The Hourglass

It is appropriate that time be measured

by the stark shadow cast by a stake in summer

or by the flow of water in the river

where Heraclitus saw time’s ironies

since, seen as time and fate, they are alike;

the movement of the mindless daytime shadow

and the irrevocable running on

of river water following its flow.

Just so, but time discovered in the deserts

another substance, smooth and of some weight,

that seemed to have been specifically imagined

for measuring out the ages of the dead.

And so appears this instrument of legend

in the engravings in the dictionary,

an object graying antiquarians

will banish to a dusty underworld

of things — a single chessman, a broadsword,

now lifeless, and a clouded telescope,

sandalwood word away by opium,

a world of dust, of chance, of nothingness.

Who has not hesitated, seeing that hourglass,

severe and sombre, in the god’s right hand,

accompanying the scythe he also handles,

the image Durer copied in his drawing?

Through a top opening, the inverted cone

slowly lets fall the wary grains of sand,

a gradual gold that, loosening, fills up

the concave crystal of its universe.

Pleasure there is in watching how the sand

slowly slithers up and makes a slope

then, just about to fall, piles up again

with an insistence that appears quite human.

The sand of every cycle is the same

and infinite is the history of sand;

so, underlying your fortunes and your sorrows,

yawns an invulnerable eternity.

It never stops, the spilling of the sand.

I am the one whyo weakens, not the glass.

The rite of the falling sand is infinite

and, with the sand, our lives are leaving us.

In the timing of the sand, I seem to feel

a cosmic time: all the long history

that memory keeps sealed up in its mirrors

or that has been dissolved by magic Lethe.

All these: the pillar of smoke, the pillar of fire,

Carthage, Rome, and their constricting wars,

Simin Magus, the seven feet of earth

the Saxon offers the Norwegian king —

all are obliterated, all brought down

by the tireless trickle of the endless sand.

I do not have to save myself — I too

am a whim of time, that shify element.

-Jorge Luis Borges, translated (I think) by Alistair Reed


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    • rb137 on May 3, 2009 at 12:33 am

    But I don’t often read Borges’ poetry. I thought I’d share something I read this afternoon.

    Borges short stories are amazing.

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