borges interviews

Paris Review, “Jorge Luis Borges: The Art of Fiction No. 39”

BORGES

Ah, that’s right. Because if you ask me questions about the younger contemporary writers, I’m afraid I know very little about them. For about the last seven years I’ve been doing my best to know something of Old English and Old Norse. Consequently, that’s a long way off in time and space from the Argentine, from Argentine writers, no? But if I have to speak to you about the Finnsburg Fragment or the elegies or the Battle of Brunanburg . . .

INTERVIEWER

Would you like to talk about those?

BORGES

No, not especially.

INTERVIEWER

What made you decide to study Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse?

BORGES

I began by being very interested in metaphor. And then in some book or other—I think in Andrew Lang’s History of English Literature—I read about the kennings, metaphors of Old English, and in a far more complex fashion of Old Norse poetry. Then I went in for the study of Old English.

Nowadays, or rather today, after several years of study, I’m no longer interested in the metaphors because I think that they were rather a weariness of the flesh to the poets themselves—at least to the Old English poets.

INTERVIEWER

To repeat them, you mean?

BORGES

To repeat them, to use them over and over again and to keep on speaking of the “road of the whale” instead of “the sea”—that kind of thing—and “the seawood,” “the stallion of the sea” instead of “the ship.” So I decided finally to stop using them, the metaphors, that is;

but in the meanwhile I had begun studying the language, and I fell in love with it. Now I have formed a group—we’re about six or seven students—and we study almost every day. We’ve been going through the highlights in Beowulf, the Finnsburg Fragment, and The Dream of the Rood. Also, we’ve gotten into King Alfred’s prose.

Now we’ve begun learning Old Norse, which is rather akin to Old English. I mean the vocabularies are not really very different: Old English is a kind of halfway house between the Low German and the Scandinavian.

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