The Moon

20 May, 2012 § 2 Comments

The story goes that in those far-off times
when every sort of thing was taking place –
things real, imaginary, dubious things –
a man thought up a plan that would embrace

the universe entire in just one book.
Relentlessly spurred on by this vast notion,
he brought off the ambitious manuscript,
polishing the final verse with deep emotion.

All set to offer thanks to his good fortune,
he happened to loop up and, none too soon,
beheld a glowing disk in the upper air,
the one thing he’d left out – the moon.

The story I have told, although made up,
could very well symbolize the plight
of those of us who cultivate the craft
of turning our lives into the words we write.

The essential thing is what we always miss.
From this law no one will be immune
nor will this account be an exception,
of my protracted dealings with the moon.

Where I saw it first I do not know,
whether in the other sky that, the Greeks tell,
preceded ours, or one fading afternoon
in the patio, above the fig-tree and the well.

As is well known, this changing life of ours
may incidentally seem ever so fair,
and so it was on evenings spent with her
when the moon was ours alone to share.

More than moons of the night, there come to mind
moons I have found in the verse: the weirdly haunting
dragon moon that chills us in the ballad
and Quevedo’s blood-stained moon, fully as daunting.

In the book he wrote full of all the wildest
wonders and atrocious jubilation,
John tells of a bloody scarlet moon.
There are other sliver moons for consolation.

Pythagoras, an old tradition holds,
used to write his verse in blood on a mirror.
Men looked to its reflection in the moon’s
hoping thus to make his meaning clearer.

In a certain ironclad wood is said to dwell
a giant wolf whose fate will be to slay

the moon, once he has knocked it from the sky

in the red dawning of the final day.

(This is well known throughout the prophetic North

as also that on that day, as all hope fails,

the seas of all the world will be infested

by a ship built solely out of dead men’s nails.)

When in Geneva or Zurich the fates decreed
that I should be a poet, one of the few,
I set myself a secret obligation
to define the moon, as would-be poets do.

Working away with studious resolve,
I ran through my modest variations,
terrified that my moonstruck friend Lugones
would leave no sand or amber for my creations.

The moons that shed their silver on my lines
were moons of ivory, smokiness, or snow.
Needless to say, no typesetter ever saw
the faintest trace of their transcendent glow.

I was convinced that like the red-hot Adam
of Paradise, the poet alone may claim
to bestow on everything within his reach
its uniquely fitting, never-yet-heard-of-name.

Ariosto holds that in the fickle moon
dwell dreams that slither through our fingers here,
all time that’s lost, all things that might have been
or might not have – no difference, it would appear.

Apollodorus let me glimpse the threefold shape
Diana’s magic shadow may assume.
Hugo gave me that reaper’s golden sickle
and an Irishman his pitch-black tragic moon.

And as I dug down deep into that mine
of mythic moons, my still unquiet eye
happened to catch, shining around the corner,
the familiar nightly moon of our own sky.

To evoke our satellite there spring to mind
all those lunar cliches like croon and June.
The trick, however, is mastering the use
of a single modest word: that word is moon.

My daring fails.  How can I continue
to thrust vain images in that pure face?
The moon, both unknowable and familiar,
disdains my claims to literary grace.

The moon I know or the letters of its name
were created as a puzzle or a pun
for the human need to underscore in writing
our untold strangeness, many or one.

Include it then with symbols that fate or chance
bestow on humankind against the day –
sublimely glorious or plain agonic –
when at least we write its name the one true way.

– From Poems of the Night by Jorge Luis Borges
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