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7 Haikus By Jorge Luis Borges


Borges’ admiration for Japan was also expressed in his cultivation of haiku.

The haiku, one of the most famous of Japanese poetic forms, is curiously the only one widely known in the West, even by those deeply interested in poetry.

This is not incidental. The haiku has everything to seduce almost any reader: it’s short, and yet profound. Its appeal is instant, making it arresting and giving it the patina of the eternal. A haiku is also a kind of epiphany, an unexpected revelation about existence. Finally, in its canonical form, haiku turns the multiple forms of nature into an essential presence, a moment of inspiration, a discovery.

In Western countries, haiku began to be cultivated in the late 19th century. In France, in particular, in these years, a keen interest in Japanese culture circulated in the most decisive intellectual circles (among the best known examples is the identification of Debussy’s La Mer, with Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa). By the early 20th century, Ezra Pound was also studying and writing haikus, as was the notable Mexican poet, José Juan Tablada.

Though it’s not well known, another tremendously famous author wrote haikus. We refer, of course, to Jorge Luis Borges, who is undoubtedly remembered more for his short stories and poetry and not for this facet of his work.

Borges was, however, a great admirer of Japanese culture, particularly towards the end of his life, by which time he’d made a couple of trips to the country. “I’ve somehow been preparing for the almost total surprise that is Japan,” he said at a conference in 1985, in part because Borges’ fascinations with the Asian country were coincidental with some of the strongest interests of his own life: heroism, civility, gardens.

Haiku is admired above all for two characteristics: the aforementioned brevity and the fact that haiku makes no use of metaphor, but only contemplation, contrast, and statement of fact without any eagerness to convert it to something else.

Thus we share seven haikus written by Borges. The rest may be found in La Cifra (1981).


Something they told me

The afternoon and mountains.

I’ve yet lost it.


This is or is not

the dream that I forgot

before the dawn?


The vast night

Is not now something else

what a fragrance.


Under the eaves

the mirror does not copy

more than the moon.


Is an empire

the light that goes out

or a firefly?


The new moon.

She also looks

from another door.


Far away a trill.

The nightingale does not know

That she consoles you.

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