I first read Borges in college — the short story El Aleph — and was mesmerized by his mysterious, philosophical short fiction.
Equally intriguing was his own story. Possibly the most dramatic event in Borges’ life came when in 1955 he became director of the National Public Library in Buenos Aires. His eyesight had been diminishing, and by the time of his appointment he had become nearly completely blind.
Garrison Keillor gave a brief narrative of his life and work on The Writer’s Almanac, for which they selected a wonderful quotation from Borges explaining the circumstances surrounding his appointment:
Little by little I came to realize the strange irony of events. I had always imagined Paradise as a kind of library. Others think of a garden or of a palace. There I was, the center, in a way, of 900,000 books in various languages, but I found I could barely make out the title pages and the spines. I wrote the ‘Poem of the Gifts,’ which begins:
No one should read self-pity or reproach
into this statement of the majesty
of God, who with such splendid irony
granted me books and blindness at one touch.
What a graceful acceptance of something one might take a degree of bitterness towards.
Having written predominantly short fiction up to this point in his life, Borges subsequently wrote entirely in the medium of poetry, of which he made a remark I think will hit home in more ways than one for anyone who has spent a significant amount of time writing poetry — or just writing for that matter.
A writer lives. The task of being a poet is not completed at a fixed schedule. No one is a poet from eight to twelve and from two to six. Whoever is a poet is one always, and continually assaulted by poetry.
If you’re interested, you can check out some of Borges’ poems online.