Selected Poems Characters

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Selected Poems Summary & Study Guide Description

Selected Poems Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion on Selected Poems by Jorge Luis Borges.

Jorge Luis Borgesappears in all books in the volume

The author, Jorge Luis Borges, is the main character in these books of poetry. He often writes of his own thoughts, experiences, and emotions. Sometimes he uses "I," at other times he writes, "the poet," and occasionally he refers to himself as "Borges." Everything in all the books from which these poems were selected is a reflection of the one man, in a much more personal and immediate sense than the philosophical notion that whatever anyone writes is autobiographical because it comes from that person's mind. Taken together, these poems comprise a portrait of the most profound aspects of Borges as a human being. They are the best way he knows to convey everything most important to him in his life. The poems are deeply personal and bravely confessional. Time and again, Borges revisits the ideas, hopes, and disappointments that preoccupy him. He does so with a clear conviction that what he reveals of himself is, in essence if not in every detail, true of everyone. In telling his own story, he is telling ours as well. Borges appears to regard himself as unique and at the same time as everyman. In that sense, each of us is the star of his poetry.

Leopold Lugonesappears in The Maker, In Praise of Darkness, the Unending Rose

Leopold Lugones, an Argentine poet and novelist who lived from 1874-1938, was a dominant figure in letters during Borges' formative years. Borges refers to him in his poems as frequently as he does any person in contemporary history. Lugones apparently was not a fan of Borges' writing, but the younger poet does not seem to take offense at this indifference. Lugones appears to be a role model for him, although not one whose poetry he necessarily would emulate. The position of Lugones as an eminent writer of his time and as an elder carries much weight with Borges, who has a powerful affinity to predecessors. Borges also indicates admiration for the loyalty Lugones holds toward his own predecessor in Argentine poetry, Rubén Darío. It is this connectivity to tradition and culture that Borges seems to value most in his relationship with Lugones, which in the poetry does not appear to have been a close friendship.

Heraclitusappears in Fervor de Buenos Aires, The Maker, the Self and the Other, T

Heraclitus is one of the most frequently invoked names from ancient times in Borges' poetry. The ancient Greek philosopher interests Borges principally because of his famous idea that time is a river, ever-changing, which means no one can step twice into the same river. Borges finds great meaning in this idea, because the river remains the same and yet it is different and, for him, time is the substance of our lives. He seems to feel that Heraclitus understood the nature of time and change, and perhaps taught Borges about it through his ancient writings. In any case, Borges feels a strong intellectual kinship with Heraclitus.

Isidoro Suárezappears in Fervor de Buenos Aires, The Maker, For Six Strings

Isidoro Suárez, the poet's great-grandfather, symbolizes bravery in battle and adventure, which Borges seems to admire not only their manliness but because they are so utterly different from his own quiet life. Suárez, who led a Hussar regiment against Royalist forces at the Battle of Junín in Peru in 1824, was specially commended for bravery. Borges reached such heights of intense living only through contemplation, never through physical risk-taking.

Miguel de Cervantesappears in The Maker, the Self and the Other, The Limit

Miguel de Cervantes, the Spanish writer famed for his windmill-charging fictional creation, Don Quixote, appears a number of times in these poems. Cervantes served in the Spanish army and Borges imagines him dreaming up Don Quixote while on duty. Borges seems to admire Cervantes for being both a poet and a man of action. In his poetry, Borges even goes so far as to give Don Quixote a life as real as that of Cervantes, as if both were flesh and blood, in a tribute to how fully the fictional creation of Cervantes must have been a part of his real self.

Janusappears in The Self and the Other, The Gold of the Tigers, The Maker

Janus is the two-headed, ancient Roman god of doorways, beginnings, and endings, one of whose faces was supposed to look into the past and the other into the future. Borges likes using Janus in his poems as a symbol of the duality of nature and man, and of the past and future. He likes the idea that the two faces of Janus, looking away from each other, are powerless to glance each other's way.

Ulyssesappears in The Self and the Other, The Unending Rose

Ulysses, the hero of Homer's ancient Greek epic poem, The Odyssey, is another man of action Borges extols in his poetry. Ulysses traveled the world, saw amazing sights and had perilous adventures. Borges, who led a relatively quiet life, identified strongly, and perhaps vicariously, with the hero.

Walt Whitmanappears in The Self and the Other, The Unending Rose

Walt Whitman is perhaps the most prominent of many poets throughout history that Borges mentions in his poems. Borges suggests that Robert Browning and William Blake were even more attuned than Whitman to the mystical aspects of life, but he still names Whitman more often in his poems, indicating that he considers the nineteenth century Englishman to be a close fellow traveler.

Ralph Waldo Emersonappears in The Self and the Other, The Gold of the Tigers

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the famed nineteenth century American author, is perhaps the non-ancient prose writer most often invoked in the poetry of Borges. He appreciates the American's reverence for nature and his sense that everything in existence is interconnected.

Proteusappears in The Self and the Other, The Unending Rose, The Iron Coin

Proteus is the herdsman of Neptune, the ancient Roman god of the sea. An old man and a prophet, Proteus is famed for his ability to change shapes at will, which explains Borges' fascination with him. He often uses Proteus as a symbol or a metaphor for the changeability of things that nevertheless remain the same, like the effects of time, memory, and forgetting.

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