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the Complete Review
the complete review - lectures



This Craft of Verse

by
Jorge Luis Borges


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase This Craft of Verse



Title: This Craft of Verse
Author: Jorge Luis Borges
Genre: Lectures
Written: (2000)
Length: 150 pages
Availability: This Craft of Verse - US
This Craft of Verse - UK
This Craft of Verse - Canada
L'Art de poésie - France
  • Charles Eliot Norton Lectures 1967-1968
  • Edited, and with an Afterword by Calin-Andrei Mihailescu

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Our Assessment:

A- : charming collection of Borges-lectures

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The New Criterion . 1/2001 Alexander Coleman
The New Yorker . 6/11/2000 .
The NY Times Book Rev. . 15/10/2000 Micaela Kramer
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Spring/2001 Thomas Hove
TLS . 14/12/2001 William Rowe
The Washington Post B+ 15/10/2000 Michael Dirda


  From the Reviews:
  • "Ostensibly about poetics, the talks were an occasion for Borges to review his lifelong relationship with literature, including his passion for English." - The New Yorker

  • "The unhurried flow and warmth of these talks produce a sense of intimacy, Borges's enjoyment infecting the audience, to whom he generously gives credit for the success of these lectures, seing this (like writing) as a collaboration." - Micaela Kramer, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(T)o those who want to approach poetry as enthusiasts rather than curators, the value of these lectures lies in their frequent success at conveying the passions and joys in the experience of artfully arranged words." - Thomas Hove, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "His Charles Eliot Norton Lectures (...) show how passionate and unconventional -- as well as conservative -- his relationship with poetry was" - William Rowe, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Though charmingly expressed, Borges's reflections are, to my mind, seldom particularly original. (...) (A)s fine a book as it is, This Craft of Verse may yet serve readers best by sending them on, or back, to Borges's even greater work, stories and essays (.....) I still would have given a lot to have been at Harvard in the audience." - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Jorge Luis Borges gave six lectures at Harvard in 1967-8, in the estimable Charles Eliot Norton Lectures series. These were recorded -- and then stored away, apparently too well. The tape-recordings were only recently found, and the lectures finally transcribed, a small additional nugget of Borges finally made available.
       It is a charming collection. Borges addresses a variety of subjects -- "The Riddle of Poetry", "The Metaphor", "The Telling of the Tale", translation, and his own ideas about the act of writing -- using familiar Borgesian examples. He speaks of favourite writers and poets -- Stevenson, Whitman, Chesterton, Saint John of the Cross, among others. He speaks of metaphor and translation, using examples from Old English and Persian as well as the more familiar Spanish, French, and German. The Arabian Nights are here, as is Don Quixote and Poe.
       Borges addressed many of these subjects (and books and authors) at greater length in his essays (and occasionally in his stories and poems), but there is also something to be said for this genial presentation. Borges covers a great deal of ground in his meandering survey, but they are well-composed and vivid lectures.
       Borges speaks here of personal experience. He is willing to open up and he also admits to doubt. He says he offers neither solutions nor new problems, but rather "only time-honored perplexities". He presents these well, however, and his points of view and examples are always interesting.
       Borges shows again that he is an able interpreter of poetry and literature -- suggesting readings of passages from Joyce's Finnegans Wake, for example -- while consistently emphasizing feeling over actual meaning (or, therefore, clarity). Borges is an intellectual, aware of much of what lies behind many literary works, but he never over-intellectualizes poems or pieces of prose. Analysis is useful but not the be all and end all, and he refuses to deconstruct a work to death -- though he often has both interesting and insightful things to say that help in the understanding of pieces of literature. As almost everywhere in his own work his great love of literature shines through.
       Much of the material in This Craft of Verse centers on poetry and verse, though really it extends to include all writing. From what makes poetry poetry to the use of metaphor and the problems of translation to his own approach to writing, Borges offers both genial and ingenious commentary. His style is straightforward and generous, with the arguments not as formal or precisely expressed as in his writing: these are lectures, and they were surely crowd-pleasers.
       Whether quoting "perhaps too well-known lines by Robert Frost" or considering the "widely held superstition (that) all translations betray their matchless origins" his presentation is agreeable without ever being condescending. There is also a great deal of substance here; Borges' thoughts on literature are almost always interesting, and this digest of so many of them of particular interest. The immediacy of the text (which came still relatively early in Borges' public career, before he became practically a professional lecturer) is also appealing -- and it contrasts well to many of the later interviews with their often pat or predictable responses.

       The volume is also nicely edited, with a good set of explanatory notes and a fine afterword by Calin-Andrei Mihailescu. However, information about a bit more of the historical context would have been of interest, including the public reception of these lectures (though some of this can be found in Borges-biographies and remembrances of the master).
       Certainly recommended, and a must for any Borges-fan.

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Links:

This Craft of Verse: Reviews: Jorge Luis Borges: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       The great Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) was awarded the 1961 Prix Formentor, as well as the Jerusalem Prize. A talented poet and essayist he is best known for his short fiction.

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