Jorge Luis Borges

Into The Darkness They Go, The Wise And The Lovely – St. Vincent Millay

darkness-2“Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.” – Mark Twain

Now, apart from the absence of light, what’s the fuss about darkness? Well it’s when everything otherworldly happens. Ghosts and vampires and werewolves come out, the early Saxons called it the death-mist, and although the darkness is not without its dangers, it’s the mystical time for dreams and magic. The time for imagination and contemplation. Shakespeare brought us the Prince of Darkness from King Lear, composers like Satie and Debussy wrote tranquil Nocturnes for solo piano, Chopin wrote 21 of them, the first was written by the Irish composer John Field, known as the Father of the romantic nocturne. Creation began with darkness, into which light is then created, because you can’t have one without the other. Incidentally, as far as lighting architects are concerned, much beautiful light can only appear because of darkness. In fact, they’re always looking at new ways of lighting our cities in order to preserve the darkness, because we’re producing too much light. If you ever see those night shots of the earth from space, it’s supposed to be dark, but all you see are lights, spoiling the darkness, not reaching the people they’re supposedly meant for. I guess if we appreciated the darkness more, we’d be able to enhance it with light rather than trying to eliminate it altogether.

So today we’ll come at DARKNESS from a few angles beginning with the blindness of Jorges Luis Borges.  The Argentinean short-story writer and poet in his 1974 book In Praise Of Darkness takes us on a journey of self-realization in the company of darkness. Like his father before him, Borges became blind in his fifties and many of his later works focus on the effect this had on him as a writer. The darkness of the title poem though, also means old age, something his blindness has been preparing him for. A time for reflection and inward focus, or the time of our greatest bliss as he calls it, freedom from the distraction of all the eye sees I suppose, the things that steal us away from ourselves. And rather than reject the coming darkness, he welcomes it All this should frighten me, he says, but it is a sweetness, a return. He speaks of blindness as an involuntary meditation, a time to get to know himself, remember and enjoy in peace the great books he read, the people he knew, the things he did, without being bombarded with new information all the time. It struck me how preoccupied we are nowadays, news reports, facts, figures, social media updates, stuff coming at us every minute diverting our attention from ourselves, leaving little time for inner focus and centeredness. For Borges, sitting quietly in the darkness of himself, he will come to find his algebra, his key his mirror.

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Night-time is an occasion for contemplation and imagination and a lot of writers and poets find they’re at their most creative in the dark. Particularly before sleep or waking, because you’re closest to your dreams and seem to be able to access more easily the abstract corridors of the brain. My Darling Turns To Poetry At Night is a love poem by Australian poet Anthony Lawrence from his new collection Headwaters. And it appealed to me because when I first started to write poetry, I wrote at night or around the dreaded 4 in the morning. Actually I was watching a Tedtalks the other evening about the 4am mystery, the idea that you’re awake at worst possible hour, along with the morticians. Faron Young and Leonard Cohens song 4 in the morning, Judi Dench’s movie and Wiswava Szymborska’s poem where she calls it The hollow hour. The very pit of all other hours, well the mystery of all these, can all be traced back to the 1932 surrealist sculpture by Alberto Giacomo ‘The Palace At Four in The Morning’, that’s the start point apparently for every artistic depiction of 4am, but a very productive hour it seems. Anyway, Lawrence uses the obsessive quality of the Italian Villanelle form to compare his lover to poetry, in all it’s beauty and complexity. In the stillness of the dark this love becomes apparent and glorious as the stars, the commas on her face, her heartbeat is a metaphor, a late bloom of red flowers that refuse to fade, ah the romance of it all  the dreamy nocturnal quality and this is a love that will last for eternity as he concludes that their bodies will leave ghost prints on the bed.

