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During his life, Jorge Luis Borges wore many hats. He was, variously, a poet, an essayist, a short-story writer, a librarian, and, for a short time, a poultry inspector. Born in Argentina in 1899, he lived for several years in Europe before eventually returning home to Buenos Aires in the early 1920s. It was here that Borges started his career as a writer. At the age of 24, he published his first volume of poetry, and though he would go on to garner considerable acclaim as an essayist and crafter of fiction, he always considered himself first and foremost a poet. This bilingual edition of Selected Poems, edited by Alexander Coleman, gathers together 200 poems from different periods of Borges's life, including some that will be appearing in English for the first time.

Whether he was writing fiction, essays, or poetry, there were certain themes and subjects that Borges returned to time and again. His home town became a favorite topic--in his first collection, Fervor de Buenos Aires, he wrote: "My soul is in the streets / of Buenos Aires," a sentiment that remained constant throughout his life. This collection reveals other preoccupations as well--with history in all its permutations, Borges's own ancestry, and his fascination with metaphysics, mazes, mirror images, and the blurry line between parallel realities:

The celibate white cat surveys himself
in the mirror's clear-eyed glass,
not suspecting that the whiteness facing him
and those gold eyes that he's not seen before
in ramblings through the house are his own likeness.
Who is to tell him the cat observing him
is only the mirror's way of dreaming?
This companion volume to Andrew Hurley's new translation of Collected Fictions boasts a stellar cast of translators, including W.S. Merwin, Mark Strand, and John Updike among others. Admirers of Borges will find Selected Poems a fitting memorial to the great man; and for those have never had the pleasure of reading him before, this book is a wonderful introduction. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

After a few decades devoted to the luminously precise prose for which he is known in the States, Borges (1899-1986), who began his career writing poetry, returned to it with fervor. This edition makes available for the first time in English an overview of every phase of his poetic oeuvre. Although his earliest book (1923's Fervor de Buenos Aires) represents a youthful Borges more directly concerned with the specific, local and vernacular, he develops his mature themesAtime, imagination, and identityAthroughout. Taken together, the poems distill those concerns, which famously preoccupy him in the brief ficciones. And, like the fictions, they are almost disturbingly comprehensible. One peak of the collection is 1960's The Maker, showing Borges at his most defined and refined, presenting sophisticated riffs on Arisosto, Luke and "The Other Tiger" with elegance and gusto. The poems of 1969's In Praise of Darkness confront encroaching blindness, old age and the possibility of ethics, reaching beyond the expectations created by Borges's mastery of the fantastic and the metaphysical. The result is poems at times as moving as Stevens's "The Rock." The translations, edited by New York Univ. professor emeritus Coleman, and realized by varying hands as accomplished as W.S. Merwin, Mark Strand and Charles Tomlinson, are for the most part fluid, although the occasional infelicity, revealed by the original en face, does rankle. Still, gratitude is the only proper response to this invaluable volume, the second of three planned releases. First serial to Harper's and the Los Angeles Times Book Review.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (April 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140587217
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140587210
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.3 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #159,986 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Taylor on February 15, 2004
Format: Paperback
Borges was fascinated by English. As a kid, he grew up speaking it with his English grandmother and he spent the rest of his life ransacking the treasure-chest of English and American literature. In a famous prose-poem published in 1960, "Borges and I", he could cite Robert Louis Stevenson's prose as one his favorite things (alongside the taste of coffee and the strumming of a guitar). And even after he lost his eyesight in mid-age, most of the books he went on reading in his mind were in English.

Consequently, he sounds good in translation. It's tough to make Neruda or Lorca or even a lot of novelists writing in Spanish sound clear and convincing in English. Lorca, for example, wrote in a distinctively Andalusian idiom, and nobody who has never read his poetry in the original can understand how stilted he sounds in English. Borges, by contrast, had a more universal intellect and the strands of his writing span many non-Hispanic cultures. His reading in many different literatures left a deep imprint on him linguistically and helps explain why his work translates so well into other languages. While it's true that much of his poetry has a distinctly Argentine "flavor", it has many other flavors, as well. Depending on the poem, Borges can evoke Quevedo, Leopoldo Lugones, "Beowulf", the Icelandic Prose Edda, Whitman, Omar Khayyam, or Ralph Waldo Emerson. And yet the English influence is present in virtually all of his work.

