Two Men in a Morris Minor by Jay Parini

Jay Parini

Two Men in a Morris Minor

 

Soon I’ll publish Borges and Me, a book that has been in the works, in some form or another, for nearly fifty years. A kind of novelised memoir, it’s an account of a journey I took through the Highlands of Scotland in 1971 with Jorge Luis Borges, whose work, at the time, I didn’t know and who was by then totally blind and somewhat fragile.

You may well ask: how did this come about? I spent seven years in Scotland as both an undergraduate and a postgraduate student. During this time Alastair Reid was a close friend and mentor. He was a poet who translated the works of Borges and Pablo Neruda, among others. Borges had come from Argentina to visit Alastair, who invited me to dinner the first night he was there. From the outset, Borges puzzled me: he paid very little attention to anyone but himself and talked incessantly about literature and ideas, quoting poetry in several languages. He asked me what I was studying, and I said, ‘English literature’. He brightened, telling me to read ‘only the great ones’. Not Shakespeare and Milton, Wordsworth and Chaucer, ‘but Chesterton, Stevenson and, of course, Tichborne’.

I’d never heard of Chidiock Tichborne at that point. I was impressed by Borges’s dramatic rendering of ‘Elegy’, Tichborne’s most famous poem, written in the Tower of London in the late 16th century before his execution. Borges nearly wept as he repeated the poem’s refrain, ‘And now I live, and

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