¡Como en el alto llano tu figura 

his is a lovely sonnet from Antonio Machado in which he combines the expression of his love for the remote and wild countryside of his adopted Castille with his love for his wife, by his side in this inspiring setting. But he is evoking this idyllic scene while sitting on the balcony of his apartment in the city, letting his imagination bring the idyll to life through the words of the poem. There are several levels of transformation here, enhancing the impact of this poem.

 

“As if I saw your face on the high plains…”

 

¡Como en el alto llano tu figura…

 

¡Como en el alto llano tu figura

se me aparece!… Mi palabra evoca

el prado verde y la árida llanura,

la zarza en flor, la cenicienta roca.

 

Y el recuerdo obediente, negra encina

brota en el cerro, baja el chopo al río;

el pastor va subiendo a la colina;

brilla un balcón de la ciudad: el mío,

 

el nuestro. ¿Ves? Hacia Aragón, lejana,

la sierra de Moncayo, blanca y rosa…

Mira el incendio de esa nube grana,

 

y aquella estrella en el azul, esposa.

Tras el Duero, la loma de Santana

se amorata en la tarde silenciosa.

 

From <http://www.taringa.net/post/apuntes-y-monografias/19082198/5-Poemas-Cortos-Antonio-Machado.html>

 

The poem begins with the poet imagining seeing the face of his wife on the high plains – you can tell he is imagining this by the first word, “Como” – as if. Then he tells how he is making his words, the words in the poem, recall the beauty of the high meadows covered in yellow brush and ashy rock. In the second four lines, imagination gives way to memory, the memory of seeing the oak trees bursting forth from the slope, the poplars leaning over the stream and the shepherd walking up the hill. In the eighth line, Machado brings up back to the reality that all this is coming from his head in the act of creating the poem – he is sitting on his balcony in the city.

 

In these first eight lines it is the poet’s vision of nature which is at the forefront,  but then he brings his wife into the picture – the city apartment is also hers, and he invites her, in the poem, to share his vision,  the see the mountains, the clouds the river Duero, the hills, and the shared experience which inspires love in the quiet of the afternoon.

 

The places mentioned are real locations in the country to the west of Zaragoza, in Castille close to the edge of Aragon, paces which Machado loved dearly.

 

Beautiful poem…

 

The Poetry Dude

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Yo voy soñando caminos

Today’s poem from Antonio Machado combines his theme of journeys with description of nature and the sadness of lost love, all fitting together in a coherent picture of gentle melancholy and wistful pondering. It is a dream or a daydream of a journey along life’s path.

Yo voy soñando caminos

Yo voy soñando caminos
De la tarde. ¡Las colinas
Doradas, los verdes pinos,
Las polvorientas encinas!
¿Adónde el camino irá?
Yo voy cantando, viajero,
A lo largo del sendero…
-La tarde cayendo está-.
En el corazón tenía
La espina de una pasión;
Logré arrancármela un día;
Ya no siento el corazón.
Y todo el campo un momento
Se queda, mudo y sombrío,
Meditando. Suena el viento
En los álamos del río.
La tarde más se oscurece;
Y el camino se serpea
Y débilmente blanquea,
Se enturbia y desaparece.
Mi cantar vuelve a plañir:
Aguda espina dorada,
Quién te volviera a sentir
En el corazón clavada.

From <http://grandespoetasfamosos.blogspot.com/2009/01/antonio-machado.html#voyso&gt;

The poet is dreaming or thinking about walking in the country in the early evening, among hills through woods of pine and ash. There is no destination and the wandering poet can sing. But he has had a thorn in his heart, a passionate love. When the love affair ended he tore out the thorn and was left empty, bereft of feeing. The surrounding countryside is still beautiful, and the wind blows in the willow branches by the river. Darkness obscures the path and the poet ponders whether he will ever again feel that thorn in his heart, will he ever be in love again.

The Poetry Dude

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¡Oh, la saeta, el cantar

According to this poem, Antonio Machado, the poet of Castille, remained connected to his region of birth, Andalusia, in the far south of Spain. This region is renowned for many things, but one feature is the intense celebration of Easter Week, Semana Santa. The religious processions consist of penitents carrying huge effigies of the Virgin Mary through the streets, and flagellating themselves. The procession in Seville is particularly well-known, but they take place in most towns and cities across Andalusia.

