Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Borges, Jorge Luis (1899–1986)
Author:
Folsom, Ed
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentinian essayist, poet, and master of the short story, was a great admirer of Whitman. He wrote several important essays on Whitman, who also figures as the subject of several of his poems, and he translated a large selection of Leaves of Grass into Spanish (Hojas de hierba, 1969). Much of the work from Borges's sixty-year writing career has been translated into English, most notably Labyrinths (1964), Other Inquisitions (1964), and Selected Poems (1968).

Borges was most intrigued by the phenomenon he named the "two Whitmans: the 'friendly and eloquent savage' of Leaves of Grass and the poor writer who invented him" ("Note" 68). In this double figure of the fictional expansive Whitman and the actual limited Whitman, Borges found a cracked mirror image of his own divided self, and he came to identify with both the "lonely, unfortunate man whose life was short of happiness" and the "semi-divine hero espousing democracy" ("Poet of Democracy" 305). Borges also insisted that one of Whitman's great accomplishments was to make of his reader a fictional character. Borges's fascination with metafictional worlds led him to see Whitman as the original metafictionist, "making a character out of the writer and the reader" (Foreword xvii), and he believed this accomplishment was never equaled.

In his poem "Camden, 1892" Borges imagines an aged Whitman living out his tedious final years, feeling quite remote from the robust fictional Whitman he had created. The final line of the poem is "Yo fui Walt Whitman" ["I was Walt Whitman"], a line spoken at once by the elderly Whitman and by Borges himself. Blind and frail in his final decades, Borges continued to claim a kinship with the Camden sage.

Bibliography

Borges, Jorge Luis. "The Achievements of Walt Whitman." Texas Quarterly 5.1 (1962): 43–48.

———. Foreword and "Camden, 1892." Homage to Walt Whitman. Ed. Didier Tisdel Jaén. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 1969. xiii–xvii, 2–3.

———. "Note on Walt Whitman." Other Inquisitions, 1937–1952. Trans. Ruth L.C. Simms. Austin: U of Texas P, 1964. 66–72.

———. "Walt Whitman, Man and Myth." Critical Inquiry 1 (1975): 707–718.

———. "Walt Whitman, Poet of Democracy." Commonweal 22 May 1981: 303–305.


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