Today’s poem is quite likely to have been my first encounter with the work of Antonio Machado, as it is the opening poem in the Campos de Castilla collection, a set book in one of my early Spanish literature classes. It sets out to achieve n poetic form what any writers put down in prose in a forward or prologue to the main work. It is the poet’s introduction to himself and an explanation of the type of poet and the type of man he is, or at least an explanation of what he would like the reader to think is the type of poet and type of man he is (of course, these two concepts might not completely overlap on a Venn diagram).
And having read more poems from this collection and others of Machado, it gives an opportunity to look back on this self-portrait and try to assess how consistent it is with the rest of his work.
Mi infancia son recuerdos de un patio de Sevilla,
y un huerto claro donde madura el limonero;
mi juventud, veinte años en tierras de Castilla;
mi historia, algunos casos que recordar no quiero.
Ni un seductor Mañara, ni un Bradomín he sido
?ya conocéis mi torpe aliño indumentario?,
más recibí la flecha que me asignó Cupido,
y amé cuanto ellas puedan tener de hospitalario.
Hay en mis venas gotas de sangre jacobina,
pero mi verso brota de manantial sereno;
y, más que un hombre al uso que sabe su doctrina,
soy, en el buen sentido de la palabra, bueno.
Adoro la hermosura, y en la moderna estética
corté las viejas rosas del huerto de Ronsard;
mas no amo los afeites de la actual cosmética,
ni soy un ave de esas del nuevo gay-trinar.
Desdeño las romanzas de los tenores huecos
y el coro de los grillos que cantan a la luna.
A distinguir me paro las voces de los ecos,
y escucho solamente, entre las voces, una.
¿Soy clásico o romántico? No sé. Dejar quisiera
mi verso, como deja el capitán su espada:
famosa por la mano viril que la blandiera,
no por el docto oficio del forjador preciada.
Converso con el hombre que siempre va conmigo
?quien habla solo espera hablar a Dios un día?;
mi soliloquio es plática con ese buen amigo
que me enseñó el secreto de la filantropía.
Y al cabo, nada os debo; debéisme cuanto he escrito.
A mi trabajo acudo, con mi dinero pago
el traje que me cubre y la mansión que habito,
el pan que me alimenta y el lecho en donde yago.
Y cuando llegue el día del último vïaje,
y esté al partir la nave que nunca ha de tornar,
me encontraréis a bordo ligero de equipaje,
casi desnudo, como los hijos de la mar.
The poem begins with a reminder of Machado’s background, it is easy to forget he was born in Andalucia and spent some of his childhood there, so closely is he associated with Castille. The second stanza deals perfunctorily with his love life, admitting he was not a great Lothario, but eventually he got hit by Cupid’s arrow – and it is quite true that there is not a whole lot of love poetry in Machado’s work.
The third stanza hints at a strain of rebellious and anti-authoritarian feelings ( a drop of Jacobin blood), but quickly qualifies this by emphasising the calmness of his poetry and his statement that he is fundamentally a good man.
In the next stanza he places himself in the poetic tradition of Ronsard as a portrayer of natural beauty, while avoiding the over-cleverness of modern poetry. In other words he wants to be timeliness, guided only by his own instincts as a poet rather than following the fashion of the day. Labels, such as classic or romantic are meaningless to him, just judge his poetry on its own merits, just as you judge a sword by the hand that wielded it rather than by the smith that forged it.
The poem goes on to express a simple faith in God and a praiseworthy self-reliance – it doesn’t matter to him whether or not his poems are praised, they are his work and he stands by them.
The image of the poet making his own way in the world, answering his calling whether or not he is successful, modest and hard-working, the opposite of flashy, is convincing, and I think entirely consistent with the rest of Machado’s work.
The Poetry Dude