Martin Fierro by José Hernandez

Martin Fierro - Jose Hernandez
Review by Stephen Page
In order to delve deeper into the gaucho mind, as research for my poem project, I read José Hernandez’s Martin Fierro.  I have been told by many people that the fictional character Martín Fierro is a model for gauchos.  Argentine children are required to memorize the first part of the poem in grade school, and most everyone in Argentina sees Fierro as a kind of Robin Hood (though I see him as more of a Jesse James or a Billy the Kid).  To help you begin to understand, I translated the first part of the poem for you.  It is in the Criollo vernacular, so it required a lot of reference work.  The epic poem is a novel in verse, with character development and a thick plot. It is over 2,000 lines long, set mostly in six-line stanzas, the 2nd , 3rd and 6th lines rhyming, and the 4th and 5th lines rhyming; the first line is unrhymed, I think as a way for Hernandez to freely set up the stanza.  In my translation, I tried to maintain some meter, but the rhyme I disregarded in order not to bend syntax and meaning.   If Martin Fierro is an anti-hero for the Argentine people and a model for gauchos, I understand now why there are so many bad-guys that work on ranches.  Fierro deserts the army, raids Indian camps, picks one-on-one knife fights with other men just to watch how they die, and ends up stealing for a living, blaming the government and rich people for his actions.  Things are becoming clearer for me.  The poem begins as an anthem against colonialism and political war (you could parallel this with a ‘have-not’ rising against the ‘haves’), but it ends up an excuse for sociopathic behavior and pure anarchy.   (This is, of course, a culture issue, and I use my knowledge of this not to judge but to understand.)
I – Cantor y Gaucho
Aquí me pongo a cantar
Al compás de la vigüela,
Que el hombre que lo desvela
Una pena estraordinaria
Como la ave solitaria
Con el cantar se consuela.
Pido a los Santos del Cielo
Que ayuden mi pensamiento;
Les pido en este momento
Que voy a cantar mi historia
Me refresquen la memoria
Y aclaren mi entendimiento.
Vengan Santos milagrosos,
Vengan todos en mi ayuda,
Que la lengua se me añuda
Y se me turba la vista;
Pido a Dios que me asista
En una ocasión tan ruda.
Yo he visto muchos cantores,
Con famas bien obtenidas,
Y que después de adquiridas
No las quieren sustentar
Parece que sin largar
se cansaron en partidas
Mas ande otro criollo pasa
Martín Fierro ha de pasar;
nada lo hace recular
ni los fantasmas lo espantan,
y dende que todos cantan
yo también quiero cantar.
Cantando me he de morir
Cantando me han de enterrar,
Y cantando he de llegar
Al pie del eterno padre:
Dende el vientre de mi madre
Vine a este mundo a cantar.
Que no se trabe mi lengua
Ni me falte la palabra:
El cantar mi gloria labra
Y poniéndome a cantar,
Cantando me han de encontrar
Aunque la tierra se abra.
Me siento en el plan de un bajo
A cantar un argumento:
Como si soplara el viento
Hago tiritar los pastos;
Con oros, copas y bastos
Juega allí mi pensamiento.
Yo no soy cantor letrao,
Mas si me pongo a cantar
No tengo cuándo acabar
Y me envejezco cantando:
Las coplas me van brotando
Como agua de manantial.
Con la guitarra en la mano
Ni las moscas se me arriman,
Naides me pone el pie encima,
Y cuando el pecho se entona,
Hago gemir a la prima
Y llorar a la bordona.
Yo soy toro en mi rodeo
Y torazo en rodeo ajeno;
Siempre me tuve por güeno
Y si me quieren probar,
Salgan otros a cantar
Y veremos quién es menos.
No me hago al lao de la güeya
Aunque vengan degollando,
Con los blandos yo soy blando
Y soy duro con los duros,
Y ninguno en un apuro
Me ha visto andar tutubiando.
En el peligro, ¡qué Cristos!
El corazón se me enancha,
Pues toda la tierra es cancha,
Y de eso naides se asombre:
El que se tiene por hombre
Ande quiere hace pata ancha.
Soy gaucho, y entiendaló
Como mi lengua lo esplica:
Para mí la tierra es chica
Y pudiera ser mayor;
Ni la víbora me pica
Ni quema mi frente el sol
Nací como nace el peje
En el fondo de la mar;
Naides me puede quitar
Aquello que Dios me dio
Lo que al mundo truje yo
Del mundo lo he de llevar.
Mi gloria es vivir tan libre
Como el pájaro del cielo:
No hago nido en este suelo
Ande hay tanto que sufrir,
Y naides me ha de seguir
Cuando yo remuento el vuelo.
Yo no tengo en el amor
Quien me venga con querellas;
Como esas aves tan bellas
Que saltan de rama en rama,
Yo hago en el trébol mi cama,
Y me cubren las estrellas.
Y sepan cuantos escuchan
De mis penas el relato,
Que nunca peleo ni mato
Sino por necesidá,
Y que a tanta alversidá
Sólo me arrojó el mal trato
Y atiendan la relación
que hace un gaucho perseguido,
que padre y marido ha sido
empeñoso y diligente,
y sin embargo la gente
lo tiene por un bandido
The Gaucho Martín Fierro
I – Singer and Gaucho.
Here I begin to sing
with the company of guitar,
like a man who is sleepless
from an extraordinary pain
that like a solitary bird
sings to be consoled.
I ask the saints in Heaven
to help me with my thoughts;
I ask them during this moment
that I will sing my history
to refresh my memory of me
and clarify my understanding.
Come Holy miracles,
come all to my aid,
the language tongue-ties me
and clouds my vision;
I ask that God assists me
in so crude an occasion.
I have seen many singers,
who obtained good fame,
and after they acquired it
did not want to keep it;
it seems that without realizing
they got tired of the games.
Further than any gaucho
has Martín Fierro gone;
nothing he does is cowardly
or is he frightened by ghosts,
and since they all sing
I also want to sing.
Singing I will die
singing they will bury me,
and singing I will arrive
at the foot of the Eternal Father:
because from the belly of my mother
I came into this world to sing.
Because my speech is not perfect
and words are hard to find:
through singing my glory shines
and  by setting myself to sing,
singing they will find me
even when the Earth chasms.
I am in the plan of a lowly one
to sing out  in protest:
like when the wind blows
it makes the grass ripple;
with all the cards in a deck of tricks
my thoughts will play there.
I am not a learned singer,
and when I start to sing
I do not know when to stop
so I age while I am singing:
the songs are flowing from me
like a water from a spring.
With a guitar in my hand
the flies do not bother me,
nobody is above me,
and when my chest intones,
I make the strings moan
and cry with the chords.
I am the bull of my own herd
but visit other herds;
I always thought myself quite good,
but if they want to test me
in contest with another,
they will see who is the better.
Do not place me in the ranks
when they come cutting throats,
with the friendly I am friendly
but with the tough I am tougher,
and none in any confrontation
have ever seen me walk trembling.
In dangerous situations, Christ Jesus!
my courage enlarges,
and because all the world is a battle-field,
no one can be astonished:
that who he who is a real man
stands with his legs splayed wide.
I am gaucho, and understand
like my language will explain;
for me the Earth is small
and should be much larger,
but the viper never bites me
and the sun never scorches me.
I was born as a fish is born
at the bottom of the sea;
none can take from me
what God gave to me;
what the world gives to me
to the world I will return.
My glory is to live free
as the bird in the sky:
I do not make a nest on this ground
where to walk is to suffer,
and no one has to follow me
when I veer in my direction.
I do not have love
for those that come to quarrel;
like those beautiful birds
that jump from branch to branch,
I make my bed with grasses,
and the stars are my blanket.
And know when you listen
in empathy for my pain,
that I never fight or kill
except when it is necessary,
and when I am so badly treated
I have to give in return.
And they who make the rules
that persecute a gaucho,
who though father and husband
has been loyal and diligent,
have created for themselves
a bandit for the people

