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Monday, 28 March 2011

Jorge Luis Borges: A un gato / To a cat


Young male tabby cat, Portugal: photo by Alvesgaspar, November 2010

En otro tiempo estás.

Eres el dueño

de un ámbito cerrado como un sueño.

You live in other time.

You preside over

a world as closed-off to us

as a dream.

File:Henri Rousseau 010.jpg

La Bohémienne endormie (The Sleeping Gypsy): Henri Rousseau, 1897 (Museum of Modern Art, New York; image by Scewing, 2010)

Jorge Luis Borges: A un gato / To a cat (excerpt), translated by TC


Julia said...

A gigantic wide smile you took out of me this morning.

TC said...

That is happy-making.

And while on the subject of happy, it always makes one happy to have help with translations. Fumbling, maladroit desecrations, created by creatures with seven thumbs, the translations of great poems so often seem.

At any rate, I have just now received by private message a helpful suggestion, from a certain expert, for an alternate translation of these Borges lines:

In another time.
You are the master
of a closed world like a dream.

That works for me. (Many thanks! to the friends from whom one can always use a little help.)

Julia said...

Oh, no, no, To, I made a mistake! (I read it badly in Spanish!!)
The first line must be something like your translation or "You are in another time"
Sorry, sorry, you better erase all this from me (shame on me!)

TC said...

No, no, it's fun to think about these options.

By the way, I developed "preside over" out of "dueño".

For "ámbito", at one point, I considered "precinct".

(I've seen that bit rendered as "lord of your realm", though bringing in royalty seemed possibly over-extravagant... yet then again, where we humans find a dreary quotidian world, a cat might well find a realm... and claim it...)

TC said...

That loud meow you did not hear just now came from a scavenger cat who arrives every night to request feeding, and, since this solicitation is usually successful, returns again... and again.. through cold and rain and dead of night, etc.

We are part of his realm.

He is the spitting image of the tabby cat at the top of this post.

Borges had a beautiful huge white cat named Beppo (after the Byron poem), but the idea here was to give the more ordinary felines their day (as they will take it anyway, whether or not given).

phaneronoemikon said...

Who can resist, I know I can't, the vertically striped gypsy caftan of our dearest Douanier.

and is not blindness an echo
of that otherness to the seeing
and the naïve an other
to the cosmopolite.

a little homophonisme
seems okay
even if of the naive variety:


In a roe of time's zeroed estate
Eris examples
an inner whose outer
can never be reveiled

TC said...

That surely puts a fine point on the tip of the whisker, Lan.

And furthermore, what difference can it make to a blind man whether a cat is beautiful or not.

Our theory is that the mongrel tabby and tortoiseshell mixes have a sort of junkyard survivability advantage, whereas the purer breeds...

...forgot the rest of that sentence because the large splendid Siamese was demanding door duties.

While the two allwhites sit impassively gazing, awaiting developments. Possibly sunrise, though no one's actually seen one of those for some time.

Anonymous said...

Regarding your last observation (or rather series of observations, Tom), a very good cat vet we know has a corny sign in her office stating (roughly) that cats are like potato chips and you can't be satisfied with just one. Everyone who likes cats knows what that vet means, I think. And I enjoyed both translations.

Ed Baker said...

I always thought /called/ this cat

a tabby.

the one you call "tabby" I've always called an Alley Cat

not a single out-door cat around here any more...
people especially my ... neighbor... put out rat
poison & (....).

I haven't spoken to my neighbor in 25 years.... not since Amelia died of

TC said...


The vet's joke about potato chips made us laugh.

(But one doesn't have to clean out a potato chip's liter box.)


I'd give the guy another 25 years probation.

Some nervous nellie neighbours here were in the habit of planting doses of rat poison all about their grounds, and a little tortoiseshell girl named Dark Sister, in the course of her dogged daily rounds of territory-policing, ate enough of a poisoned rat to make her sick unto death for several days, during which she lay inert, struggling to breathe.

But she had scrap iron genes. She recovered, lived to be a ripe (rank?) old 22.

But the guy who dosed your Amelia, Ed, if he should ever send his kids around trick or treating... a little bleach in the jelly beans might make a nice starter aperitif.



"Young male tabby cat, Portugal" appeared bit by bit -- first the ears, then head, neck, body, feet placed on stone wall, making it seem as if one could touch his fur, hear what he was thinking in that "world as close- off to us as a dream". . .


light coming into sky above still black
ridge, whiteness of moon next to branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

elsewhere which will appear
in this, pointing to

it as such, surface objects
not there, shadow of

grey white clouds to the left of point,
shadowed green pine on tip of sandspit

Ed Baker said...

lyskerit was a she who put the poison out... got dead two dogs (who ate the dead rats) at least 3hree cats who caught the drugged/dyeing rats...

this neighbor over a couple of years always threw the dead rats over into MY yard!

I put a stop to that..... put one of her dead rats into her mail-box ...watched her reach in...

"did you see who put that dead rat in my mail box?"

"probably the same dumb-fuck who's throwing them into my yard," say I with a tabby-like grin.

well, not exactly an haiku moment....or an
ours poetic-her

p.s. she moved after the dog-neighbor on the other side of her called in the Humane Society /County police visited her...

Hazen said...

For a while now I’ve dipped into the soothing waters of Beyond the Pale, sin comentario. Couldn’t leave this time without saying thanks, especially for this look at Borges and cats. I like the way Borges, in only three lines, employs the two verbs in Spanish that signify to be. Might they mean something like this?

You exist in another time.
You are the owner of a world
as closed off as a dream.


Julia said...

Although I'm embarrassed to say nothing else here today, I'd like to point that what Haze says is one of the most important subtleties of these verses: the use of "ser" y "estar".
"En otro tiempo estás" (that's the verb "estar" signifying "you exist in another time / you live in another time" but also "you are in another time"). And then the use of the verb "ser" in "Eres el dueño...", that means this isn't something accidental nor momentaneous: the cat IS, was and always will be, the master/owner of a world or field apart.

TC said...


There are few things so pleasant (or so rare) as a tale of Justice prevailing in the long run.

Hazen and Julia,

Translation by dialectical symposium advances our understanding, thus to arrive at (near) total illumination.