A poem by Jorge Luis Borges on a chess theme

A poem by Jorge Luis Borges on a chess theme (trans. by Kurt Heinzelman):



Seated in their serious corners, the players
Align the slow pieces. The board
Holds them until dawn in its severe
Enclosure, two colours hating each other.

The game magically enforces discipline
Upon its forms: Homeric castle, light-
Footed knight, warring queen, the king
In the rear, his bishop at a slant, pawns advancing.

When the players have gone away,
When time at last consumes them,
The ritual is certainly not over.

It was the Orient that sparked this war
And now the whole earth is its theatre.
As with that other game, this one is forever.


Frail king, slippery bishop, bloody-minded
Queen, single-minded rook, smooth-tongued
Pawn, both the black and the white, seek the path
That finds the other out, armed to the teeth.

What they do not know is that the pointing
Hand of the player is governor of destiny.
Nor do they know what adamantine ways
Bind their will and shape their journey.

The player, however, is also a prisoner
(The saying of Omar’s) of yet another
Checkerboard of nights and days.

God moves the player as he the pieces
But what god behind God plots the advent
Of dust and time and dreams and agonies?