Audiobook of the Week: ‘Poems of the Night,’ by Jorge Luis Borges

POEMS OF THE NIGHT, by Jorge Luis Borges. Various translators. Read by Juanita Devis.

Jorge Luis Borges might be best known for his fiction, but it can’t be forgotten that the 20th-century literary giant was also an eminent Latin American poet. First published in hardcover in 2010, “Poems of the Night” is a career-spanning collection of more than 50 of Borges’s poems, presented in the original Spanish alongside English translations. Now that it’s available in audiobook form, bilingual listeners can compare and contrast the experiences of hearing the poems in each language, revealing the delicate and detailed work of celebrated translators like W. S. Merwin and Alan S. Trueblood.

Thematically, the volume exists in the worlds of twilight, dreams and death; the earlier poems presciently evoke the descent into darkness Borges would experience over many decades as he lost his sight. The later poems were written after that darkness settled.

“Poems of the Night”is one of three recently released collections of Borges’s poetry, all read by the Colombian actress Juanita Devis. (August also saw new recordings of Borges’s short fiction, translated by Andrew Hurley and read by Castulo Guerra.) In both languages, Devis’s clear and straightforward narration helps the listener to simultaneously appreciate the lyricism and meaning of his verses; but it’s in Spanish that her voice finds added warmth and richness.

Borges’s words are so nuanced and subtle that at times I longed for a book in my hands to study them, visually — until I remembered Borges wrote many of these poems without ever being able to see them on the page. As he writes, “The night is good fertile ground / for a sower of verses.”

From ‘Poems of the Night’

Listen to a clip from ‘Poems of the Night’

Elena Sheppard is a culture writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her debut book, “The Eternal Forest: A Memoir of the Cuban Diaspora,” is forthcoming.

POEMS OF THE NIGHT | By Jorge Luis Borges | Various translators | Read by Juanita Devis | Penguin Audio | 4 hours, 45 minutes

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