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Jorge Luis Borges writing a letter

11 Life Lessons From Jorge Luis Borges

Inspire, Sublimate

These few fragments confirm that beyond beautiful metaphor and imagery, Borges’ work remains vital and transcendent.

Many of us have the impression that Jorge Luis Borges wrote recently. This is, perhaps in part, because he is usually identified as the author of some truly great stories, and just barely beyond that, perhaps because of his particular aversion to the novel.

Borges was, however, a prolific author. To his stories, many acknowledge, it’s necessary to add his several volumes of poetry, lectures, interviews and some other texts that only in recent years have added to the corpus. (An example might be some of the collaborative works published by Adolfo Bioy Casares, and translated into English only in the early 1980s.)

Perhaps it can be said that the work of the Argentine can be read from a certain premise of ignorance, as if we’re approaching someone who offers a high probability of surprise. Read not as though they’re the writings of an affable oldster obsessed with mirrors and mazes, but rather as one of the great modern authors. Borges is one who, in the light of both reason and poetry (two elements that seem mutually exclusive), coined some of the most lucid moments of human understanding.

Below are 11 short lessons, drawn from different texts, as an exercise in curiosity and wonder, and which show that Borges is an author who continues to teach us to look at, and to live, life differently.

Man invented farewells because he somehow knows he is immortal, even though he may seem gratuitous and ephemeral.

- From the poem, “Delia Elena San Marco, From Dreamtigers, translated by Mildred Boyer.


Do not swear, because every oath is an emphasis.

- From “Fragmentos de un evangelio apócrifo” (Elogio de la sombra).


I like to teach very much; especially since, as I teach, I’m learning.

- From Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges, by Fernando Sorrentino.


I think I have made every possible literary mistake and that will allow me to have any success ever.

- From Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges, by Fernando Sorrentino.


[…] Everything happens to a man precisely, precisely now. Centuries of centuries and only in the present do things happen; countless men in the air, on the face of the earth and the sea, and all that really is happening is happening to me…

- From “The Garden of Forking Paths” (Ficciones), Translated by Donald A. Yates.


We all come to resemble the image others have of us. 

- From “Unworthy,” Brodie’s Report, Translated by Andrew Hurley.


[…] It’s impossible that in a given year some thirty occasions of poetry will not occur.

- From “Blindness” (Seven Nights)


To fall in love is to produce a private mythology – a private mythology – and to make the universe into an allusion to the only indubitable person.

- Prologue to Nacimiento del fuego, by Roberto Godel


-You can’t do anything.

- I can do something I replied.

- What? – he asked.

- Wake up.

And so I did.

- From “Episode of the Enemy” (The Gold of the Tigers)


We can perceive some faces, some voices, some words, but what we perceive is infinitesimal. Infinitesimal and beautiful at the same time.

- From “The Palace” (The Gold of the Tigers)


But we don’t need to concern ourselves too much about the fate of the classics, for beauty is always with us.

- From “The Enigma of Poetry” (Arte poética)



Image: detail from a photograph by Alicia D’Amico (1963) / Public Domain

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