A compass / Una brújula

A compass / Una brújula

by Jorge Luis Borges 

All things are really only words

in a tongue of endless gobbledegook

that someone or something is writing in a book

that is the history of the world. In herds,

you, I, everyone, Carthage, Rome travel,

and my unfathomable life too, and this stigma

of having been an accident, a cipher, an enigma,

of being all the unmelodious dialects of Babel.

But behind every name is what has no name.

Today, I felt its shadow flicker and take aim

in the blue compass needle, lucid and light,

that points far away across seas that gleam,

something like a timepiece glimpsed in a dream,

or the stirring of a bird in the middle of the night.

English translation by Paul Weinfield

Todas las cosas son palabras del

idioma en que Alguien o Algo, noche y día,

escribe esa infinita algarabía

que es la historia del mundo. En su tropel

pasan Cartago y Roma, yo, tú, él,

mi vida que no entiendo, esta agonía

de ser enigma, azar, criptografía

y toda la discordia de Babel.

Detrás del nombre hay lo que no se nombra;

hoy he sentido gravitar su sombra

en esta aguja azul, lúcida y leve,

que hacia el confín de un mar tiende su empeño,

con algo de reloj visto en un sueño

y algo de ave dormida que se mueve.

Every single thing becomes a word

in a language that Someone or Something, night and day,

writes down in a never-ending scribble,

which is the history of the world, embracing

Rome, Carthage, you, me, everyone, 

my life, which I do not understand, this anguish

of being enigma, accident and puzzle,

and all the discordant languages of Babel.

Behind each name lies that which has no name.

Today I felt its nameless shadow tremble 

in the blue clarity of the compass needle,

whose rule extends as far as the far seas,

something like a clock glimpsed in a dream

or a bird that stirs suddenly in its sleep.

English translation by Alastair Reid

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