Exploratory Essay Draft


In the short story, The Mirror and the Mask by Jorge Luis Borges, a series of progressive poems were written by a poet as requested by the King.  The lineage of the poems, along with the gifts provided by the king, mirror the decisions along with the discoveries made by historical figures in the past.

The story starts with the defeat of the Norwegian army at the Battle of Clontarf. The victorious king boasts of his accomplishments and calls upon his poet who has mastered almost every trade. The king talks about the importance of a trinity and asks the poet to write three poems detailing the events that took place during the battle in a celebratory manner. The poems will be read each year marking the day of triumph, allowing both the king and the poet to be immortal, for words archive and preserve the events of the past. In the first poem, the literary skills of the poet are revealed, as his diction coupled with his syntax mimic the graceful sounds produced by a violin and cello duet. As a reward, the king provides the poet with a silver mirror. After another year, the poet reads the second poem which does not focus on any particular form of literary technique. Rather, the poem captures the detail of the poem as if physically there. As the poet experiences his disconnect with his expertise in literature, he becomes less confident when reading his poem to the king and the audience. The king is more than impressed with the poets work, and this time rewards the poet with a gold mask. The final poem the poet writes defines who the poet and king have become. The poem is only a single line and the poet is ashamed to recite it to the king. Only after the kings persuasion does the poet murmur the words etched on the paper. In complete shock of what the knowledge the poem contains, the king presents the poet a dagger and the proceeds to wander the earth like a feral human. With the dagger, the poet takes his own life for the contents of the poem for too much to endure.

It is important to note the progression of the poems. Each poem seems to become less sophisticated in terms of what the poet knows as his profession, but seems contain more knowledge of the war. The first poem is elegant like an orchid, but fails to capture the real identity of the war. The second poem allows the reader to feel as if he experienced the war, but still covers and hides the true meaning of it. However, the final poem, although short in length, happens to say it all. The poem contains information that is not initially visible. It defies the boundaries of mankind and results in the corruption of man. At the end of the poem, the poet says, “‘I felt I had committed some sin…'” (Borges 454). It is clear to the reader that naturally humans will unknowingly abandon their principles or set of beliefs to gain control, power, or some for of accomplishment. It is also important to realize that the real goal the king desired, to be immortal, was hidden with the concept that these poems were written for celebratory purposes instead.

Not only do the poems contain meaning about human progression, but the gifts received after each poem also allude to how humans respond to the process of reaching a goal but sacrificing their principles. The mirror was given after the first poem, and this gift allowed the poet to see his reflection. Since the first poem remain true to how he would write such a poem he saw himself. The second gift was the gold mask. Masks typically represent an unknown identity, which is exactly what the poet saw when he wrote his second poem. Since this poem did not depict his literary merit, his work did not represent himself. The final gift was a dagger, which the blade often refers to death. The poet did end up taking his life, so he had a physical death, but his legacy is what also experienced death. With a corrupted poem, the poet’s eminence diminished ironically not actually satisfying the underlying goal of immortality.

After reading Borges’s story, The Mirror and the Mask, my interpretation of a quote by President John F. Kennedy found in Bill O’Reilly’s book, Killing Kennedy: The end of Camelot, changed.

“Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right. Not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom—here in this hemisphere and, we hope, around the world. God willing, that goal will be achieved.” – Kennedy

The quote by Kennedy exemplifies the true intensions of the United States during the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, as well as the external goal that ensconces the American’s underlying objective. This tactic was the same one employed by the king and the poet in the Borges story. Additionally, the foundation of American Democracy slowly alters as the U.S. initiates their confrontation with the Soviets, mirroring the progression in the poems structure and style.

[Body paragraph 1 discussing the motives of the U.S.]

[Body paragraph 2 discussing the transition in the principles of American Democracy]



Borges, J., & Hurley, A. (2000). The Mirror and the Mask. In Collected Fictions. London: Penguin.

Killing Kennedy | National Geographic Channel. (n.d.). Retrieved January 16, 2015, from http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/killing-kennedy/

O’Reilly, B., & Dugard, M. (2012). Killing Kennedy: The end of Camelot. London: Macmillan.