Ajedrez / Chess by Jorge Luis Borges

This entry is part 14 of 38 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas


Jorge Luis Borges in 1951by Grete SternJorge Luis Borges probably needs no introduction to most readers. Though best known for his short stories, he also wrote poetry throughout his life.

Thanks to Luis Andrade for the challenge! Borges is so literary (I don’t mean that in a bad sense) that a very literal translation I think works quite well; that is, “homerico” translates perfectly directly to “homeric,” etc. I felt that something had to be done to slow the gallop of the quatrains, which in English have a distressing tendency to come out in four beats, like Hiawatha; hence the five-line stanzas in the place of quatrains.



In their serious corner the players
rule their slow pieces. The board
delays them till dawn
in their strict ambit,
where two colors hate each other.

Within, magical severities infuse
the figures: homeric tower, light
horse, armed queen,
last king, oblique
bishop and assailant pawns.

When the players have gone,
when time has eaten them,
the rite has certainly not stopped.

This war was lit in the East,
whose amphitheater today is all the world.
And as the other, this game is infinite.


Weak king, biased bishop, embittered
queen, straight tower and wily pawn,
over the black
and white of the road
they seek and wage armed battle.

They do not know that the appointed hand
of the player governs their fate,
they do not know
that an adamantine rigor
subjects their will and their journey.

The player too is prisoner
(the sentence is Omar’s) of that other board,
the black nights and the white days.

God moves the player and the player moves the piece
What God behind God began the weaving
of dust and time and dream and the throes of death?




En su grave rincón, los jugadores
rigen las lentas piezas. El tablero
los demora hasta el alba en su severo
ámbito en que se odian dos colores.

Adentro irradian mágicos rigores
las formas: torre homérica, ligero
caballo, armada reina, rey postrero,
oblicuo alfil y peones agresores.

Cuando los jugadores se hayan ido,
cuando el tiempo los haya consumido,
ciertamente no habrá cesado el rito.

En el Oriente se encendió esta guerra
cuyo anfiteatro es hoy toda la tierra.
Como el otro, este juego es infinito.


Tenue rey, sesgo alfil, encarnizada
reina, torre directa y peón ladino
sobre lo negro y blanco del camino
buscan y libran su batalla armada.

No saben que la mano señalada
del jugador gobierna su destino,
no saben que un rigor adamantino
sujeta su albedrío y su jornada.

También el jugador es prisionero
(la sentencia es de Omar) de otro tablero
de negras noches y blancos días.

Dios mueve al jugador, y éste, la pieza.
¿Qué Dios detrás de Dios la trama empieza
de polvo y tiempo y sueño y agonías?

Series Navigation← House without walls: two poems by Vinicius de MoraesWhere shall we go? (¿Can nelpa tonyazque?) by Nezahualcoyotl →


2 Replies to “Ajedrez / Chess by Jorge Luis Borges”

  1. Genial poem, I love Borges and Chess, I knew this poem from a long time but I liked the diction in English and Spanish

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