“Elegio poems under the same name in 1969.[1] The

“Elegio de la Sombra” is a
poem written by an Argentine poet and short-story writer Jorge Luis Borges which
was published in a collection of poems under the same name in 1969.1
The poem discusses the themes of old age, “la vejez” (1), and blindness, “formas
luminosas y vagas que no son aun la tiniebla” (5); those themes are linked to Borges’
personal experiences, particularly to the fact that he began to go blind in his
early 50s and eventually suffered from total blindness at the age of 55.2
Written in a first person narrative, the poem is very reflective and Borges
shares his state of mind and offers his personal perspective on experiencing
old age and blindness, in a confessional style.

The poem consists of forty-six verses, all presented in a form of a
single stanza. However, when focusing on what themes are implied within the
verses, the poem can be divided into three parts. In the first part, from
verses one to four, the theme of old age, “la vejez” is introduced and
described as “el tiempo de nuestra dicha” (2). Thus, from the first words of
the poem, it is clear the attitude of the poet to his ageing which he sees as a
happy time. In verses three and four, according to the persona, a man is made
up of “el animal” (3) which metaphorically represents the body and the
experiences a human receives from the senses, and “alma” (4), the soul and
therefore, the reason. In those four verses, a great part of the meaning of the
poem is placed; the poet examines a very important concept to a human
existence, the soul. Faced with the deterioration of the body caused by the
passing time, the soul becomes wiser and stronger. The fact that “el animal ha
muerto o casi ha muerto” may seem as a disadvantage to some, however, the poet highlights
that despite that disadvantage, the “alma” remains and considering the fact
that he perceives the old age as a blissful time, having the soul instead of
the body appears to please Borges.  

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In the second part of the poem, from verses five to forty-two, the poet
describes the opportunities the old age gives to him. With the old age he
equates his loss of vision, “la tiniebla” (6), through the metaphor “el tiempo
ha sido mi Demócrito” (16) and he makes a reference to “Demócrito de Abdera”
(15) in order to use him as an example to show that blindness is a blessing,
saying that “se arrancó los ojos para pensar”. Thus, Borges suggests that being
able to see can draw you away from your thoughts, so the loss of sight finally
gives him a chance to think and focus on his “alma” rather than “cosas” (14). This
idea is also emphasised by the loss of “el animal” which means that a person is
no longer dominated by the physical desires and it is clear that the poet sees
this, despite appearing to be a disadvantage, as “una dulzura” (25). For him,
the blindness also allowed him to bring the past closer, for instance “Buenos
Aires” (7), where the poet was born, the Buenos Aires from the past and the one
he used to know. He cannot see it anymore but can feel it and the blindness
allows him to extract the memories better.

The poem is a free verse as no there is no rhyme pattern to it, but the
poet manages to create a rhythm and pull the reader along from one line to the
next by enjambment, such as in “y las precarias casas viejas // que aun
llamamos el Sur” (12-13). This rhythm adds calmness to this poem and in the
poet’s words, “Todo esto debería atemorizarme, pero es una dulzura” (24-25) and
this calmness allows Borges to confess to the reader, particularly in the last
part of the poem. In this part, from verses forty-three to forty-six, the poet
expresses his certainty of reaching his “centro”, “algebra”, “clave” and
“espejo”. He suggests that he was able to reach those elements due to the loss
of sight and being able to forget “cosas” (42), for instance “días y noches”
(35), things that appear insignificant to him when faced with a possibility to
find out “quién” (46) he is, due to being able to focus on his “alma”. Neither
the old age nor the blindness have stopped his desire to learn, and his
objective now is to discover his sense of life.

The confessions make this poem no only very personal but also, very
emotional. However, the emotions are not negative; the poet accepts his past
and the present, in order to face the future without fear. Just as the soul,
the old age is shown by Borges as being an essential part of human existence
and attempts to show it as a time of happiness, a time to discover your true
self. For him, blindness is just another way of being able to perceive the
world, to relive his past and face the future. The poem reads like words of
wisdom; apart from the soul, Borges perhaps, attempts to show the reader that
it is necessary to take some time off every-day “cosas”, reflect on your life
and cherish the memories. It is the blindness and the old age that allowed him
to separate the two realities, the visual and the essential, and focus on the
latter. On the other side, he may suggest that the purpose of life is to search
for who you really are.

1W. Barnstone, Reviews: In Praise of the Darkness (1977). Available online: www.nytimes.com/books/97/08/31/reviews/borges-darkness.html (accessed: 01/01/2018)

2E. Monegal, Jorge Luis Borges (1999). Available online: www.britannica.com/biography/Jorge-Luis-Borges (accessed: 01/01/2018)