    Then all at once the quarrel sank:
    Everyone felt the same,
    And every life became
    A brilliant breaking of the bank,
    A quite unlosable game.

    So life was never better than
    In nineteen sixty-three
    (Though just too late for me) –
    Between the end of the Chatterley ban
    And the Beatles’ first LP.

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