Break of Day


In the deep night of the universe
scarcely contradicted by the streetlamps
a lost gust of wind
has offended the taciturn streets
like the trembling premonition
of the horrible dawn that prowls
the ruined suburbs of the world.
Curious about the shadows
and daunted by the threat of dawn,
I recalled the dreadful conjecture
of Schopenhauer and Berkeley
which declares that the world
is a mental activity,
a dream of souls,
without foundation, purpose, weight or shape.
And since ideas
are not eternal like marble
but immortal like a forest or a river,
the preceding doctrine
assumed another form as the sun rose,
and in the superstition of that hour
when light like a climbing vine
begins to implicate the shadowed walls,
my reason gave way
and sketched the following fancy:
If things are void of substance
and if this teeming Buenos Aires
is no more than a dream
made up by souls in a common act of magic,
there is an instant
when its existence is gravely endangered
and that is the shuddering instant of daybreak,
when those who are dreaming the world are few
and only the ones who have been up all night retain,
ashen and barely outlined,
the image of the streets
that later others will define.
The hour when the tenacious dream of life
runs the risk of being smashed to pieces,
the hour when it would be easy for God
to level His whole handiwork!

But again the world has been spared.
Light roams the streets inventing dirty colors
and with a certain remorse
for my complicity in the day's rebirth
I ask my house to exist,
amazed and icy in the white light,
as one bird halts the silence
and the spent night
stays on in the eyes of the blind.


               Spanish; trans. Stephen Kessler


Jorge Luis Borges, Spanish, trans. Stephen Kessler, Selected Poems, ed. Alexander Coleman, Viking Penguin, 1999.