Jorge Luis Borges

by Jeff Trussell

"Being with you and not being with you is the only way I have to measure time." -- from The Threatened

Jorge Luis Borges
Grete Stern / [Public domain] via Wikimedia

"Writing is nothing more than a guided dream." With these words, Jorge Luis Borges invites us to enter one of the most peculiar worlds ever created by a writer. Peopled by men who dream their sons to life and jaguar temple gods lost in the Amazon, the universe Borges revealed through his short stories and poems was one of infinite variety and mysticism and one that left an indelible impression on many readers.

Born in Palermo, Argentina, Borges grew up in a poor, Post-Victorian family with British roots. Ironically, this giant of Spanish literature learned English as his first language! After spending most of his youth abroad (including time spent in Spain as a follower of the Ultraist movement), Borges returned to his native Argentine soil and began to establish his reputation as one of the most skilled young writers in Buenos Aires.

Borges in Sicily, 1984
Unknown author / [Public domain] via Flickr

Like many great artists, it is not Borges' personal biography that distinguishes him from his peers, but rather the lives he created on paper. In real life, Borges was something of a recluse, dabbling in politics but mainly spending his time in a dark Buenos Aires apartment with his mother and working as a librarian.

On paper, however, Borges was the master of an evocative, strangely poetic universe. Known primarily for his prose, Borges mixed science fiction with intellectual esoterica to weave tales of complex men confronting the unfathomable. Borges revolutionized the way fiction was written, using techniques and devices unheard of before his time. In many of his books, protagonists struggle with concepts rather than corporal enemies, achieving epistemological rather than physical victories. He wrote of deep dreams that no man before him had dared articulate.

Borges' forays into poetry were less successful but nonetheless quite arresting. He himself acknowledged his poetic shortcomings: "My friends tell me that my stories are much better than my poetry, but for me it is a joy to write them." Translated or in the original Spanish, his poems addressed highly erudite issues in smooth stark stanzas, such as this poem called "The Suicide," from The Book of Sand.

Not a single star will be left in the night.
The night will not be left.
I will die and, with me, the weight of the intolerable universe.
I shall erase the pyramids, the medallions,
the continents and faces.
I shall erase the accumulated past.
I shall make dust of history, dust of dust.
Now I am looking on the final sunset.
I am hearing the last bird.
I bequeath nothingness to no one.


Borges died on June 14, 1986, at the age of 86.

Page created on 7/31/2014 10:28:56 PM

Last edited 8/20/2020 10:01:44 PM

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Related Links

Library of Congress - "Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges reading from his work"
Poetry Foundation - An independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in American culture. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience.

Extra Info

Further reading:
Non-fiction: A Universal History of Infamy (1935)
Stories: The Immortals
Poetry: The Book of Sand

Related Books


Author Info

Mark from Providence, Rhode Island writes: My hero is Jorge Luis Borges. Borges is an Argentine writer who constructed fictions out of his daily life. He devoted more than forty years to his scrupulous art. His work is the most amazing collection of falsifications and magnifications that I have ever seen. He makes you believe what is preposterous and question what is most sacrosanct. I love him for the new realms and ideas that he has opened for me. His poetry is full of passion and his soul is wonderful place to get lost. If I could emulate any writer, Borges is the one. And yet, he disavowed this "Borges" regularly. He had a true sense of the limits of identity and self. I idolize this man that became so much more and so much less than himself.