To the german languageMy destiny is in the Spanish language,
the bronze words of Francisco de Quevedo,
but in the long, slow progress of the night,
different, more intimate musics move me.
Some have been handed down to me by blood —
voices of Shakespeare, language of the Scriptures —
others by chance, which has been generous;
but you, gentle language of Germany,
I chose you, and I sought you out alone.
By way of grammar books and patient study,
through the thick undergrowth of the declensions,
the dictionary, which never puts its thumb on
the precise nuance, I kept moving closer.
My nights were full of overtones of Virgil,
I once said; but I could as well have named
Hölderlin, Angelus Silesius.
Heine lent me his lofty nightingales;
Goethe, the good fortune of late love,
at the same time both greedy and indulgent;
Keller, the rose which one hand leaves behind
in the closed fist of a dead man who adored it,
who will never know if it is white or red.
German language, you are your masterpiece:
love interwound in all your compound voices
and open vowels, sounds which accommodate
the studious hexameters of Greek
and undercurrents of jungles and of nights.
Once, I had you. Now, at the far extreme
of weary years, I feel you have become
as out of reach as algebra and the moon.
Jorge Luis Borges, ‘To the German language’, translated by Alastair Reid. From The Book of Sand (1979).