Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cat! Poem (What Could Be More Commercial?)

Dear Everybody:

I having been away so long, at various times in Australia, in my own thoughts, and in fluenza, I'm getting you back into the swing of poetic things easily with:

To a Cat
by Jorge Luis Borges

Mirrors are not more silent
nor the creeping dawn more secretive;
in the moonlight, you are that panther
we catch sight of from afar.

[Rest of poem removed because it’s probably still in copyright]

Borges is respected as a poet, but revered as a writer of prose. (He's the guy who wrote about an infinite library containing not only every book written but every book possible; a man who forgets nothing and another who sets out to write Cervantes' Don Quixote four hundred years after Cervantes; the Alef, which contains within it all things; the Lottery of Babel, which is indistinguishable from life itself; and many, many other intellectual mind-benders.) So his poetry is more cleverly-constructed than profoundly-felt.

Note here how the cat is a thing of absences, defined by negatives ("not more silent nor... more secretive), never seen or described, identified with mirrors, the dawn, a long-forgotten time, the Ganges, a setting sun, a dream. All of which are absolutely unlike the physical thing that is a cat. In fact, what Borges has evoked here is a day, from sunup to sundown and sleep, and a world, through at least two continents. No furs, no claws, no eyes. Only, in fact, a "haunch" pushing up against "the love of a distrustful hand."

"You know my methods," as Sherlock Holmes said to Dr. Watson. What am I getting at here?
Two things: The poem is in the second person, so the poet is addressing a cat. The haunch and the hand place the cat in the poet's lap. Borges is feeling contemplative, dreamish. That's one. The other is that "distrustful" hand. The word leaps out at the reader. You'd expect "distrusted." But no, that word reveals that the poem is not about the cat at all. It's about the poet himself, the member of the race that distrusted the cat's wild ancestors, and somehow, so long ago the facts are forgotten, tamed it anyway.

So the poem's not really about a cat at all. It's about how the poet feels about cats. It's about the idea of a cat.

That's all for today. But we'll have more soon.



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