Willis Barnstone

Willis Barnstone (1927– ) is one of America’s most prolific and highly regarded translators and poets. He has spent extended periods in Mexico, Spain, France, England, Greece, and China. He began writing poetry when he was twenty years old; his first published poem appeared in the Anglo-French periodical Points. His first book of poems published in the United States was From This White Island, reflecting on his time on an island in Greece. One of Barnstone’s closest friends and mentors was author Jorge Luis Borges. In an essay written for Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Barnstone confides, ’I see poetry, fiction, and scholarship as Borges did. They are the work of a writer and move into each other, separated by typography.’ He is a Guggenheim Fellow and two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and is presently Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature at Indiana University, Bloomington.

The Apocalypse

by Willis Barnstone

Translated by Willis Barnstone

With a contribution by Willis Barnstone

The Apocalypse (1st-2nd century, C.E.), also known as Revelations, is attributed to John of Patmos. A succession of angels reveals that God will intervene decisively in the present evil age and reward his long-suffering elect. Reflecting the Romans’ oppression of Christians and Jews, and influenced by the apocalyptic writings of the Old Testament’s Book of Daniel, The Apocalypse is the great epic poetic work of the New Testament. As the translator Willis Barnstone puts it, “Like the Book of Job, the Apocalypse is an extended poem, as densely poetic as Blake’s Jerusalem, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, or Gerard Manley Hopkins’s The Wreck of the Deutschland.…
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To Touch The Sky

To Touch the Sky contains Willis Barnstone’s translations of some of the most profound and inspiring writing of world literature: ten mystical and spiritual poets spanning three thousand years. The theme of the whole volume is stated in the title of the book, from a fragment of Sappho (I could not hope/to touch the sky/with my two arms”). As Barnstone says in his introduction, “There is a moment of vision, otherness, apparent timelessness, erotic sublimity, where the ordinary becomes extraordinary, for which there is no easy verbal equivalent except in the metaphors of poetry.…
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Borges at Eighty

Nonfiction by Jorge Luis Borges

Translated from the Spanish by Willis Barnstone

The words of a genius: Borges at Eighty transcends our expectations of ordinary conversation. In these interviews with Barnstone, Dick Cavett, and Alastair Reid, Borges touches on favorite writers (Whitman, Poe, Emerson) and familiar themes — labyrinths, mystic experiences, and death — and always with great, throw-away humor. For example, discussing nightmares, he concludes, “When I wake up, I wake to something worse. It’s the astonishment of being myself.”
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The Poems of Saint John of the Cross


Translated by Willis Barnstone

With a contribution by Willis Barnstone

Many regard the work of Saint John of the Cross (1542-91), the 16th century mystic, to be among the finest poetry Spain has produced. Most of these poems were written during a period of nine months, in 1577–78, when Saint John (San Juan de la Cruz) was imprisoned and tortured in the dungeon of a small Carmelite monastery in Toledo, and their recurrant motifs are both metaphysical and deeply personal. Saint John’s poetry of love and joy describes the soul’s passage through dark night to final illumination in mystical union with Absolute Being.…
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I think Willis Barnstone has been appointed a special angel to bring the ‘other’ to our attention, to show how it is done. He illuminates the spirits for us and he clarifies the unclarifiable… I think he does it by beating his wings.
—Gerald Stern
Willis Barnstone has a problem: he’s too good. Everything he writes, from his invaluable The Other Bible, a compendium of holy texts no writer should be without, through his brilliant translations and beautiful poems, is a breathtaking achievement.
—Carolyn Kizer
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