Borges’s Zionist Bent: Newly Translated Poems

Jorge Luis Borges visited Israel twice. The first trip came at the invitation of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. It was in recognition of his philo-Semitism, and, in particular, his positive views on Israel. Borges had been active in Casa Argentina en Israel-Tierra Santa, a project that sought to build an Argentine cultural center in Jerusalem. He also had been the first to write about Israel in the prestigious intellectual magazine Sur in 1958. In the 1970s, in an autobiographical essay published in The New Yorker, Borges stated:Early in 1969, invited by the Israeli government, I spent ten very exciting days in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I brought home the conviction of having been in the oldest and the youngest of nations, of having come from a very living, vigilant land to a half-asleep nook of the world. Since my Geneva days, I had always been interested in Jewish culture, thinking of it as an integral element of our so-called Western civilization, and during the Israeli-Arab war of a few years back I found myself taking immediate sides. While the outcome was still uncertain, I wrote a poem on the battle. A week later, I wrote another on the victory. Israel was, of course, still an armed camp at the time of my visit. There, along the shores of Galilee, I kept recalling these lines from Shakespeare: Over whose acres walk’d those blessed feet, Which fourteen hundred years ago, were nail’d, For our advantage, on the bitter cross. Actually, there is a total of three poems on Israel in Borges’s collection “In Praise of Darkness” (1969). All were later included in his “ Obras Completas ” (1994) I don’t believe they have been rendered into English before. Herein are my versions. First, “To Israel”.

THE BLIND LIBRARIAN: Few had the cultural insight of Borges, here pictured in 1968.

THE BLIND LIBRARIAN: Few had the cultural insight of Borges, here pictured in 1968.

Ilan Stavans is Lewis-Sebring Professor of Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. His latest volume is “Resurrecting Hebrew” (Schocken/Nextbook).

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Ilan Stavans

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Borges’s Zionist Bent: Newly Translated Poems

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