Jorge Luis Borges: Chess

I apologize for the lack of book-related posts lately. Chess has me by the neurons, and I don’t really mind. Here is something that covers both bases, though. I saw this poem in a fun documentary about chess by Davide Fasolo.


In their solemn corner, the players
govern the lingering pieces. The chessboard
delays them until daybreak in its severe
sphere in which colors are hateful.
Inside they radiate magical severity
the forms: Homeric tower, light
horse, armed queen, last king,
oblique bishop and attacking pawns.
When the players will have gone,
when time will have consumed them,
certainly the ritual will have not ceased.
In the Orient this war was lit
which amphitheater is today all the earth.
As the other, this game is infinite.

Fainting king, slanting bishop, fierce
queen, straightforward tower and cunning pawn
on the black and white path
searching and fighting their armed battle.
They ignore the player’s pointing hand
governs his destiny,
they ignore that a tamed severity
holds his will and day.
The player is himself a prisoner
(the sentence is Omar’s) of another board
of dark nights and light days.
God moves the player, and he, the chess piece.
Which God behind God begins the conspiracy
of dust and time and dream and agony?

Translated by Blanca Lista. Original version below.


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 peon 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?

[Source: Spanish Poems]


3 comments on “Jorge Luis Borges: Chess

  1. Stefanie says:

    Here's a word for you from
    Scacchic: Of or pertaining to chess.
    The main claim to fame of “scacchic” is that it's the shortest word
    in English that contains the letter “c” four times.
    It, “scacchic” that is, seems to have been coined in 1860 by a man
    named Fiske from the Italian word for chess, “scacchi”. He wrote in
    his Chess Tales: “Stern old fellows were these scacchic sages! They
    considered the laws of chess as inviolable as those of the Medes
    and Persians.”
    It's almost never seen anywhere, except as an occasional obscure
    reference or witticism in chess magazines. One rare appearance was
    in 1968, when it briefly appeared in the title of the magazine of
    the Central California Chess Association, The Scacchic Voice.

  2. Norm says:

    “When one first plays chess, he is like a man who has already caught a dose of microbes. Such a man walks along the street, and he does not yet know that he is ill. He is healthy, he feels fine, but the virus is doing its work.”
    Mikhail Tal

  3. Sylvia says:

    I've heard about the great Tal. Thanks, Norm! 🙂

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