Sunday, December 04, 2011

Borges' The Witness

I am ecstatic at now having thousands of books, both technical and non-technical, available in searchable formats on my laptop, tablet and iphone.

I came across this brief Borges piece, originally published in 1960, by accident while surfing through my digital book collection. A quick trip to my shelves showed that I had this in physical form, but somehow had never read it.

See also the perils of precocity.

The Witness

In a stable that stands almost in the shadow of the new stone church, a man with gray eyes and gray beard, lying amid the odor of the animals, humbly tries to will himself into death, much as a man might will himself to sleep. The day, obedient to vast and secret laws, slowly shifts about and mingles the shadows in the lowly place; outside lie plowed fields, a ditch clogged with dead leaves, and the faint track of a wolf in the black clay where the line of woods begins. The man sleeps and dreams, forgotten.

The bells for orisons awaken him. Bells are now one of evening's customs in the kingdoms of England, but as a boy the man has seen the face of Woden, the sacred horror and the exultation, the clumsy wooden idol laden with Roman coins and ponderous vestments, the sacrifice of horses, dogs, and prisoners. Before dawn he will be dead, and with him, the last eyewitness images of pagan rites will perish, never to be seen again. The world will be a little poorer when this Saxon man is dead.

Things, events, that occupy space yet come to an end when someone dies may make us stop in wonder—and yet one thing, or an infinite number of things, dies with every man's or woman's death, unless the universe itself has a memory, as theosophists have suggested. In the course of time there was one day that closed the last eyes that had looked on Christ; the Battle of Junin and the love of Helen died with the death of one man. What will die with me the day I die? What pathetic or frail image will be lost to the world? The voice of Macedonia Fernandez, the image of a bay horse in a vacant lot on the corner of Sarrano and Charcas, a bar of sulfur in the drawer of a mahogany desk?


David Coughlin said...

I get Safari and through work.  No fiction, but as non-fiction selections go, those two together a pretty good.  I don't get university press books, so not a lot of standard texts in the field [for whatever value of field you choose] but there is enough books about each topic that I am interested in that I do go wanting.

Martin Morgan said...

A leaf, one of the last, parts from a maple
it is spinning in the transparent air of
October, falls
on a heap of others, stops, fades. No one
admired its entrancing struggle with the
followed its flight, no one will distinguish
it now
as it lies among the other leaves, no one saw
what I did. I am
the only one.-Bronislaw Maj

Justin Loe said...

Blood Meridian By Cormac McCarthy is an outstanding read, though it may not appeal to those who are not fond of dark westerns.
Quote: " The critic Harold Bloom, among others, has declared it one of the greatest novels of the Twentieth Century, and perhaps the greatest by a living American writer. Critics cite its magnificent language, its uncompromising representation of a crucial  period of  American history, and its unapologetic, bleak vision of the inevitability of suffering and violence."

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