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At the Admiral Benbow

N. C. Wyeth’s Blind Pew

N. C. Wyeth’s Blind Pew

It was one of the most fun novels I ever read; and it’s also not a bad poem by Jorge Luis Borges. Picture yourself at the Admiral Benbow Inn in the Southwest of England, with Jim Hawkins helping his widowed mother, when suddenly he hears the tap-tap of a cane. It is the old reprobate Blind Pew, and that is also the name of Borges’s poem:

Far from the sea and from fine war,
Which love hauled with him now that they were lost,
The blind old buccaneer was trudging
The cloddy roads of the English countryside.

Barked at by the farmhouse curs,
The butt of all the village lads,
In sickly and broken sleep he stirred
The black dust in the wayside ditches.

He knew that golden beaches far away
Kept hidden for him his own treasure,
So cursing fate’s not worth the breath;

You too on golden beaches far away
Keep for yourself an incorruptible treasure:
Hazy, many-peopled death.

Remember that the poet, too, is blind; so he has a special feeling for “the blind old buccaneer” who turns Jim Hawkins’s world upside down.

What I find most interesting is which “You” it is that Borges refers to in the first line of the fourth stanza. It cannot refer to Blind Pew, because his treasure is buried in the sands of an island in the South Pacific. It cannot be the reader of the poem, because he presumably does not desire “Hazy, many-peopled death.”

Perhaps the answer will come if we look at the same poem in the original Spanish:

Lejos del mar y la hermosa guerra,
que así el amor lo que ha perdido alaba,
el bucanero ciego fatigaba
los terrosos caminos de Inglaterra.

Ladrado por los perrors de las granjas,
pifia de los muchachos del poblado,
dormía un achacoso y agrietado
sueño en el negro polvo de las zanjas.

Sabía que en remotas playas de oro
era suyo un recóndito tesoro
y esto aliviaba su contraria suerte;

a ti también, en otras playas de oro,
te aguarda incorruptíble tu tesoro:
la vasta y vaga y necesaria muerte.

Some things start clicking into place. First of all, the poet uses the intimate form of “you,” not the formal form. It looks as if he is addressing himself. Curiously, the Spanish contains no reference indicating that these other golden beaches are “far away.” Rather, it moves directly to the poet keeping incorruptible his own treasure, that of “vast, vague, and necessary death” [my own literal translation].

Now why would Borges, blind as he is, wish for death and envy Blind Pew for his “beautiful war”? The answer is interesting, because the more of Borges you read, the more you discover that Borges is the descendant of military heroes. One of them fought in Peru at Junín to evict the Spanish. Another was Colonel Francisco Borges Lafinur (1835-1874), who died at the Battle of La Verde. The scion of these military heroes, Borges wished that he himself could have been a military hero. His stories and poems feature knife fights, hoods in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, and bravery in battle between the Unitarios and the Federales. Instead, he was born a weakling with eye troubles, like his father before him.

2 thoughts on “At the Admiral Benbow

  1. there’s a benbow inn on vancouver island i stayed in as a child when my father in the canadian navy was misbehaving. many stories from that; stay, most unpublishable. forts in the hay field was fun, or painting the piano keys red, or eating the shamrocks owned by an old irish woman another guest

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