Old Man at the Bridge

Ernest Hemingway, 1938

An old man with steel rimmed spectacles and very dusty clothes sat by the side of the road. There was a pontoon bridge across the river and carts, trucks, and men, women and children were crossing it. The mule-drawn carts staggered up the steep bank from the bridge with soldiers helping push against the spokes of the wheels. The trucks ground up and away heading out of it all and the peasants plodded along in the ankle deep dust. But the old man sat there without moving. He was too tired to go any farther.

It was my business to cross the bridge, explore the bridgehead beyond and find out to what point the enemy had advanced. I did this and returned over the bridge. There were not so many carts now and very few people on foot, but the old man was still there.

"Where do you come from?" I asked him.
"From San Carlos," he said, and smiled.

That was his native town and so it gave him pleasure to mention it and he smiled.

"I was taking care of animals," he explained.
"Oh," I said, not quite understanding.
"Yes," he said, "I stayed, you see, taking care of animals. I was the last one to leave the town of San Carlos."

He did not look like a shepherd nor a herdsman and I looked at his black dusty clothes and his gray dusty face and his steel rimmed spectacles and said, "What animals were they?"
"Various animals," he said, and shook his head. "I had to leave them."

I was watching the bridge and the African looking country of the Ebro Delta and wondering how long now it would be before we would see the enemy, and listening all the while for the first noises that would signal that ever mysterious event called contact, and the old man still sat there.

"What animals were they?" I asked.
"There were three animals altogether," he explained. "There were two goats and a cat and then there were four pairs of pigeons."
And you had to leave them?" I asked.
"Yes. Because of the artillery. The captain told me to go because of the artillery."
"And you have no family?" I asked, watching the far end of the bridge where a few last carts were hurrying down the slope of the bank.
"No," he said, "only the animals I stated. The cat, of course, will be all right. A cat can look out for itself, but I cannot think what will become of the others."
"What politics have you?" I asked.
"I am without politics," he said. "I am seventy-six years old. I have come twelve kilometers now and I think now I can go no further."
"This is not a good place to stop," I said. "If you can make it, there are trucks up the road where it forks for Tortosa."
"I will wait a while," he said, " and then I will go. Where do the trucks go?"
"Towards Barcelona," I told him.
"I know no one in that direction," he said, "but thank you very much. Thank you again very much."

He looked at me very blankly and tiredly, and then said, having to share his worry with someone, "The cat will be all right, I am sure. There is no need to be unquiet about the cat. But the others. Now what do you think about the others?"
"Why they'll probably come through it all right."
"You think so?"
"Why not," I said, watching the far bank where now there were no carts.
"But what will they do under the artillery when I was told to leave because of the artillery?"
"Did you leave the dove cage unlocked?" I asked.
"Then they'll fly."
"Yes, certainly they'll fly. But the others. It's better not to think about the others," he said.
"If you are rested I would go," I urged. "Get up and try to walk now."
"Thank you," he said and got to his feet, swayed from side to side and then sat down backwards in the dust.
"I was taking care of animals," he said dully, but no longer to me. "I was only taking care of animals."

There was nothing to do about him. It was Easter Sunday and the Fascists were advancing toward the Ebro. It was a gray overcast day with a low ceiling so their planes were not up. That and the fact that cats know how to look after themselves was all the good luck that old man would ever have.



