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62: ANTONIO MACHADO

May 24, 2014

#62:  ANTONIO MACHADO.  “Soria is, probably, the most spiritual part of spiritual Castile, in its turn spirit of all Spain.  There is nothing overpowering in it, nothing flashy or boisterous, everything there is simple, modest, plain…It always invites us to be what we are, that only…Soria is an admirable school of humanism, of democracy, and of dignity.”  Our cliché of Spain is of its gore-coated history of hysteria and violence, so much so that we can hardly fit Machado into our idea of its landscape.  What he wrote of Soria he might well have written of his verse, in which a late-afternoon pensiveness hovers over the emotion.  Machado is one of my poet-heroes, like Keats or Ryokan:  in few poets of any language has modesty and restraint coincided so exactly and mysteriously with so deep a field of feeling.  After the death of his child-wife Leonor, Machado wrote to his beloved mentor Unamuno:  “I felt adoration for her, but over and above love is pity.  I would have preferred dying myself a thousand times to watching her die…I don’t think there is anything extraordinary about this feeling.”  Humanism, democracy and dignity inform the rhythms of Machado’s verse, the choice and simplicity of his symbols, his distrust of loud or final pronouncements.  He is one of the most fraternal and affecting of poets, and his appeal has survived in every translation of him I’ve read.  There is no Collected Poems yet in English (Translators from the Spanish!  Great opportunity available!) but Willis Barnstone, Robert Bly and Alan Trueblood have all done good selections.  Of the general selections, Times Alone: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado, translated by Robert Bly (California, 1963) is probably my favorite.  Juan de Mairena (California, 1963) is a prose collection of essays and aphorisms by Machado’s professorial alter-ego.  Two splendid and inexpensive introductions to Machado’s work are Fields of Castile/Campos de Castilla (Dover, 2007), a bilingual complete edition of Machado’s second book, and There Is No Road, a choice of his meditative short poems, translated by Mary G. Berg and Dennis Maloney (White Pine Press, 2003).  “Honey from flowering rosemary / honey from bare fields.”  

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