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.

“Carnal apple,Woman filled, Burning moon”- By Pablo Neruda

By Pablo Neruda

Carnal apple, Woman filled, burning moon,
dark smell of seaweed, crush of mud and light,
what secret knowledge is clasped between your pillars?
What primal night does Man touch with his senses?
Ay, Love is a journey through waters and stars,
through suffocating air, sharp tempests of grain:
Love is a war of lightning,
and two bodies ruined by a single sweetness.
Kiss by kiss I cover your tiny infinity,
your margins, your rivers, your diminutive villages,
and a genital fire, transformed by delight,
slips through the narrow channels of blood
to precipitate a nocturnal carnation,
to be, and be nothing but light in the dark.


A more sensual poem one cannot find , so much filled with fascinating visual and tactile imagery. “Apple” is highly suggestive, the forbidden apple. A body’s apple, a woman-filled, a burning moon. “Carnal” , a body adjective has its biblical associations. The smell of sea-weed is an olfactory throwback to the green sea from where we had all come. Secret knowledge is clasped between her two pillars, the mysteries of love’s creation. Mark the word clasped, suggesting the strong holding together of her thighs before they are loosened for love. Man touches the primal night with his senses. Love is a journey through the waters and stars, through sharp tempests of grain.Love is a war of lightning .

The most delicious line is “two bodies ruined by a single sweetness” .Bodies ruined because love leaves a heavy toll on them. A common sweetness that destroys the integrity of the individual bodies and lumps them together into a single ecstatic experience.

“Kiss by kiss I cover your tiny infinity” is exquisite.Tiny infinity suggests a tiny space that contains infinity,with her margins, her rivers,her diminutive villages. Her body is infinite space that is astronomer’s delight, an explorer’s passion. An explosion occurs and is transmitted through the narrow blood channels to precipitate a light in the dark.