پيرمرد بر سر پل

پيرمردي با عينکي دوره فلزي و لباس خاک آلود کنار جاده نشسته بود. روي رودخانه پلي چوبي کشيده بودند و گاريها، کاميونها، مردها، زنها و بچه ها از روي آن مي گذشتند. گاريها که با قاطر کشيده مي شدند، به سنگيني از شيب ساحل بالا مي رفتند، سربازها پره چرخها را مي گرفتند و آنها را به جلو مي راندند. کاميونها به سختي به بالا مي لغزيدند و دور مي شدند و همه پل را پشت سر مي گذاشتند. روستاييها توي خاکي که تا قوزکهايشان مي رسيد به سنگيني قدم برمي داشتند. اما پيرمرد همان جا بي حرکت نشسته بود؛ آن قدر خسته بود که نمي توانست قدم از قدم بردارد.
من مأموريت داشتم که از روي پل بگذرم. دهانه آن سوي پل را وارسي کنم و ببينم که دشمن تا کجا پيشروي کرده است. کارم که تمام شد از روي پل برگشتم. حالا ديگر گاريها آنقدر زياد نبودند و چندتايي آدم مانده بودند که پياده مي گذشتند. اما پيرمرد هنوز آنجا بود.
پرسيدم: «اهل کجاييد؟»
گفت: «سان کارلوس.» و لبخند زد.
شهر آبا اجداديش بود و از همين رو ياد آنجا شادش کرد و لبش را به لبخند گشود.
و بعد گفت: «از حيوانها نگهداري مي کردم.»
من که درست سر در نياورده بودم گفتم: «که اين طور.»
گفت: «آره، مي دانيد، من ماندم تا از حيوانها نگهداري کنم. من نفر آخري بودم که از سان کارلوس بيرون آمدم.»
ظاهرش به چوپانها و گله دارها نمي رفت. لباس تيره و خاک آلودش را نگاه کردم و چهره گرد نشسته و عينک دوره فلزي اش را و گفتم: «چه جور حيوانهايي بودند؟»
سرش را با نوميدي تکان داد و گفت: «همه جور حيواني بود. مجبور شدم ترکشان کنم.» من پل را تماشا مي کردم و فضاي دلتاي ايبرو را که آدم را به ياد آفريقا مي انداخت و در اين فکر بودم که چقدر طول مي کشد تا چشم ما به دشمن بيفتد و تمام وقت گوش به زنگ بودم که اولين صداهايي را بشنوم که از درگيري، اين واقعه هميشه مرموز، برمي خيزد و پيرمرد هنوز آنجا نشسته بود.
پرسيدم: «گفتيد چه حيوانهايي بودند؟»
گفت: «روي هم رفته سه جور حيوان بود. دو تا بز، يک گربه و چهار جفت هم کبوتر.»
پرسيدم: «مجبور شديد ترکشان کنيد؟»
«آره، از ترس توپها. سروان به من گفت که توي تيررس توپها نمانم.»
پرسيدم: «زن و بچه که نداريد؟» و انتهاي پل را تماشا مي کردم که چندتايي گاري با عجله از شيب ساحل پايين مي رفتند.
گفت: «فقط همان حيوانهايي بودند که گفتم. البته گربه بلايي سرش نمي آيد. گربه ها مي توانند خودشان را نجات بدهند، اما نمي دانم بر سر بقيه چه مي آيد؟»
پرسيدم: «طرفدار کي هستيد؟»
گفت: «من سياست سرم نمي شود. ديگر هفتاد و شش سالم است. دوازده کيلومتر را پاي پياده آمده ام، فکر هم نمي کنم ديگر بتوانم از اينجا جلوتر بروم.»
گفتم: «اينجا براي ماندن جاي امني نيست. اگر حالش را داشته باشيد، کاميونها توي آن جاده اند که از تورتوسا مي گذرد.»
گفت: «يک مدتي مي مانم. بعد راه مي افتم. کاميونها کجا مي روند؟»
به او گفتم: «بارسلونا.»
گفت: «من آن طرفها کسي را نمي شناسم. اما از لطفتان ممنونم. خيلي ممنونم.»
با نگاهي خسته و توخالي به من چشم دوخت و آن وقت مثل کسي که بخواهد غصه اش را با کسي قسمت کند، گفت: «گربه چيزيش نمي شود. مطمئنم. براي چي ناراحتش باشم؟ اما آنهاي ديگر چطور مي شوند؟ شما مي گوييد چي بر سرشان مي آيد؟»
«معلوم است، يک جوري نجات پيدا مي کنند.»
«شما اين طور گمان مي کنيد؟»
گفتم: «البته.» و ساحل دوردست را نگاه مي کردم که حالا ديگر هيچ گاري روي آن به چشم نمي خورد.
«اما آنها زير آتش توپها چه کار مي کنند؟ مگر از ترس همين توپها نبود که به من گفتند آنجا نمانم؟»
گفتم: «در قفس کبوترها را باز گذاشتيد؟»
«پس مي پرند.»
گفت: «آره، البته که مي پرند. اما بقيه چي؟ بهتر است آدم فکرش را نکند.»
گفتم: «اگر خستگي در کرده ايد، من راه بيفتم.» بعد به اصرار گفتم: «حالا بلند شويد سعي کنيد راه برويد.»
گفت: «ممنون.» و بلند شد. تلو تلو خورد، به عقب متمايل شد و توي خاکها نشست.
سرسري گفت: «من فقط از حيوانها نگهداري مي کردم.» اما ديگر حرفهايش با من نبود. و باز تکرار کرد: «من فقط از حيوانها نگهداري مي کردم.»
ديگر کاري نمي شد کرد. يکشنبه عيد پاک بود و فاشيستها به سوي ايبرو مي تاختند. ابرهاي تيره آسمان را انباشته بود و هواپيماهايشان به ناچار پرواز نمي کردند. اين موضوع و اينکه گربه ها مي دانستند چگونه از خودشان مواظبت کنند تنها دلخوشي پيرمرد بود.

