the outward course of my life has been the common one, but in my dreams i always saw tigers

A few favorite fragments of Borges:

A famous poem by Blake paints the tiger as a fire burning bright and an eternal archetype of Evil; I prefer the Chesterton maxim that casts the tiger as a symbol of terrible elegance. Apart from these, there are no words that can rune the tiger, that shape which for centuries has lived in the imagination of mankind. I have always been drawn to the tiger. I know that as a boy I would linger before one particular cage at the zoo; the others held no interest for me. I would judge encyclopedias and natural histories by their engravings of the tiger. When the Jungle Books were revealed to me I was upset that the tiger, Shere Kahn, was the hero's enemy. As the years passed, this strange fascination never left me; it survived my paradoxical desire to become a hunter as it did all common human vicissitudes ... The outward course of my life has been the common one, but in my dreams I always saw tigers.

From 'Blue Tigers', translated by Andrew Hurley.


My childhood passed and my passion for tigers faded, but they still appear in my dreams. In the unconscious or chaotic dimension, their presences persist, in the following way: While I am asleep, some dream or other disturbs me, and all at once I realize I am dreaming. At these moments, I tend to think to myself: This is a dream, simply an exercise of my will; and since my powers are limitless, I am going to dream up a tiger.
Utter incompetence! My dreaming is never able to conjure up the desired creature. A tiger appears, sure enough, but an enfeebled tiger, a stuffed tiger, imperfect of form, or the wrong size, or only fleetingly present, or looking something like a dog or a bird.

From 'Dreamtigers', translated by Alastair Reed.


All the other overwhelming colors,
in company with the years, kept leaving me,
and now alone remains the amorphous light,
the inextricable shadow and the gold of the beginning.
O sunsets, O tigers, O wonders
of myth and epic,
O gold more dear to me, gold of your hair
which these hands long to touch.

From 'The Gold of Tigers', translated by Alastair Reid.


Evening spreads in my spirit and I keep thinking
that the tiger I am calling up in my poem
is a tiger made of symbols and of shadows,
a set of literary images,
scraps remembered from encyclopedias,
and not the deadly tiger, the fateful jewel
that in the sun or the deceptive moonlight
follows its paths, in Bengal or Sumatra,
of love, of indolence, of dying.
Against the tiger of symbols I have set
the real one, the hot-blooded one
that savages a herd of buffalo,
and today, the third of August, '59,
its patient shadow moves across the plain,
but yet, the act of naming it, of guessing
what is its nature and its circumstance
creates a fiction, not a living creature,
not one of those that prowl the earth.

From 'The Other Tiger', translated by Alastair Reid.

Postcard of a tiger in the Leningrad Zoo found here.