Al olmo viejo, hendido por el rayo

To finish the year, here is a fine poem by Antonio Machado, rooted in appreciation for nature and the countryside and features so dear to him. An old almost-dead elm tree which has been struck by lightning has caught the poet’s attention, sparked his imagination and inspired this lovely poem. It is poems like this which motivate me to really look at seemingly insignificant things with attention, rather than looking without seeing.


Al olmo viejo, hendido por el rayo
y en su mitad podrido,
con las lluvias de abril y el sol de mayo
algunas hojas verdes le han salido.
¡El olmo centenario en la colina
que lame el Duero! Un musgo amarillento
le mancha la corteza blanquecina
al tronco carcomido y polvoriento.
No será, cual los álamos cantores
que guardan el camino y la ribera,
habitado de pardos ruiseñores.
Ejército de hormigas en hilera
va trepando por él, y en sus entrañas
urden sus telas grises las arañas.
Antes que te derribe, olmo del Duero,
con su hacha el leñador, y el carpintero
te convierta en melena de campana,
lanza de carro o yugo de carreta;
antes que rojo en el hogar, mañana,
ardas en alguna mísera caseta,
al borde de un camino;
antes que te descuaje un torbellino
y tronche el soplo de las sierras blancas;
antes que el río hasta la mar te empuje
por valles y barrancas,
olmo, quiero anotar en mi cartera
la gracia de tu rama verdecida.
Mi corazón espera
también, hacia la luz y hacia la vida,
otro milagro de la primavera.

From <;

The first surprise is that the elm, although seemingly dead and rotten, still has some life in it as a few leaves have sprung forth with the rains and sun of April and May. However, it is very old and battered and will not be a fit home for nightingales. Instead ants and spiders are hard at work wearing away its trunk.

So the poet wishes to immortalise this tree before it gets cut down and some carpenter works with it, or some miserable household uses it for firewood, or some storm blows it away into the mountains, or the river carries it away to the sea. The poet knows the elm will be lost in some way unless he writes this poem in his notebook, recalling the green branches.

The final three lines bring the focus back to the poet himself in a very personal fashion. Just as the old elm has sprouted leaves in the springtime, he is hoping his heart will also experience a miracle of spring, perhaps by falling in love.

The message is of renewal and hope, built on the foundations of the past and the experiences and learnings of our surroundings. This is a great poem to read when passing from one year to the next.

Happy New Year to all

The Poetry Dude


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