Of Heaven and Hell

Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges

I cannot ever stop thinking of Jorge Luis Borges, of his poems, of his stories, of his diamond-like essays. For the better part of a half century, the man has guided my steps, sent me off to the Iceland of the Sagas, the paradoxes of G. K. Chesterton, the fantastic stories of that forgotten writer Rudyard Kipling, and the paintings of Xul Solar.

Today, I want to share with you the ending of a poem called “Of Heaven and Hell,” which I found in a Penguin Borges collection entitled Poems of the Night:

When Judgment Day sounds in the last trumpets
and planet and millennium both
disintegrate, and all at once, O Time,
all your ephemeral pyramids cease to be,
the colors and the lines that trace the past
will in the semidarkness form a face,
a sleeping face, faithful, still, unchangeable
(the face of the loved one, or, perhaps, your own)
and the sheer contemplation of that face—
never-changing, whole, beyond corruption—
will be, for the rejected, an Inferno,
and for the elected, Paradise.

For me, I think that face will be that of Martine. (My own face is out of the question: It is trapped in some mirror that first time I recognized it reminded me more of my father’s features than of my own.) No, Martine’s face frequently forms in my thoughts, as a special gift given to me by a God who showed me a gentle pity that was, I have always believed, more than I deserved. Does that mean I am one of what Borges called the “elegidos,” “the elect”? Time will tell.