ارنست همينگوى
ترجمه: احمد گلشيرى


  • Narrative POV

    A first person narrator who tells the story through careful description, reportage of dialogue and insightful commentary about the old man. The narrator makes the reader see the old man. His engagement with him suddenly brings the old man into focus, he emerges out of the faceless, voiceless crowd. The Narrator's consciousness of the approaching enemy "contact" is used to create the dramatic tension between the immobility of the old man and the coming destruction as he constantly observes the movement of carts across the bridge while talking. The narrator's conversation allows the old man to have a voice. As he speaks to the scout, we along with the scout, gradually understand his plight and what the war has done to him. The voiceless victims speak through the old man.

  • Plot

    In the middle of a military action, an army scout encounters an old man at a bridge where people are crossing to escape the war zone. The scout engages the old man in conversation and by the end of it, he realizes the old man is not going to move and will probably die at the bridge.

  • Setting

    The place is a war zone at a pontoon bridge across the Ebro river during the Spanish Civil War. The time is Easter Sunday 1938.

  • Characters

    The central character is the 76 yr. old man, a war refugee who has been uprooted and displaced by the war. The old man is "without politics," who was only taking care of his animals, but who has had his world destroyed. He is disoriented, confused and disconnected. He has retreated into his isolated world in which he can only cling to his obsessive thoughts about his animals, and is too tired to go any further. He will die at the bridge--another nameless innocent victim of war.

    The Scout is the narrator who creates the story of the old man at the bridge. Through his telling of the story, he gradually articulates who the old man is and what he represents. The Scout at the beginning is the impersonal narrator who sees the old man and decides to engage him in conversation. By asking the old man questions about himself, the Scout gradually understands the situation of the old man. At the beginning he thinks the old man is just resting so he encourages him to move on. In the course of his conversation he realizes the old man is disoriented, displaced and that he will not be able to move on, but that he will likely die at the bridge. The scout who begins as a detached observer comes to the painful realization that "there was nothing to do about him." And he ends with the bitterly ironic observation about Easter Sunday and the old man's luck, which is no luck. The old man will soon cross that final bridge.

  • Symbols

    • The 3 symbolic animals, which have a long history of conveying symbolic meaning.
      • The cat--9 lives--the survivor.
      • Pigeons, which become doves in the second mentioning. Birds can fly away from the war; doves--associated with peace, which in this context is ironic. The doves will fly away.
      • The goats--the animals who can't escape. Sacrificial animals. Scape goats who are innocent victims.
      • In the course of the story, the old man is associated with his goats. The others can take care of themselves. "But the others(the goats). It's better not to think about the others." The old man is a goat figure--unable to escape, an innocent victim of the civil war.

