Seven Saxon Poems

Jorge Luis Borges.
Siete Poemas Sajones / Seven Saxon Poems. Embossed seals and sculptural reliefs on the binding and case designed by Arnoldo Pomodoro.
Verona, Italy: Plain Wrapper Press, 1974. (10118)

Signed by the author and the sculptor below the colophon. Numbered 56 in an edition of one hundred twenty. 

Printer and proprietor of the Plain Wrapper Press, Richard-Gabriel Rummonds (b. 1931) spent over six years in the production of this book of fewer than fifty pages. That span does not need to be regarded as excessive preparatory for a major work following his initial introduction to fine press books in the library of Chilean historian Armando Braun Menéndez (1898–1986) in Buenos Aires. Rummonds wrote of feeling “so moved by their beauty that I wanted nothing more than to be able to print similar volumes myself. Even though this idea was somewhat unrealistic, I was confident that I would find a way to do it.”

Gabriel Rummonds had just set up his press in New York when the Argentine writer Borges arrived in the spring of 1968. The two met and decided to collaborate on a book. Upon his return to Argentina, Borges sent his manuscript to Rummonds, who worked through a period of trial, error, discernment, and discovery in order to introduce this edition, Escritores Panamericanos, Plain Wrapper Press: One. Borges’s poems were printed in their original Spanish, with English translations by Alastair Reid and Norman Thomas di Giovanni. Through the succession of verses, a reverie over conquered farmland and coast, of snowfall that obliterates the past, of horrors lurking in the pines, of forged iron swords and forged destiny, of kingdoms gained and lost, Borges in the last poem questioned his reason for studying the “blunt-tongued Anglo-Saxon” after his more enthusiastic embarkation in the first:

All praise to the inexhaustible
Labyrinth of cause and effect
Which, before unveiling to me the mirror
Where I shall see no one or shall see some other self,
Has granted me this perfect contemplation
Of a language at its dawn.

Among the significant literary figures of the twentieth century was the poet of Siete Poemas Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986). Born in Buenos Aires, and schooled at home, he counted the extensive library in his father’s house as the “chief event” of his life. His grandmother taught him to read English before Spanish, and when he was eleven years old he translated the Oscar Wilde story “The Happy Prince” into Spanish for publication in a local newspaper. The family moved to Geneva in 1914 where Jorge Luis attended school learning French and German, and to Madrid where he contributed to the literary magazine Ultra as a member of an avant-garde movement, an advocacy of unornamented literature in which metaphor predominates. He returned to Argentina in 1921 and continued to write while working as a librarian, eventually receiving an appointment as director of the Biblioteca Nacional. Politically active throughout his life, his anti-communist and anti-fascist declarations, his opposition to the dictatorship of Juan Perón, and the repercussions he endured are famous. The failure of his eyesight, which began to require treatment in the 1920s, left him dependent on the help of others as he traveled and lectured and in his work as translator, critic, essayist, poet, and writer of fiction. His mother served as his secretary for many years, continuing as his caretaker until her death at the age of ninety-nine. Borges’ best-known works are the short story collections Ficciones (1944), El Aleph (1949), and Labyrinths (1962), and the anthology Elogio de la Sombra (1969).

Siete Poemas is open to “Fragment” and “To a Saxon Poet.” Borges wrote “Fragment” in 1961 while he was a visiting professor at The University of Texas. Stirred by the word-music of the Bolivian Symbolist poet Ricardo Jaimes Freyre, Borges set “Fragment” as his own word-music exploration. “To a Saxon Poet,” one of two poems with that title in this anthology, is addressed to the poet of the tenth-century “Ode of Brunanburh” commemorating a battle won by the Saxons over the Northern Welsh, the Vikings, and the Scots.

Found in a margin of each poem is an impressed emblem designed by the Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro whose architectonic bronze spheres, disks, and pyramids that reveal their intricate structures are landmarks throughout the world. Pomodoro also modeled three gold-plated panels fit into the binding and etched a brass relief for the lid of the enclosing box.

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Seven Saxon Poems