The epigraph of the poem First Night, by American poet and professor Billy Collins, comes from a quote by Spanish poet Juan Ramon Jimenez The worst thing about death must be the first night, and that gives us an idea of where his thoughts are going. Jimenez lost his father when he was only eighteen, experiencing quite young the darkness of his first night. Collins raises more questions about what happens after death, to both the dead and the living, will the dead gather to watch the sun and moon rise for example. When you lose someone it’s hard to see past the next minute let alone day, so doubts about whether there will be a sunrise, a language, a bed for any of us abound. How feeble our vocabulary in the face of death, he says, again being unable to find the words to express our grief. Collins concludes, as do all our writers today, by reminding us to pay more attention to our lives, our world, enjoy what we have while we have it. Being present and finding alternative ways of dealing with grief, is one of those little tricks to better living that all the great philosophers talk about. I’m reading a book by Sarah Bakewell at the moment about the life of the 16th century French philosopher Montaigne, he was heavily influenced by Greek & Roman philosophers like Seneca and Plutarch and they were always conducting their own little thought experiments on ways of living without anxiety.  Plutarch suggested that if you lose someone precious you can try valuing them differently by imagining that you never knew them, thus producing a different emotion! He famously put this in a letter to his wife after the loss of their daughter, I’m not sure if she found any consolation in that but the intent of course was to ease her suffering. Anyway, for those of us who have lost someone, there’s no denying the truth in Jimenez’s words, that for the living at least, the first night is the worst after a death.

Also on today’s show: Wait by Galway Kinnell,  Lay Back The Darkness by Edward Hirsh and  They Sit Together On The Porch by Wendell Berry.  Music from Matthew & The Atlas, Alice Boman, Will Oldham & Johnny Cash and more …..

darkness

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” Mary Oliver

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WestWords Perfect Pair 13.08.2014

Argentinian short-story writer, essayist, poet and translator Jorge Luis Borges was born in Buenos Aires in 1899. When he was fifteen, his family moved to Switzerland, where he studied in Geneva before travelling widely in Europe, including stays in Spain. On his return to Argentina in 1921, Borges began publishing his poems and essays in surrealist literary journals, his first collection Passion For Buenos Aires was published in 1923. In 1955 he was appointed director of the National Public Library and professor of Literature at the University of Buenos Aires. Borges was widely read, profoundly erudite and fluent in several languages, however he was relatively unknown in the English speaking world until he won the International Publishers Prize alongside Samuel Beckett in 1961.
Due to a hereditary condition Borges became blind in his late fifties and in such later works as In Praise Of Darkness 1969 and The Gold of the Tigers, 1972, he wrote of his lifelong descent into blindness and how it affected his perceptions of the world and himself as a writer. He died in Geneva in 1986. Here is:

IN PRAISE OF DARKNESS
By Jorge Luis Borges
(trans. From the Spanish by Hoyt Rogers)

Old age (the name that others give it)
Can be the time of our greatest bliss.
The animal has died or almost died.
The man and his spirit remain.
I live among vague, luminous shapes
That are not darkness yet.
Buenos Aires,
Whose edges disintegrated
Into the endless plain,
Has gone back to being the Recoleta, the Retiro,
The nondescript streets of the Once,
And the rickety old houses
We still call the South.
In my life there were always too many things.
Democritus of Abdera plucked out his eyes in order to think;
Time has been my Democritus.

This penumbra is slow and does not pain me;
It flows down a gentle slope,
Resembling eternity.
My friends have no faces,
Women are what they were so many years ago,
These corners could be other corners,
There are no letters on the pages of books.
All this should frighten me,
But it is a sweetness, a return.
Of the generations of texts on earth
I will have read only a few –
The ones that I keep reading in my memory,
Reading and transforming.
From South, East, West, and North
The paths converge that have led me
To my secret centre.
Those paths were echoes and footsteps,
Women, men, death-throes, resurrections,
Days and nights,
Dreams and half-wakeful dreams,
Every inmost moment of yesterday
And all the yesterdays of the world,
The Dane’s staunch sword and the Persian’s moon,
The acts of the dead,
Shared love, and words,
Emerson and snow, so many things.
Now I can forget them. I reach my centre
My algebra and my key,
My mirror.
Soon I will know who I am.

 

 

Spanish Language Poetry by WestWords

WestWords is produced and presented by Tracy Gaughan

airs Sat. 6pm & Thurs. 10am on http://www.claremorriscommunityradio.ie

This weeks show features:

Volver – Estrella Morente

Dreamwalker Ballad by Federico Garcia Lorca + Un Amor – The Gypsy Kings

Under The Poplars by Cesar Vallejo + Asturias – Narciso Yepes (Albeniz)

Motion by Octavio Paz + Chan Chan – Buena Vista Social Club

If You Forget Me by Pablo Neruda + Granada – John Williams (Albeniz)

A Sincere Man Am I by Jose Marti + Guantanamera – The Sandpipers

In Praise Of Darkness by Jorge Luis Borges + Yo Envidio El Viento – Lila Downs (Lucinda Williams)

Troubled Girl – Karen Rameriz

Enjoy the show!

Tracy