Argentinian short-story writer, essayist, poet and translator Jorge Luis Borges was born in Buenos Aires in 1899. When he was fifteen, his family moved to Switzerland, where he studied in Geneva before travelling widely in Europe, including stays in Spain. On his return to Argentina in 1921, Borges began publishing his poems and essays in surrealist literary journals, his first collection Passion For Buenos Aires was published in 1923. In 1955 he was appointed director of the National Public Library and professor of Literature at the University of Buenos Aires. Borges was widely read, profoundly erudite and fluent in several languages, however he was relatively unknown in the English speaking world until he won the International Publishers Prize alongside Samuel Beckett in 1961.
Due to a hereditary condition Borges became blind in his late fifties and in such later works as In Praise Of Darkness 1969 and The Gold of the Tigers, 1972, he wrote of his lifelong descent into blindness and how it affected his perceptions of the world and himself as a writer. He died in Geneva in 1986. Here is:
IN PRAISE OF DARKNESS
By Jorge Luis Borges
(trans. From the Spanish by Hoyt Rogers)
Old age (the name that others give it)
Can be the time of our greatest bliss.
The animal has died or almost died.
The man and his spirit remain.
I live among vague, luminous shapes
That are not darkness yet.
Whose edges disintegrated
Into the endless plain,
Has gone back to being the Recoleta, the Retiro,
The nondescript streets of the Once,
And the rickety old houses
We still call the South.
In my life there were always too many things.
Democritus of Abdera plucked out his eyes in order to think;
Time has been my Democritus.
This penumbra is slow and does not pain me;
It flows down a gentle slope,
My friends have no faces,
Women are what they were so many years ago,
These corners could be other corners,
There are no letters on the pages of books.
All this should frighten me,
But it is a sweetness, a return.
Of the generations of texts on earth
I will have read only a few –
The ones that I keep reading in my memory,
Reading and transforming.
From South, East, West, and North
The paths converge that have led me
To my secret centre.
Those paths were echoes and footsteps,
Women, men, death-throes, resurrections,
Days and nights,
Dreams and half-wakeful dreams,
Every inmost moment of yesterday
And all the yesterdays of the world,
The Dane’s staunch sword and the Persian’s moon,
The acts of the dead,
Shared love, and words,
Emerson and snow, so many things.
Now I can forget them. I reach my centre
My algebra and my key,
Soon I will know who I am.