    • Easter Sunday. Ironic contrast. The day of the celebration of the resurrection will be the day another innocent victim is crucified.

    • The 4 repetitions of the old man's words: "I was taking care of animals." His last repetitions: "I was only taking care of animals," "I was only taking care of animals" becomes the eloquent symbolic expression of all those voiceless innocent men, women and children who are the victims of wars they neither support nor understand. Without politics, only living in their everyday world-- taking care of animals--which is destroyed by forces beyond their ability to comprehend.

    • The title: "Old man at the Bridge"--that final Bridge between life and death. Why not old man in the ditch or on the roadside?

  • Theme

    Old Man at the Bridge demonstrates the power of narrative art. It takes a small, ordinary detail in a situation and by the art of story-telling transforms it into a powerful story about the tragedy of war. The old man becomes a symbol of the countless civilian victims of war-- those "without politics." The old man is going to die at the bridge--displaced, disoriented, alone. He's not a cat, nor a dove, but a goat--who was "only taking care of animals

  • ---------------------------------------------------------------

  • A soldier (who is also the narrator) sees an old man resting on the side of a road near a pontoon bridge. Other civilians are crossing this bridge, but the old man is too tired to proceed any further. The old man tells the soldier that he is a native of San Carlos where he worked as a caretaker of animals.The old man seems more concerned for the safety of his animals than for his own safety. He has some relief in knowing that the cat will be able to fend for itself, and that since he has unlocked the cage, the birds can fly away, but the fate of the other animals is uncertain and the man is distraught by this.The soldier tries to encourage the old man to move a little farther along, for he knows the bridge is likely to be bombed. The old man, however, is simply too exhausted to proceed. The soldier then reflects on the overcast sky, which might prevent the planes from bombing the bridge. In this sense, the soldier seems to be engaging in the same type of wishful thinking as the old man, who must convince himself that the cats can take care of themselves and the birds can fly away. Death is imminent however. Deep down, the soldier and the old man both know this.

    The story itself was written from notes Hemingway had kept during his visit to the Ebro River in April of 1938 as part of his coverage of the Spanish Civil War for the North American Newspaper Association (NANA). Along with military trucks and troops crossing a bridge over the Ebro, and civilians pulling carts with their belongings, he saw and talked to an old man who was sitting at the foot of the bridge. He was too tired to continue. Hemingway, perhaps realizing that his situation would make a better short story than a dispatch, filed the story with Ken Magazine instead of with NANA. The story, on its surface, is about an old man who has left his village because of potential enemy artillery fire, has walked some 12 kilometers, but can go no farther.

    A certain degree irony that runs through the story and is based on the juxtaposition of the old man having left his animals and worrying about them dying, and the correspondent's having to leave the old man, knowing that if he does so, the old man will die. The irony is that a cat, a few doves, and two goats will have a better chance of survival than the old man.  But the old man doesn't complain that he is likely to die, he worries about the animals. He doesn't complain that he has no family, he worries about the animals. And he doesn't complain that he has no place to go, even if he managed to get onto a truck ("I know no one in that direction'). He simply continues to worry about the only "friends" he seems to have left.

    The irony at the end is that the correspondent could help him but callously says, "There was nothing to do about him. It was Easter Sunday and the Fascists were advancing toward the Ebro. It was a gray overcast day with a low ceiling so their planes were not up. That and the fact that cats know how to look after themselves was all the good luck that the old man would ever have."  This meaning that there was no luck - the weather would sooner or later clear and the planes would fly and the old man would be killed. Cats may be able to take care of themselves, but old men, tired, alone in a war, cannot 

تاريخ : شنبه بیست و سوم مهر ۱۳۹۰ | ۱۶:۴۲ بعد از ظهر | نویسنده : ر |
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