Saturday, December 5, 2015

On Borges’ “False Modesty”

If as I believe something goes on in the creation of a poem that is not entirely of the poet then he does himself a disservice and makes of himself a dishonest man if he claims to have made the entire poem out of his own "ability" and volition without the aid of any external force.  Perhaps as someone implied (if I understood him correctly and can paraphrase), that it is all someplace in the poets psyche but that he doesn't have access to it except at the point of creation and then it is either produced by him while "seeming" to come from some place else or actually does come from some place else.  In either case it seems prudent not to take complete credit for the production and it wouldn't be false modesty to admit that he isn't sure where everything that made up the finished poem came from.  One thinks of Nebuchanezer looking down from a high wall and exclaiming, "see all I have made," or Shelly's "Ozymandias (no doubt inspired by the Biblical story) saying ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

This isn't to say that all poets are like this.  Perhaps some produce poetry entirely out of their own conscious intellects with nothing they need to call a "muse" or external force assisting.  Then it would indeed be false modesty for such a poet to deny that the poem comes entirely from his own ability.  I can't frankly tell what sort of poet Borges is.  I have his Selected Poems and have read a number of them.  He claimed that he worked his short stories over and over until they came out right, but he does say they started with an idea he had.  Did his poems start the same way?  And this "idea," what was it like I wonder?

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