Borges on the Wall


Borges on the Wall


Modern English literature


Sometime in the early 1970s, the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges visited his friend the poet (and later Borges' translator) Alistair Reid at St Andrews in Scotland. Various myths and legends have grown up around this visit in the oral tradition that exists in a small town like St Andrews. One is that the elderly and quite blind Borges expressly asked to be led down to the North Sea by a younger companion, and then to be given some moments of peace. Some versions of this story say it took place by the cliffs at the edge of the cathedral ruins, others that it was at the end of the stone pier wall at the harbour. All agree that once this South American poet, who had traveled half way across the globe, was given the space he requested, he was overheard chanting lines of Anglo-Saxon poetry, a literature which he much loved, at the North Sea. There remains vigorous disagreement about whether he quoted The Seafarer, or lines from Beowulf.
'Borges on the Wall' is written from this contemporary oral folkloric tradition, alluding to the first line of The Seafarer in its first line, and quoting from the end of the prologue of Beowulf towards its conclusion.
After its composition, I met the American poet and writer Jay Parini, who had been the young companion in question. Parini confirmed that the poem was The Seafarer, that the event had taken place at the far end of The West Sands, where Reid's now vanished Pilmour Cottage then stood, and that Borges, in his blindness, had unintentionally ended up facing away from the sea during his recitation of Anglo-Saxon poetry - in the end delivering it not to the Germanic ocean, but to the golf course.
'Borges on the Wall' was published in PNReview in 2008.


Chris Jones





Date Created




Chris Jones, “Borges on the Wall,” Woruldhord, accessed April 20, 2024,