Borges on poetic inspiration

In the preface to his poetry collection The Unending Rose, Jorge Luis Borges writes about the romantic notion of the Muse (“what the Hebrews and Milton called Spirit, and what our own woeful mythology refers to as the Subconscious”) and says the process for him is more or less unvarying:

I begin with the glimpse of a form, a kind of remote island, which will eventually be a story or a poem. I see the end and I see the beginning, but not what is in between. That is gradually revealed to me, when the stars or chance are propitious. More than once, I have to retrace my steps by way of the shadows. I try to interfere as little as possible in the evolution of the work. I do not want it to be distorted by my opinions, which are the most trivial things about us. The notion of art as compromise is a simplification, for no one knows entirely what he is doing. A writer can conceive a fable, Kipling acknowledged, without grasping its moral. He must be true to his imagination, and not to the mere ephemeral circumstances of a supposed ‘reality’.

Much of this is, I think, equally true and valid of other kinds of creative activity: the vague beginning; the patient waiting; the getting out of one’s own way; the elusive, unpredictable development of the work. The importance of faith in a good idea. But Borges is talking specifically of writing and poetry, and a little later he goes on:

The word must have been in the beginning a magic symbol, which the usury of time wore out. The mission of the poet should be to restore to the word, at least in a partial way, its primitive and now secret force. All verse should have two obligations: to communicate a precise instance and to touch us physically, as the presence of the sea does.

7 Responses to Borges on poetic inspiration

  1. korystamper says:

    The notion of art as compromise is a simplification, for no one knows entirely what he is doing.

    A truth that is both terrifying and freeing–and usually makes for the best kind of writing.

    Thanks for the lovely introit to the weekend, Stan!

  2. Cheri Lucas says:

    “…the vague beginning; the patient waiting; the getting out of one’s own way…”

    So simple, so true. And love this bit from Borges: “The word must have been in the beginning a magic symbol, which the usury of time wore out.”

    Nice words to begin my morning. Thanks!

  3. Stan says:

    Kory: Well put, and thanks for the lovely word introit.

    Cheri: You’re very welcome. Thank you for stopping by!

  4. Marjory says:

    This is so beautiful. As a lover of ocean, spirit, poetry and Borges, thanks for sharing!

  5. […] in a healing moment of both touching and being touched by nature. As the great writer and poet Borges affirms: “The word must have been in the beginning a magic symbol, which the usury of time […]

  6. Beautiful. Thanks very much.

  7. Stan says:

    Marjory: It’s a pleasure. Thank you for your visit and link.

    Fran: You’re most welcome. He put it so well.

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