The combination of Catholic fervour and gypsy tradition in these festivities is fascinating . At regular places along the procession route, it is common for a gypsy woman to stop the procession and sing a type of song known as a saeta (an arrow), a song of extreme emotional intensity, with long high notes, usually dealing with some aspect of the passion of Christ, delivered as if the singer had witnessed it and was still overwhelmed with emotion.

This poem is Machado’s commentary on the saeta, a somewhat conflicted opinion, as you see when you read it.

Antonio Machado
La saeta

 
¡Oh, la saeta, el cantar
al Cristo de los gitanos,
siempre con sangre en las manos,
siempre por desenclavar!
¡Cantar del pueblo andaluz,
que todas las primaveras
anda pidiendo escaleras
para subir a la cruz!
¡Cantar de la tierra mía,
que echa flores
al Jesús de la agonía,
y es la fe de mis mayores!
¡Oh, no eres tú mi cantar!
¡No puedo cantar, ni quiero
a ese Jesús del madero,
sino al que anduvo en el mar!

From <http://www.poemas-del-alma.com/la-saeta.htm&gt;

Machado at the same time recognizes the tradition and the force of the saeta, reflecting the faith of his forebears and embodying the gypsy tradition but he recoils from the preoccupation with the blood, suffering and death of Christ. The poet prefers to think of Christ alive, a man of peace, the man who walked on water and comforted souls.

Here is a saeta.

Also check out how the saeta translates into other traditions – for example jazz with Miles Davis from his Sketches in Spain album…


The Poetry Dude

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Mi infancia son recuerdos de un patio de Sevilla, 

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.

Antonio Machado
Retrato

 
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.

 
From <http://www.poemas-del-alma.com/retrato.htm&gt;

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.

Enjoy—

The Poetry Dude

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Naranjo en maceta, ¡qué triste es tu suerte! 

Antonio Machado is above all known as a poet of Castille, the arid central plains of Spain. However he was born in Andalusia, and moved to Castille as a boy. This poem is about an orange tree and a lemon tree, whose natural home is in Andalucia, close to the Mediterranean, and what happens when these fruit trees are transplanted to Castille. I wonder if the poet was in some way writing about his own experience.

Antonio Machado
A un naranjo y a un limonero

 
Naranjo en maceta, ¡qué triste es tu suerte!
Medrosas tiritan tus hojas menguadas.
Naranjo en la corte, ¡qué pena da verte
con tus naranjitas secas y arrugadas!.

Pobre limonero de fruto amarillo
cual pomo pulido de pálida cera,
¡qué pena mirarte, mísero arbolillo
criado en mezquino tonel de madera!

De los claros bosques de la Andalucía,
¿quién os trajo a esta castellana tierra
que barren los vientos de la adusta sierra,
hijos de los campos de la tierra mía?

¡Gloria de los huertos, árbol limonero,
que enciendes los frutos de pálido oro,
y alumbras del negro cipresal austero
las quietas plegarias erguidas en coro;

y fresco naranjo del patio querido,
del campo risueño y el huerto soñado,
siempre en mi recuerdo maduro o florido
de frondas y aromas y frutos cargado!

From <http://www.poemas-del-alma.com/a-un-naranjo-y-a-un-limonero.htm&gt;

 
The poem begins by describing the sad condition of the orange tree, in the first stanza, and the lemon tree, in the second stanza, as they droop in their pots, shriveled and pale in the arid, harsh conditions. In the third stanza we find out why, as the poet asks who has bought them from the fertile orchards of Andalusia to the windy plains of Castille. Castille is far removed from the Mediterranean climate and fertile soils which these fruit trees need. The final two stanzas evoke the lemon tree and the orange tree in their true native habitat, flourishing in the Andalusian climate. The final two lines connect this to the poet’s own memory, from his boyhood, as he remembers the scent of a fruit-laden orange tree, perhaps in the shady courtyard of his house.

So, this is a gently evocative poem which illustrates the human experience of exile and nostalgia with the description of orange and lemon trees away from their native habitat. It is quite moving, in a low key way.

The Poetry Dude

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Ya en los campos de Jaén,

This is one of several poems by Machado in which he is travelling by train, in a third class compartment, gazing out of the window at the countryside which he loved and musing/daydreaming nostalgically about lost loves, lost opportunities, aging, life as it is rather than life as he had wanted it to be. It’s a fairly commonplace theme, but Machado does it so well.

