Of all those boulevards blurred into the sunset There’s one (I know not which) that I have strolled Across for the last time without a care, And unaware of what it was, controlled
By One who predesigns almighty norms, All laws and a strict scale in secrecy For dreams and shadows, formulas and forms Which are the texture of our tapestry.
If all things have a limit and a length, A final moment and a nevermore, Then who shall let us know upon whose house We have unwittingly now sealed the door?
Through the bleached window night withdraws again And, in the jumbled stack of books that shed A craze of shadows on the hazy table, There shall be one that must be left unread.
Out in the south stands more than one worn gate There with its cactus and cemented urns Whose entry is forbidden to my feet As in a lithograph. Nothing returns:
You’ve bolted shut a certain door forever; A mirror waits in vain, expecting you; The crossroads seem to lie unbarred before you But four-faced Janus watches what you do.
Among your many memories is one Which has been lost to you forevermore; They will not see you by that fountain nor Beneath the yellow moon, or the white sun.
Your voice shall never come to what the Persian Said in his tongue of roses, wine and birds, When under dusk before the light is scattered You wish to say some unforgettable words.
The ceaseless Rhône? My European lake? That yesterday I hunch upon today Will be erased as Carthage by the Romans Whose salt and fire it could not hold at bay.
Here in the dawn I hear a multitude, A murmur fading out of mind and ear. They have forgotten me who used to love me. Borges and Space and Time have left me here.
- Jorge Luis Borges - Limits (1958) (Amazing translation by A.Z.F.)
I’ve always been a believer in predetermination. There is one future for every single one of us, and it is known to God. How can I be so sure? It’s easy! Not one of us is a time traveler. That’s it. That’s all the explanation necessary. Sure, things would get much more complex if we suddenly figured out how to leap back in time, but since that’s not the case I can sum up my argument neatly with a bow.
Every one of us will make choices, face events outside our control, try to be spontaneous, but it all amounts to the same thing. We each live our single thread of decisions from the moment we are conceived to the moment we pass away. That single thread is as straight as an arrow to Mr. Time, despite all our scheming and philosophizing. No matter how hard we try, we never branch, split, knot, or fray.
But what about those paths not taken. The limits of our lives enable us to see life from one long road, and though we can sometimes glimpse at turns we didn’t take and see hints of signs and life around the corner, before long we’ve moved on. Sometimes that’s a sad thing and sometimes it isn’t.
That’s what I love about this poem. Unlike some of the things I’ve written about loss and being unable to go back to those earlier days, there isn’t such a clear claim to the value of the limit—whether it is good or bad. Maybe here and there is a tinge of regret or nostalgia, but only so much as to acknowledge that natural sorrow of mortality. Moreover, there is the sense of inevitability and acceptance. Nothing expresses the idea of our linear existence quite like these lines, “The crossroads seem to lie unbarred before you/But four-faced Janus watches what you do.”
I come back to thoughts like this when I face life-changing decisions. To choose A or B? There is a thrill in it when you keep the grand idea of predetermination in mind. Whatever you choose will have been your destiny. It will have been because it is, and it is because you chose it. That is exciting indeed. It gives me a comfort knowing that my choices will all add up to a single thread in the end and that it will be woven flawlessly into the tapestry of the world. Even when I’m feeling empty and alone that sort of thinking can remind me of just how connected I really am, not just to other people, but to the entire course of history.
It may be that time is a limit, but I find it to be a blessing and a grace. Given the option, I think I would kindly decline a trip in the Delorian.