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Jorge Luis Borges

Borges’ “Remorse”

For some reason Borges’

REMORSE

I have committed the worst sin of all
That a man can commit. I have not been
Happy. Let the glaciers of oblivion
Drag me and mercilessly let me fall.
My parents bred and bore me for a higher
Faith in the human game of nights and days;
For earth, for air, for water, and for fire.
I let them down. I wasn’t happy. My ways
Have not fulfilled their youthful hope. I gave
My mind to the symmetric stubbornness
Of art, and all its webs of pettiness.
They willed me bravery. I wasn’t brave.
It never leaves my side, since I began:
This shadow of having been a brooding man.

reminds me of Roethke’s The Right Thing
which contains the line, “The right thing happens to the happy man.” The poems seem like opposite sides of the same coin.

Of course, no one really believes that not being happy is the “worst sin of all,” but it provides a dramatic introduction to the poem. If you asked almost any parent what they most wanted for their kids,I think they would say, ” I want them to be happy.” It was certainly my dream for my kids, and I was willing to sacrifice some of my own immediate happiness to ensure that happiness. It is what my parents wanted for me.

Considering his fame and success, it’s surprising to hear the poet argue that his devotion to art, to “all its webs of pettiness,” has caused his unhappiness. Those who aspire to be artists must imagine that being a successful artist will bring them happiness. Borges would seem to argue otherwise, to argue that in order to be a “successful” artist you have to give in to that pettiness.

It’s not clear why he thinks he hasn’t been “brave,” but one might guess from the last line that it has something to do with having become a “brooding man,” a quality that probably contributed to his literary success.