Antonio Machado

Otro viaje

 
Ya en los campos de Jaén,
amanece. Corre el tren
por sus brillantes rieles,
devorando matorrales,
alcaceles,
terraplenes, pedregales,
olivares, caseríos,
praderas y cardizales,
montes y valles sombríos.
Tras la turbia ventanilla,
pasa la devanadera
del campo de primavera.
La luz en el techo brilla
de mi vagón de tercera.
Entre nubarrones blancos,
oro y grana;
la niebla de la mañana
huyendo por los barrancos.
¡Este insomne sueño mío!
¡Este frío
de un amanecer en vela!…
Resonante,
jadeante,
marcha el tren. El campo vuela.
Enfrente de mí, un señor
sobre su manta dormido;
un fraile y un cazador
?el perro a sus pies tendido?.
Yo contemplo mi equipaje,
mi viejo saco de cuero;
y recuerdo otro viaje
hacia las tierras del Duero.
Otro viaje de ayer
por la tierra castellana
?¡pinos del amanecer
entre Almazán y Quintana!?
¡Y alegría
de un viajar en compañía!
¡Y la unión
que ha roto la muerte un día!
¡Mano fría
que aprietas mi corazón!
Tren, camina, silba, humea,
acarrea
tu ejército de vagones,
ajetrea
maletas y corazones.
Soledad,
sequedad.
Tan pobre me estoy quedando
que ya ni siquiera estoy
conmigo, ni sé si voy
conmigo a solas viajando.

From <http://www.poemas-del-alma.com/otro-viaje.htm&gt;

Poetically, this piece works very well by means of the rhythm of the short lines, some repetition of consonants, sequences of words, mimicking the rhythm and sounds of the train rattling over the tracks.

I also interpret the slight undercurrent of alienation which comes through as derived from the location of the scene, near Jaen, in Andalucia, away from the poet’s native Castille. But I might be overinterpreting.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a collection of train poems like this to take on train journeys. Now there’s a project.

The Poetry Dude

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Poeta ayer, hoy triste y pobre

In today’s poem Antonio Machado conveys a melancholy world-weary mood in which the hopes and dreams and love-affairs of a young man have been supplanted by the hard knocks of life, real or metaphorical. Disillusion and disappointment are the dominant state of the poet’s mind in this poem.

Much of Machado’s work alternates between navel-gazing, as here, and celebrating the countryside and natural beauty of his native region of Castille.
There are also a few political poems and some poems which are written as tributes to friends, mentors, precursors or others he admired. This poem belongs firmly in the first category.

Antonio Machado
Coplas mundanas

 
Poeta ayer, hoy triste y pobre
filósofo trasnochado,
tengo en monedas de cobre
el oro de ayer cambiado.

Sin placer y sin fortuna,
pasó como una quimera
mi juventud, la primera…
la sola, no hay más que una:
la de dentro es la de fuera.

Pasó como un torbellino,
bohemia y aborrascada,
harta de coplas y vino,
mi juventud bien amada.

Y hoy miro a las galerías
del recuerdo, para hacer
aleluyas de elegías
desconsoladas de ayer.

¡Adiós, lágrimas cantoras,
lágrimas que alegremente
brotabais, como en la fuente
las limpias aguas sonoras!

¡Buenas lágrimas vertidas
por un amor juvenil,
cual frescas lluvias caídas
sobre los campos de abril!

No canta ya el ruiseñor
de cierta noche serena;
sanamos del mal de amor
que sabe llorar sin pena.

Poeta ayer, hoy triste y pobre
filósofo trasnochado,
tengo en monedas de cobre
el oro de ayer cambiado.

From <http://www.poemas-del-alma.com/coplas-mundanas.htm&gt;

Machado was clearly striving here to capture a mood rather than construct a tidy poem in formal terms. All the stanzas have four lines except the second which has five. However he does achieve symmetry by having the final stanza repeat the first one.

The poem evokes in several ways the contrast between optimistic youth and his disillusioned older state, but the comparison is entirely in favour of being young, carefree and in love, open to experience whether hearing the nightingale sing or shedding tears because of some youthful love affair. Whereas his older state seems grey, monotonous and bereft of future.

This is indeed mid-life crisis poetry – I hope he went out and bought a sports car or secured a trophy wife…

The Poetry Dude

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