The warrior and the captive is a story out of the celebrated collection El aleph, a formally ambitious ensemble of ficciones, very much so: though contemporaries who knew the author as a poet might have been less surprised, less than readers new to Borges certainly, by the sorts of thing presented as fiction there. Borges once described himself as a “minor” poet — alluding to Eliot with intent, one feels — and his verse is a lucid poetry of feeling. It is in prose that Borges attempts a wider registry of human doing; and often achieves, I’ll risk saying, just such a plenary apprehending of fate and condition as Eliot’s “major” poetry must: if obliquely only, very often, in very elliptical ways.
Poetry unearths from among the speechless dead
Lazarus mystified, common man of death:
so Geoffrey Hill pronounces in History as Poetry (a poem much discussed by his admirers.) Borges extracts from history materiel for poetry rather — and quietly, from forgotten or incidental events very often (consider The theologians, for instance, also in El aleph) — and The warrior and the captive (which begins with Benedetto Croce’s once famous La Poesia) will expand its less than “historic” individuals into types (into silhouettes of Type, rather, one might say) in an almost off-hand way. The offered translation seeks to be faithful: but offends, it may be, by being somewhat less “casual” than the original — by making the narrator a more “assertive” than “conversational” presence, appreciably so. So it might be well to set out in advance, as caveat and exculpation, three indicative misprisions. The text to the left attempts literal transcription; the text on the right is the traduction (and where the words come is put in square brackets between.)
1 Let us imagine (this is not [ first para, end ] Let us take it for the earlier: I am not
a historical work) the first. a historian.
2 ... if this is not how it really happened, [ para 4, end ] ... if only as cypher or symbol, say,
it would be like a symbol. were the fact of the matter otherwise.
3 The obverse and reverse of this coin [ last para, end ] ... the stories I have related are one
are, for God, one and the same. history perhaps, equal, the obverse and
reverse of one coin, tossed by God.
I have taken the considerable liberty, besides, of inserting a reference to Tacitus’ Germania: but in doing so I am only making explicit, I think, what the intended readers of the ficcion would themselves have recalled, anyway, at that particular narrative juncture.
Complete Story: The Warrior And The Captive