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Browning Decides To Be a Poet

Robert Browning (1812-1889)

It is time for another poem by one of my favorite poets, the late Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo of Argentina.

Robert Browning Decides To Be a Poet

In these red labyrinths of London
I find that I have chosen
the strangest of all callings,
save that, in its way, any calling is strange.
Like the alchemist
who sought the philosopher's stone
in quicksilver,
I shall make everyday words—
the gambler's marked cards, the common coin—
give off the magic that was their
when Thor was both the god and the din,
the thunderclap and the prayer.
In today's dialect
I shall say, in my fashion, eternal things:
I shall try to be worthy
of the great echo of Byron.
This dust that I am will be invulnerable.
If a woman shares my love
my verse will touch the tenth sphere of the concentric heavens;
if a woman turns my love aside
I will make of my sadness a music,
a full river to resound through time.
I shall live by forgetting myself.
I shall be the face I glimpse and forget,
I shall be Judas who takes on
the divine mission of being a betrayer,
I shall be Caliban in his bog,
I shall be a mercenary who dies
without fear and without faith,
I shall be Polycrates, who looks in awe
upon the seal returned by fate.
I will be the friend who hates me.
The persian will give me the nightingale, and Rome the sword.
Masks, agonies, resurrections
will weave and unweave my life,
and in time I shall be Robert Browning.

The line about “if a woman turns my love aside” is particularly poignant. For most of his life, Borges was in love with a fellow writer, Norah Lange, who instead married Oliverio Girondo, whom he hated with a passion.

Argentinean Writer Norah Lange (1905-1972)

Borges did eventually get married in his old age—twice. The first one was a disaster, the second one more of a helpmate.