Before we get into this, read this poem with no context or backstory.
At the far end of my years I am surrounded
by a persistent, luminous, fine mist
which reduces all things to a single thing
with neither form nor colour. An idea, almost.
The vast and elemental night and the day
full of people are both that cloudy glow
of dubious constant light that never dims
and lies in wait for me at dawn. I’d like
to see a face sometime. I don’t know
the unexplored encyclopedia, the pleasure
of all these books I recognize by touch,
the golden moons or the birds in the sky.
The rest of the world is for others to see;
in my half-light, the habit of poetry.
Beautiful, right? Gorgeous
I once read this to a World Lit class of mine in the same way. I’d given the other students no context for the poem’s meaning or intentions. One dude brought up death, and that maybe the poem was about the poet’s experience with death. A girl brought up depression. Both amazing ideas with evidence to support them if you read the poem in the right way. I think it is so, unbelievably fun to do this; to make a poem mean anything you want. I do think this poem becomes even more meaningful with backstory, though.
Jorge Luis Borges, an Argentinian writer, famously wrote short stories, non-fiction, and poetry. In his forties, he completely lost his sight.
This poem is titled “On His Blindness.”
With this information we can see what he means by statements like: “with neither form nor colour, or I’d like to see a face sometime”. Perhaps most beautiful (and depressing) to me, though, is “the pleasure of all these books I recognize by touch”. He was never able to read said books again.
Borges never learned to read braille, so he relied completely on memory and help from his mother for writing help.
My man was also very outspoken against the Nazis in the 30’s, which I just think is so cool. He stood up for Jews at a time when many were too afraid to.
I encourage you to read Borges’ short stories and poetry. “Borges and I” (or “Borges Y Yo, if you speak Spanish. I had someone read his story to me in the original Spanish and I adored it) is a phenomenal story to get your feet wet. Remember, when you read it, that he was entirely blind when he wrote it.
What’s your favorite Borges story?