About this work

"History of the Night”

Jorge Luis Borges


translated by Charles Tomlinson

Poem © Jorge Luis Borges.  English translation © Charles Tomlinson

Lines from th
is poem accompanied the painting Reality (1973-83) in the exhibition "Dorothea Tanning: Murmurs" at Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York, organized in collaboration with Alison Jacques Gallery, London (May 11 - June 27, 2015).  The show explored echoes of myths and legends in Tanning’s work through poetry, with examples of poems that were especially meaningful to the artist.  

J. D. McClatchy wrote a  tribute to Dorothea Tanning for the show and recorded the poems included in the gallery.  View a gallery of images here and listen to his reading of the full poem below.

“History of the Night”  
Down through the generations
men built the night.
In the beginning it was blindness and sleep
and thorns that tear the naked foot
and fear of wolves.
We shall never know who forged the word
for the interval of shadow
which divides the two twilights;
we shall never know in what century it stood as a cipher
for the space between the stars.
Other men engendered the myth.
They made it mother of the tranquil Fates
who weave destiny,
and sacrificed black sheep to it
and the cock which presages its end.
The Chaldeans gave it twelve houses;
infinite worlds, the Gateway.
Latin hexameters gave it form
and the terror of Pascal.
Luis de León saw in it the fatherland
of his shuddering soul.
Now we feel it to be inexhaustible
like an ancient wine
and no one can contemplate it without vertigo
and time has charged it with eternity.
And to think it would not exist
but for those tenuous instruments, the eyes.


In her own words...