For Borges light dies down into pale, uncertain ash

Extracts from” the poem about Gifts” (Dreamtigers) by J.L.Borges


As I walk through the slow galleries
I grow to feel with a kind of holy dread
That I am that other, I am the dead,
And the steps I make are also his.

Which of us two is writing now these lines
About a plural I and a single gloom?
What does it matter what word is my name
If the curse is indivisibly the same?

[From Dreamtigers, by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Harold Morland]

I love these lines of Borges written by a poet growing blind, facing the towering walls of a library. The visual handicap has been described in the earlier lines with a sharp irony of “books and night” ,God had given him, making his eyes the sightless rulers of endless walls of books:

Slow in my darkness, I explore
The hollow gloom with my hesitant stick,
I, that used to figure Paradise
In such a library’s guise

The excruciating irony is experienced not by the poet Borges alone but by another too who had gone through the same irony of books and night “on other days of many books and the dark”. What difference would it make if it is Borges or Groussac who is facing the irony now because Borges is none other than Groussac, he is the other , the dead one walking the same steps.

As I walk through the slow galleries

Walking through slow galleries conveys a slow movement on account of the visual handicap, the need to tap floor or wall with a walking stick.It is not the galleries that are slow but the walker as he moves through them. He grows to feel with a kind of holy dread that he is the other. Growing to feel is a kind of organic growth of the body towards loss of visual function. Growing is a positive term here used for going sightless , an extension of the irony that began in the first and second stanzas.


Let none think that I by tear or reproach make light
Of this manifesting the mastery
Of God, who with excelling irony
Gives me at once both books and night.

In this city of books he made these eyes
The sightless rulers who can only read,
In libraries of dreams, the pointless
Paragraphs each new dawn offers

But the growth is towards a feeling of the obliteration of the individual Borges towards a plurality of anyone ,whether Borges or Groussac or anyone sightless faced with a wall of books.

But the best lines are the last four in which Borges goes on to describe the human situation:


Groussac or Borges, I gaze at this beloved
World that grows more shapeless, and its light
Dies down into a pale, uncertain ash
Resembling sleep and the oblivion of night.


The visual terms used are as though the poet is using up the last of his visual experience to describe a world that is slowly disappearing for him;

He gazes at the beloved world. The world is growing shapeless.Imagine the gradual loss of memory in a man growing blind as he loses the outlines of objects and they become progressively blurred. As the light that falls on objects disappears, the world remains a mere memory , a pale uncertain ash resembling sleep and the oblivion of night. The night gradually makes objects shapeless, their contours lost in darkness. The blind man will only have vague memories of what they were before darkness had set in.

“light dies down into pale,uncertain ash” is a delicious visual image.

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