Serendipity: A Yellow Rose

Italian Poet Giambattista Marino (1569-1625)

Italian Poet Giambattista Marino (1569-1625)

Over the last couple of days, I have been re-reading Jorge Luis Borges’s A Personal Anthology. For the nth time, I was struck by this short piece, which I reproduce here in its entirety. It is called “A Yellow Rose.” The Translation is by Anthony Kerrigan.

The illustrious Giambattista Marino, whom the unanimous mouth of fame—to use an image dear to him—proclaimed the new Homer and the new Dante, did not die that afternoon or the next. And yet, the immutable and tacit event that happened then was in effect the last event of his life. Laden with years and glory, the man lay dying in a vast Spanish bed with carved bedposts. It takes no effort to imagine a lordly balcony, facing west, a few steps away, and, further down, the sight of marble and laurels and a garden whose stone steps are duplicated in a rectangle of water. A woman has placed a yellow rose in a vase. The man murmurs the inevitable verses which—to tell the truth—have begun to weary him a little:

Blood of the garden, pomp of the walk,
gem of spring, April’s eye …

Then came the revelation. Marino saw the rose as Adam might have seen it in Paradise. And he sensed that it existed in its eternity and not in his words, and that we may make mention or allusion of a thing but never express it at all; and that the tall proud tomes that cast a golden penumbra in an angle of the drawing room were not—as he had dreamed in his vanity—a mirror of the world, but simply one more thing added to the universe.

This illumination came to Marino on the eve of his death, and, perhaps, it had come to Homer and Dante too.