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The Golem, Borges

The Golem


If (as the Greeks maintained in the Cratylus)

The name is the archetype of the thing,

In the letters of the rose is the rose,

And all the Nile in the word Nile.

And, made with consonants and vowels,

Will be a terrible Name, that the ciphered

Essence of God and the Omnipotence

Guard in perfect letters and syllables.

Adam and the stars learned it

In the garden, but the corrosion of sin

(Say the Qabbalists) has erased it,

And the generations have lost it.

The schemes and the innocence of men

Are without end. We know there was a day

When God’s folk were seeking the Name

With the vigilance of the Jewish ghetto.

Not in the way of others: as an aimless

Shadow insinuated in an aimless history.

Still green and living is the memory

Of Judah León, once a rabbi in Prague.

Thirsting to know what God knows

Judah León arranged and rearranged

The letters into Byzantine variations

And, at last, pronounced the Name that is the Key.

The Door, the Echo, the Guest and the Palace

He carved, with fumbling hands, upon

A rough doll, to teach it the secrets

Of the Letters, of Time and of Space.

The simulacrum lifted its drowsy

Eyelids and stared at shapes and colors

It did not understand, lost in sounds

And attempting its first fearful movements.

Gradually, it saw itself (as with us)

Ensnared in the resounding net

Of Before, After, Yesterday, Today, Meanwhile,

Right, Left, Me, You, Others.

The Qabbalist, presiding like a divinity

Over the immense creature, named it Golem.

(These truths are given by Scholem,

at a most scholarly place in his tome.)

The rabbi explained to it the universe

“This is my foot, this is yours, this is rope”

And, to the end of years, got the unholy creature

To sweep well or poorly the synagogue.

Perhaps there had been a mistake in his way of writing

Or in his pronunciation of the Sacred Name;

A weighing too great for the enchantment,

The man’s apprentice never learned to speak.

Its eyes, less like those of a man than those of a dog,

Less like those of a dog than those of a thing,

Would follow the master doubtfully

Around its darkening prison room.

Something abnormal and rough was in the Golem.

Before it passed, the Rabbi’s cat would

Hide itself. (There is no cat in Scholem,

But, across the years, I can see it.)

Its daughterly hands would lift up to its master’s God

In imitation of its master’s devotions;

Or, stupid and smiling, it would bow itself down

Into a curve and pray as they do in the East.

The Rabbi would look at it with tenderness

And with some horror and ask, “How

could I beget this painful son

and leave my leisure, where is the wisdom?”

“Why append the infinite series of symbols

with more symbols? Why in vain

reel in the forever unreeling string?

Give another cause, another effect, another grief?”

In this hour of anguish and failing light

His eyes would come to rest on the Golem.

Who can tell us the things felt by God,

Looking down at the rabbi in Prague?

Categories: Translations
  1. January 25, 2013 at 9:55 am

    I really ponder as to why you named this particular posting, “The Golem, Borges Pale Horse Poems and Such”.
    In either case I enjoyed it!I appreciate it,Rachele

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