Thirteen translators are featured in this anthology and the quality varies. Barnstone and Merwin are, as usual, impeccably accurate and 1000% unadventurous. Robert Fitzgerald shows yet again that his last name must be some kind of cosmic byword for quality (F. Scott, Edward, Ella, now Robert...).
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By vic spicer on December 31, 1999
Format: Hardcover
i got this wonderful book as a very unexpected christmas gift. i don't speak spanish, so can't address the claims that the translations are inadequate.
what is here in english, taken on those terms alone, is till great. recurring themes of tigers, mirrors, his beloved hometown, the history of literature, the bible, memory, distortions in time & space, heaven and hell weave themselves through over six decades of dazzling images and heartbreaking tenderness.
it's also playful- filled with bits from imagined histories and books which i almost find myself wanting to locate, as these little bits are too beautiful to be unreal.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAME on December 13, 2004
Format: Paperback
This review is about a single question. Why if Borges considered himself a poet above all, and if this book contains as it does contain most of his major themes are his real readers and his real fame the readers of his stories essays and short prose-pieces ? Why is the most loved Borges not found in the poems when the poems too do at times like the stories tell stories?
Perhaps it is because the language of poetry is more dense and ambiguous and breaks the flow of the story. Perhaps it is because on the nonetheless more extended palette of the story a more extensive picture can be painted. Perhaps it is because too the element of mystery so great in Borges work comes to us in a stronger way in a narrative telling? Or perhaps too Borges whether he likes it or not is in his lists and his recollections really more a figure of prose than of poetry. And perhaps and this the real paradox Borges poetry is too more prose- like than poetic in many ways. Perhaps his way of going on in such intellectual questioning fashion renders his poetry more mind- like and less in deep lyric feeling than the deepest poetry means?
I ask this as prelude to saying a few words about these poems most of which I have read, and few of which I remember.And this too is part of it. The Borges name is connected with those tales from The Aleph to Funes to Borges and I . It is less connected with any of the poems
And all of this review seems now to me somehow unfair. Borges is a great writer and his words mean more than anything written about them.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ikey on November 2, 2004
Format: Paperback
It is strange reviewing it. It's like reviewing some sacred book...
The whole World is here. And more... Here is Argentina with its familiar (to Borges) streets; here is a poem about chess, the Moon, tigers. Men. Here is Iceland in all its beauty and past; in a way no one else can ever portray it. Beautiful poems about art, God, history, mirrors, death, life, war, Shinto, Love, time, eternity, blindness, mortality, emotion, thoughts... everything and nothing...
Through this precious book we may perceive all of this through Borges' blind, ever watching, tired eyes.
I love to be lost in all those words...
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Dallas Fawson on January 16, 2012
Format: Paperback
Even though I speak Spanish fluently, I feel that Borges is often just as good translated into English as in the original Spanish, so I enjoy reading his work in both languages, particularly his stories translated by Giovanni in collaboration with the author; English was the preferred language of Borges, and these stories are the closest we can get to what Borges would have written had English been his first language.
For this reason, I wanted to read his poetry, both in Spanish and English. He writes in a way that makes translating him into other languages easy, at least compared to most great Latin American writers.
I was pleased at first; the first few poems are grand, and their English translations are equally mesmerizing.
However, I quickly encountered a problem: Alastair Reed. You would think a man with a reputation as high as his would know better than to butcher great poetry, but that is exactly what he does. He is liberal in his translations to the point where it almost seems that he is not pleased with the original poetry and has to change it to fit his own ideas. His translations are inaccurate and, I believe, vain. He never changes the poetry for the better, and even if he did it would be beside the point.
Most of the other dozen or so translators are good at their interpretations and, if nothing else, stay true to the original. Alastair Reed is the exception and, unfortunately, his renderings take up most of the book.
Read Borges, and savor him, but, if you don't read Spanish, keep in mind that when you see "A.R." at the end of a poem, you are not reading Borges.
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