Readings — From the March 2019 issue

A Man on the Moon

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From a conversation with Jorge Luis Borges on the translations of his books and poetry, conducted in 1982 by the New Orleans Review and published this month by Bloomsbury in the collection Interviews from the Edge, edited by Mark Yakich and John Biguenet.

Remember some very fine verses by Rudyard Kipling, the famous “Ballad of East and West.” There you have a British officer who is pursuing an Afghan horse thief. They’re riding. Then Kipling writes, “They have ridden the low moon out of the sky, their hoofs drum up the dawn.” Now, you can’t ride the moon out of the sky and you can’t drum up the dawn in Spanish, because the language doesn’t allow it. It can’t be done. For example, you can say in English you are dreaming away your life. Well, that can’t be said in Spanish or any romance language, as far as I know. It might be said perhaps in German or one of the Scandinavian tongues, but not in a romance language. A Spaniard can dream his life away, but he can’t say so. Just as we can die even if we don’t think of death.

And English has another virtue. The virtue of Anglo-Saxon words: they’re short. If you say selini in Greek, that’s far too long—three syllables. In Spanish, luna, two syllables. In French, just one syllable, really, lune. But in English that beautiful, lingering word “moon.” It’s the right word, no? Moon and sun, those two were the right words.

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