The Witness

In a stable that stands almost in the shade of the new stone church, a man with gray eyes and gray beard, stretched out amid the odor of the animals, humbly seeks death like someone seeking sleep. The day, faithful to vast and secret laws, goes about displacing and confusing the shadows in the poor enclosure; outside are the ploughed earth and a trench clogged with dead leaves and some trace of a wolf in the black clay where the woods begin. The man sleeps and dreams, forgotten. The chime of orison awakens him. In the realms of England the sounding of bells is already one of the habits of the evening, but the man, since boyhood, has seen the face of Woden, the divine horror and the exultation, the clumsy idol of wood laden with Roman coins and heavy vestments, the sacrifice of horses, dogs, and prisoners. Before dawn he will die and with him will die, and never return, the final immediate images of the pagan rites; the world will be a little poorer when this Saxon has died.

Incidents that inhabit space and that reach their end when someone dies can amaze us, but one thing, or an infinite number of things, dies in each death throe, unless there exists a memory of the universe, as the theosophists have conjectured. In the course of time there was a day that extinguished the last eyes that saw Christ; the battle of Junín and the love of Helen died with the death of one man. What will die with me when I die, what pathetic or despicable form will the world lose? The voice of Macedonio Fernández, the image of a red horse in the vacant lot at Serrano and Charcas, a bar of sulphur in the drawer of a mahogany desk?

My translation of Jorge Luis Borges, “El testigo” (in El hacedor, 1960).

May 2020