Week 2: The White Hind

by Maria Bustillos

So this morning I came across my loveliest find in the book so far. Pelletier and Espinoza are finally forced to discuss their joint and several loss of Norton at the symposium in Mainz. Everybody has left the bar, cure and Pelletier finally brings up the subject of Norton. How is she? Espinoza confesses that he does not know. The white phone in her apartment “floated in their conversation.” Then:

Oh white hind, little hind, white hind, murmured Espinoza.

(What a strange, pretty phrase!)

“Pelletier assumed he was quoting a classic […]”

Since I am attuned to the subject of quotation/rewriting in this book (see my earlier post,) I made haste to source this quote. My first instinct was to look up what I remembered of the phrase, “the white hind,” in English. On a Wiccan site I read that “According to Celtic myth, Otherworld deities sent a white hind or stag to guide chosen humans into their realm.” (http://paganismwicca.suite101.com/article.cfm/deer_pagan_symbol_of_gentleness)

And then, the White Hind is an old image of purity and immortality; an image of the pursued beast, eternally pursued, as in Dryden’s “The Hind and the Panther” (okay so the Hind also symbolizes the Catholic church, here, but still):

A milk-white Hind, immortal and unchang’d,

Fed on the lawns, and in the forest rang’d;

Without unspotted, innocent within,

She fear’d no danger, for she knew no sin.

Yet had she oft been chas’d with horns and hounds

And Scythian shafts; and many winged wounds

Aim’d at her heart; was often forc’d to fly,

And doom’d to death, though fated not to die.

Then I thought I’d better check the Spanish for this phrase, and it turns out that “La Cierva Blanca” is a freaking beautiful poem by Borges—a poem that came to him in a dream! A poem transcribed from the dream of a beautiful, fleeting, “one-sided” English hind. No, seriously. I am so blown away by beauty and complexity of this book, for I could quite easily have swept past this phrase without pausing; what else am I missing? (I haven’t even begun to unpack the Borges poem, really. What is the Persian reference, here?)

Here is the poem, in the original and in translation, and I promise you that it will knock your socks off.


¿De qué agreste balada de la verde Inglaterra,
De qué lámina persa, de qué región arcana
De las noches y días que nuestro ayer encierra,
Vino la cierva blanca que soñé esta mañana?
Duraría un segundo. La vi cruzar el prado
Y perderse en el oro de una tarde ilusoria,
Leve criatura hecha de un poco de memoria
Y de un poco de olvido, cierva de un solo lado.
Los númenes que rigen este curioso mundo
Me dejaron soñarte pero no ser tu dueño;
Tal vez en un recodo del porvenir profundo
Te encontraré de nuevo, cierva blanca de un sueño.
Yo también soy un sueño fugitivo que dura
unos días más que el sueño del prado y la blancura.

In English:


From what rustic ballad out of green England,
from what Persian picture, from what secret zone
of nights and days that our yesterday encloses,
came the white hind I dreamed this morning?
It lasted only a second. I saw it cross the meadow
and lose itself in the gold of an illusive evening,
a slight creature made from a pinch of memory
and a pinch of forgetfulness, a one-sided hind.
The gods that govern this peculiar world
let me dream you but not be your master;
perhaps at a bend in the deep time to come
I’ll find you again, white hind of a dream.
I too am a fleeting dream that lasts
a few days longer than dreams of meadows and whiteness.

[Via http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com]

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7 Responses to “Week 2: The White Hind”

  • Comment from Lee

    Fantastic post.

    “the gods that govern this peculiar world
    let me dream you but not be your master”

    is Liz in RE Espinoza (and every other man w/ whom she comes into contact as well) all over.

    Possibly appropos of nothing, the “Hind” is also the NATO term for Soviet-era helicopter gunships. i.e. something that escorts the dead to the next world through kinetic force.

    Which is how Liz strikes me- almost mechanically indifferent to the effect she has on our critics.

    • Yes to Norton’s apparent indifference to the erotic mess. I have to say, I’ve known some women like this. Female Magoos who leave havoc in their wake without giving the matter much thought at all, just out of sheer boneheadedness, or “innocence” as the poet will have it. (Age 26, you know, I may have been a bit like that myself I admit.)

      I’m so glad you guys liked the poem, I simply love it.

  • Comment from Dan Summers

    What a gorgeous poem. I remain deeply grateful for the depth of the reading going on at this site. I was struck by the loveliness of the reference to the white hind, but I would never have thought to dig this deeply.

    • Comment from Susan Zenger

      The “Hind”, translated as “Cierva” in Spanish translations that I have seen, is a recurrent figure in the Arabian Nights, which might have something to do with a Persian or Scythian link. In one well known story an infertile and jealous wife teaches herself sorcery to convert he husband’s slave and the son he had had with her into a cow and a calf. In the end her evil deed is discovered and she herself is turned into a hind.

      Espinoza’s murmurings are definitely lyrical and the poem by Borges is great. Thanks

  • Comment from Terrell Willliamson

    What great catch, Maria. I admit to having breezed right past that one. Like you, I wonder what else I’m missing as I read through the book for the second time.

    The Borges poem clearly speaks to the realization of the fleeting nature of our existence, something one could expect Bolano to identify with as he wrote 2666.

  • Comment from Pocket Shelley

    I wondered about that line, too, as I blazed past. The Borges poem, wow. Thank you!

  • Comment from David Savarese

    Love this catch.

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