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The Martin Fierro: National Poem

We all know him, but what exactly do we know about Martin Fierro? Why was political power erased from the
Traditions
21 October, 2019

Almost any Argentinian knows, at least by hearsay, the gaucho Martín Fierro, emblematic character of the poem by José Hernandez. Many of us read it in school, most of them did not understand much and by obligation, exactly as no book should be read. Perhaps that is why, after the educational stage, it is not very common that we return to one of the most important texts of national literature. So it occurred to me that this might be a good time not only to claim it but also to try to convince you, dear reader, that it is an exceptional book and, above all, accessible and fun.

The

first thing to say is that it is not actually a book, but there are two: El gaucho Martín Fierro published in 1872 (also known as “La ida”) and La vuelta de Martín Fierro (1879), better known as “La vuelta”. What was defined as “national poem” is actually “La ida”, although in the popular imagination we have in mind passages from both books.

What is the poem about?

The argument of “La ida” is simple: Fierro is a gaucho who lives on changas (like almost all gauchos) to whom the state forces him to move to a fort to stop the advent of Malons. In this transfer, he loses his home, his belongings and, above all, his family. At a certain point, when he does not receive any kind of payment for his services (and even hungry: any coincidence with Malvinas remains on the reader’s account), he decides to desert from the army and return to his ranch. When he arrives, there’s nothing. The woman, driven by economic hardship, has decided to look for other horizons. This is how Fierro finds himself in a situation of illegality and loneliness and becomes, almost against his will, a matron.

The text is so fundamental to our history because, beyond the beauty contained in each of its pages, it is a concrete protest against Sarmiento’s policy (at that time president of the Republic) of forced recruitment of gauchos to force them to form part of the army.

Over time, Leopoldo Lugones defined the poem as “the national book of the Argentines” and awarded the gaucho the role of representative of the country, a kind of emblem of argentinity, a gesture that follows : just a walk down Florida Street and see the souvenirs that will be offer them to foreign tourists. Thus, by a symbolic swing, the gaucho went from being an outlaw to becoming a national emblem.

Anyone who hasn’t read it yet (or has a bad memory) of this book translated into more than 70 languages (including Esperanto and quichua), I recommend that you do it. They will come across a text from a unmatched beauty and power.

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