Stephen Page is the  author of “A Ranch Bordering the Salt River.”. He can be found at



Libro de lectura



Review by Stephen Page

Angela Pradelli’s Libro de lectura is a book-length essay on teaching in Argentina based on the accounts of a writer who has taught in Argentine public schools.  Up until 16 years ago, attending a public school was free and unbiased to all students.  Teachers were paid a livable salary and the level of education was high.  Even the very rich sent their students to quality public schools.  All that has changed—since 2001, public school teachers’ salaries have risen very little, or in some cases, diminished, so many of the talented teachers have chosen to move laterally to instruct in private schools, where the pay is higher.

This book is about the children in the schools as well as the teachers.  The essay is divided into chapters.  Each chapter tells a different story.  Most every chapter opens with a poignant scene of one of the kids, his or her everyday life before or after school.  Then each story moves to the classroom where the difficulties and erudition are shown in a society where class often decides how well the students learn.  Poor and lower middle-class students come to school without their books, their paper, their pens, and their desire to learn. One student repeats the sixth grade because her neighborhood has no high school and she has no safe and viable means to arrive at any other outside her impoverished neighborhood. Another student uses pages of her textbook to wrap her feet so she can walk to school on a winter morning (what a wonderful metaphor you could make with that). As Pradelli humanely points out, it is up to the teachers to change that—make the classes interesting, encourage the despairing students, and pay for some of their supplies from their own lint-lined pockets.  In classes where you have a student of superior intelligence and/or another who was socialized in an inferior environment, special assignments and subtle attention are given.  Some of the solutions I mentioned from Pradelli’s book seem simplistic, and the dilemmas seem familiar worldwide, but anyone who has taught knows that a large percentage of teachers (and school administrators) in the world just don’t care.  Apathy and putting in the required hours in order to draw a paycheck are abundant in the teaching world.

Pradelli’s book touches the sentiments of people who are not aware of the pitiful public-school syste m, and encourages those who are aware from losing hope.  Each chapter of the book introduces loveable characters—upturned childish faces begging to be taught.  Pradelli’s outstanding story telling brings sharp focus to an often looked-away problem.

You can find the book here:

Stephen Page is the  author of “A Ranch Bordering the Salt River.”. He can be found at