Martin Fierro :: J. L. Borges

Out of this city marched armies that seemed to be great, and afterwards were, when glory had magnified them. As the years went by, an occasional soldier returned and, with a foreign trace in his speech, told tales of what had happened to him in places called Ituzaingo or Ayacucho. These things, now, are as if they had never been.

Two tyrannies had their day here. During the first some men coming from the Plata market hawked white and yellow peaches from the seat of a cart. A child lifted a corner of the canvas and saw unitario heads with bloody beards. The second, for many, meant imprisonment and death; for all it meant discomfort, a taste of disgrace in everyday acts, an incessant humiliation. These things, now, are as if they had never been.

A man who knew all words looked with minute love at the plants and birds of his land and described them, perhaps forever, and wrote in metaphors of metal the vast chronicle of the tumultuous sunsets and the shapes of the moon. These things, now, are as if they had never been.

Here too the generations have known those common and somehow eternal vicissitudes which are the stuff of art. These things now, are as if they had never been. But in a hotel room in the 1860’s, or thereabouts, a man dreamed about a fight. A gaucho lifts a Negro off his feet with his knife, throws him down like a sack of bones, sees him agonize and die, crouches down to clean his blade, unties his horse, and mounts slowly so he will not be thought to be running away. This, which once was, is again infinitely: the splendid armies are gone, and a lowly knife fight remains. The dream of one man is part of the memory of all.

[From Dreamtigers, by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Mildred Boyer]

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