The Secret Miracle  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

"The Secret Miracle" is a short story by Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges. It was first published in the book Artifices in 1944. The plot of "The Secret Miracle" can be thought of as a typically Borgesian variant of the basic theme of relative time (earlier explored in "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce).


The main character of the story is a playwright named Jaromir Hladík , who is living in Prague when it is occupied by the Nazis during World War II. Hladik is arrested and charged with being Jewish as well as opposing the Anschluss, and sentenced to die by firing squad.

Although he at first experiences simple terror at the prospect of death, Hladík's main concern soon turns to his unfinished play, titled The Enemies. His previous works he feels to be unsatisfactory, and wants to complete this play, which he feels to be the one by which history will judge and vindicate him. With two acts left to write and his death sentence to be carried out in a matter of days, however, it seems impossible that he could complete it in time.

On the last night before his death, Hladík prays to God, requesting that he be granted one year in which to finish the play. That night, he dreams of a voice that says to him, "The time for your labor has been granted".

The next day at the appointed time, two soldiers come for Hladík, and he is taken outside and lined up before the firing squad. The sergeant calls out the order to fire, and time stops. The entire world freezes motionless, including Hladík himself, standing in place before the firing squad; however, although he is completely paralyzed, he remains conscious. After a time, he understands: God has granted him the time he requested. For him, a year of subjective time will pass between the sergeant's order and the soldiers' firing their rifles, though no one else will realize that anything unusual has happened - hence, the "secret miracle" of the story's title.

Working from memory, Hladík mentally writes, expands and edits his play, shaping every detail and nuance to his satisfaction. Finally, after a year of labor, he completes it; only a single epithet is left to be written, which he chooses, and time begins again and the volley from the soldiers' rifles kills him.

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