Borges: To a Saxon Poet (From Spanish)

To a Saxon Poet
By Jorge Luis Borges
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
This translation dedicated to Christina Von Nolcken, who taught me Old English as a callow undergraduate, and subsequently guided me through the text of Beowulf with consistant brilliance and heroic patience. 

The snowscape of Northumbria has known
And forgotten the footprints left by you.
Innumerable are the days the sun
Has set, gray brother, in between us two.

Slow in slow shadow you would work your lines
Out into metaphors of swords at sea,
And of the horror dwelling in the pines
And of the lonely thing that time could be.

Where shall I seek your features and your name?
Such things as these antique oblivion can
Never divulge. I'll never know what came
Of you when you on earth were yet a man.
You walked the ways of exile in your day.
Now you are nothing but your iron lay.

The Original:

A Un Poeta Sajón

La nieve de Nortumbria ha conocido
y ha olvidado la huella de tus pasos
y son innumerables los ocasos
que entre nosotros, gris hermano, han sido.

Lento en la lenta sombra labrarías
metáforas de espadas en los mares
y del horror que mora en los pinares
y de la soledad que traen los días.

¿Dónde buscar tus rasgos y tu nombre?
Esas son cosas que el antiguo olvido
guarda. Nunca sabré cómo habrás sido
cuando sobre la tierra fuiste un hombre.
Seguiste los caminos del destierro;
ahora sólo eres tu cantar de hierro.


  1. Love this one. I think my favorite Borges poem is We are the time, we are the famous.

  2. I loved this poem in your translation, especially as I had not known the original version. The original version I knew, which is equally haunting, is in N Giovanni's 'J L Borges Selected poems 1923-1967. Thanks!