Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)
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The Craft of Verse: The Norton Lectures, 1967-68
""The central fact of my life has been the existence of words and the possibility of weaving those words into poetry."
Jorge Luis Borges, This Craft of Verse
These are the six Norton Lectures that Jorge Luis Borges delivered at Harvard University in the fall of 1967 and spring of 1968. The recordings, only lately discovered in the Harvard University Archives, uniquely capture the cadences, candor, wit, and remarkable erudition of one of the most extraordinary and enduring literary voices of our age. Through a twist of fate that the author of Labyrinths himself would have relished, the lost lectures return to us now in Borges' own voice.
Born in 1899, Borges was by this time almost completely blind (only a single color-- yellow, "the color of the tiger" -- remained for him), and thus addressed his audience without the aid of written notes. Probably the best-read citizen of the globe in his day, he draws on a wealth of examples from literature in modern and medieval English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, and Chinese, speaking with characteristic eloquence on Plato, the Norse kenningar, Byron, Poe, Chesterton, Joyce, and Frost, as well as on translations of Homer, the Bible, and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Though his avowed topic is poetry, Borges explores subjects ranging from prose forms (especially the novel), literary history, and translation theory, to philosophical aspects of literature in particular and communication in general. Throughout, Borges tells the very personal story of his lifelong love affair with the English language and its literature, ancient and modern. In each lecture, he gives us marvelous insights into his literary sensibility, tastes, preoccupations, and beliefs.
Whether discussing metaphor, epic poetry, the origins of verse, poetic meaning, or his own "poetic creed," Borges gives a performance as entertaining as it is intellectually engaging. A lesson in the love of literature and language, this is a sustained personal encounter with a literary voice for whom the twentieth century will be long remembered.
From Library Journal
For Borges (1899-1986), the central fact of life was the existence of words and their potential as building blocks of poetry. In this series of six long-forgotten lectures given at Harvard more than 30 years ago, he insists that reading (in English, primarily) gave him more pleasure than writing. Most of his examples are taken from English-speaking writers, such as Shakespeare, Keats, Byron, Whitman, and Frost. Borges developed a passion for the study of Old English, with its abundant metaphors, harsh beauty, and deep feeling (though not, he admits, for its deep thought). He dislikes the history of literature, which he feels demeans individual works, and he is generally wistful for a future when we are no longer overburdened by history. He champions the primacy of storytelling and prefers the epic to the novel, which he finds "padded." He also argues that one of the great poverties of our time is that we no longer believe in happiness and success and that happy endings seem commercial or staged. Some of his ideas are quirky, but it's still a privilege to have access to one of the most distinctive literary voices of the century. Recommended.DJack Shreve, Allegany Coll. of Maryland, Cumberland
Jorge Luis Borges in UbuWeb Film