A History of Night

By Sean Carroll | April 13, 2009 1:21 pm

April is going to be Poetry Month all month long! The New York Review of Books is celebrating. Here’s one from Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Alastair Reid.

A History of Night

Through the course of generations
men brought the night into being.
In the beginning were blindness and dream
and thorns which gash the bare foot
and fear of wolves.
We shall never know who fashioned the word
for the interval of darkness
which divides the two half-lights.
We shall never know in what century it stood
for the starry spaces.
Others began the myth.
They made night mother of the tranquil Fates
who weave all destiny
and sacrificed black sheep to her
and the rooster which announced her end.
The Chaldeans gave her twelve houses;
infinite worlds, the Stoic Portico.
Latin hexameters molded her,
and Pascal’s dread.
Luis de León saw in her the homeland
of his shivering soul.
Now we feel her inexhaustible
as an old wine
and no one can think of her without vertigo,
and time has charged her with eternity.

And to think that night would not exist
without those tenuous instruments, the eyes.

  • Matt B

    Hooray for Borges! I have yet to read any of his writing that doesn’t result in a “damn, i need to read more of him” impulse.

  • Ray Saunders

    There are some writers who inspire me to learn foreign languages just so I can read them in the original. It’s no accident that the Italian for ‘translate’ and ‘betray’ have a common root.
    Between Borges and Lorca, I guess Spanish is next on my list.

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  • Ellipsis

    Nights begin with

    — W.S. Merwin

    I am strange here and often I am still trying
    To finish something as the light is going
    Occasionally as just now I think I see
    Off to one side something passing at that time
    Along the herded walls under the walnut trees
    And I look up but it is only
    Evening again the old hat without a head
    How long will it be till he speaks when he passes

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  • http://www.whereisyvette.wordpress.com Yvette

    Nice one.

    Y’know, CV should have a physics poem contest or something (limericks or haikus perhaps to keep things in check?). Would keep me entertained.

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  • http://www.librarything.com/profile/changcho changcho

    The first time I heard of Borges was when studying from C. Kittel’s “Thermal Physics”…

  • Steve

    Borges, already blind for nearly 20 years when he wrote A History of Night, alluded to sight and blindness in his other poetry, conditions of which he was intimately familiar.

  • Stonneflute

    Genius penetrates.


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .


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