On Salvation by Deeds
Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borges
One autumn, one of the autumns of time, the Shinto divinities gathered, not for the first time, at Izumo. They are said to have numbered eight million. Being a shy man I would have felt a bit lost among so many. In any case, it is not convenient to deal in inconceivable numbers. Let us say there were eight, since eight is a good omen in these islands.
They were downcast, but did not show it: the visages of divinities are undecipherable kanji. They seated themselves in a circle on the green crest of a hill. They had been observing mankind from their firmament or from a stone or from a snowflake. One of the divinities spoke:
Many days, or centuries, ago, we gathered here to create Japan and the world. The fishes, the seas, the seven colors of the rainbow, the generations of plants and animals have all worked out well. So that men should not be burdened with too many things, we gave them succession, issue, the plural day and the singular night. We also bestowed on them the gift of experimenting with certain variations. The bee continues repeating beehives. But man has imagined devices: the plow, the key,. the kaleidoscope. He also imagined the sword and the art of war. He has just imagined an invisible weapon which could put an end to history. Before this senseless deed is done, let us wipe out men.
They remained pensive. Without haste another divinity spoke:
It’s true. They have thought up that atrocity, but there is also this something quite different, which fits in the space encompassed by seventeen syllables.
The divinity intoned them. They were in an unknown language, and I could not understand them.
The leading divinity delivered a judgment:
Let men survive.
Thus, because of a haiku, the human race was saved.
Izumo, April 27, 1984
[from ATLAS, Dutton, 1985}