Things That Might Have Been

A meditation on three lines by the Argentinean poet Jorge Luis Borges:

I think about things that might have been and never were….
The inconceivable work that Dante may have glimpsed
As soon as he corrected the Comedy’s last verse.

–from “Things That Might Have Been”
by Jorge Luis Borges

I imagine Dante, at that moment of completion of his masterpiece, his legacy to the world, glimpsing that other work, perhaps greater than The Divine Comedy, in the fleeting brilliance of artistic psychic vision. Dante, horrified at the inferiority of his still magnificent creation, knowing he has touched true visionary greatness without grasping it and viewing his life as a failure, even though the world will remember him as a genius, an inspired writer, a gifted artist.

What if he had stopped writing, had torn up his manuscript, and begun working on the piece he glimpsed but would never achieve? What then? What world would have come into existence as a result? What works of art, what great thoughts, what courageous acts would have slipped away from us?

The lesson learned — or hopefully learned — is that everything we do could be inferior to what we may do at some point. Or never. But it remains that we have done something. And each something leads us forward to the next. We learn by doing. We grow by falling short of our potential. We give the world the smallest grace note in an ongoing symphony of accomplishments, achievements, and intentions, no matter how insignificant they seem.

Had Borges never written a poem about Things That Might Have Been, I would never have reflected on Dante (or any other creator) glimpsing the brilliance they didn’t achieve in a work they completed when compared a theoretical work they never even initiated. And you would not be reading these words.

Lindel Hart teaches yoga online for PerfectFit Wellness. He lives in Western Massachusetts and teaches at Deerfield Academy, a private residential high school, as well as at Community Yoga and Wellness in Greenfield, MA. Visit his website, Hart Yoga.

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