One of the poets whose poetry I worked on during my recent holidays is Antonio Machado y Ruiz more commonly called simply Antonio Machado. He belongs to a group of Spanish writers which some called The Generation of 1898. Their principal members are said to include Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, Angel Ganivet y García, Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, Pío Baroja y Nessi, José Martinze Ruiz otherwise called Azorín, one of the characters created by him and with whom he later identified himself. Amongst them, Baroja has expressly denied to belonging to the group. However the critics have simply ignored his protest!
It is never easy to characterize the compositions of a poet who has written poems over 40 years within a short article. However, for the sake of understanding, some degree of simplification may be well be inevitable. All we can do is just to bear in mind its inadequacy. To me, Antonio Machado (1875-1939), who came from a family long associated with culture ( his elder brother Manuel with whom Machado closely collaborated, was himself a poet and his other brother José was an artist and his father Antonio Machado y Alvarez abandoned his profession to become a Spanish folk lore researcher, he himself being the son of Cipriana Alvarez Durán, the sister of Agustan Durán and of Antonio Machado y Núnez, the last of whom was the mayor of Sevilla and rector of the university of Madrid in 1870), was a man riveted by paradoxes his entire life.
Machado was born in Sevilla and lived until 8 at the Palacio de las Dueñas, the residence of Duke of Alba on the banks of the Guadalquivir River in western Andalucia, where his father occupied an adminstrative position. He was much influenced by his memories of its surrounding mountainous landscape. At 8, his family moved to Madrid . There he studied at one of the most famous and innovative schools in the whole of Spain at that time, the Institución Libre de Enseñanza in Madrid founded by the grandfather of Spanish cultural revival Francisco Giner de los Ríos. That school was to produce such famous Spanish artists as Lorca, Buñuel and Picasso. Later, in 1889-1890, Machado attended two further secondary schools in Madrid, the Institución de San Isidro and de Cardnal Cisneros and then stopped school for about 10 years because by then, his family fortune suffered a drastic decline. During this period of self-education, he spent a lot of time at the Bibliotheca Nacional whose first director was Augustín Durán. There he could read and read. From time to time, he visited the Museo del Prado. His friends then included Ricardito Calvo, the son of one of the great actors Rafael Calvo. There he had endless cafe meetings with other intellectuals and started a periodical, edited by his brother Manuel and him. Another friend at the time was Antonio de Zayas, who later became Duke of Amalfi, a nobleman who published a book of poems in 1892 and had a play performed in a Madrid salon.They remained lifelong friends.
Shortly afer his return from a short official position in Puerto Rico because of sickness in 1893, Machado´s father died at age 43 at Sevilla. Two years later, his grandfather also died. This immediately plunged his family into financial difficulties. But this did not stop his literary interest. In 1895, through Manuel's connections, they met many other writers like Valle-Inclán and Manuel de Alejandro Sawa, learned about Parnassianism and Symbolism, the poetry of the French poet Paul Verlaine. Following his brother Manuel and his contact Enrique Gómez Carillo, he went to Paris shortly after 1890, lived in the Latin quarters, joined the bohemian circles there, working for Garnier, a French publisher of Spanish books with an enormous need for Spanish translators. There, through the introduction of his friend Carillo, they came to know Oscar Wilde, by that time quite dejected, wandering in the city incognito. They would listen to him for hours as he gave his charming talks. In Paris, they also made the acquaintance of Anatole France and other French artists and writers and also the Greek poet Jean Moréas whose Symbolist poetry fired the imagination of the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Dario who had gone to Paris a few years earlier. Paris at that time was already in a post-Impressionist mood. They were joined there also by the Basque writer Baroja and also met Paul Fort, a young symbolist later elected by his friends as the Prince of Poets, an honor they previously accorded to Verlaine, Mallarmé and Léon Dierx. Fort also loved the theatre and made productions for which Gauguin and Bonnard painted the scenery at his Théâtre d'Art. There they staged Hugo's Hernani which the Machado brothers, collaborating with Villaespesa, later translated into Spanish. There they also befriended the old but fiery Laurent Tailhade, the French translator of Don Quixote. Apart from this we know little of how he spent his time there.
Always, Antonio was less energetic, gay, witty, dapper than his brother Manuel and mostly stayed in the background. Antonio said he "converse(s) with the man who always goes with me/he who talks alone hopes to speak to God one day". He was timid, hesitant in speech, a bit melancholy, often absent minded and very careless about how he dressed but he liked wine, "the staircase to dreams", food and feminine companionship but was otherwise serene and noble". He always saw life through dreams and memories. Machado was much influenced by the ideas of his predecessors like the poet Ganivet and the poet and philosopher Unamuno and also by the philosophy of the French philosopher of vitalism, Henri Bergson. He looks at poetry as "neither hard and timeless marble/nor painting nor music,/but the word in time." and he wrote in his notebook: " The work of art evidently aspires towards an ideal present, towards the non-temporal. But in no way does this mean that a sense of the temporal can be excluded from art. The lyric, for example, without abandoning its claims to the non-temporal, must give us the esthetic sensation of the flowing of time; the flux of time is actually one of the lyric motifs that poetry tries to save from time, which poetry seeks to detemporize." and later " The poet is a fisherman...of fish capable of staying alive after being hauled out.". There were frequent discussions of trends and techniques. But Machado didn't stay too long, just four months there.
In early 20th century Spain, there were a number of important literary periodicals like Germinal, Electra, Juventud (with Picasso as art director), Helios, Renacimiento etc. new, fragile, ephemeral, vigorous, colorful, full of enthusiasm and hope, by Unamuno, Valle-Inclán and Baroja and such younger writers as Ramiro de Maeztzu, the Machado brothers and Martinez Ruiz (later Azorin), Perez de Ayala and Juan Ramon Jimenez. Machado published his first two poems in the30th March, 1901 issue of the liberal fortnightly periodical called Electra, edited and directed by Baroja but his brother Manuel Machado was also one of its founders. In these poems, two kinds of images predominate, the sound of flowing water as it splashes, glides, leaps, surges in La Fuentes and the secret galleries where the soul lingers. In 1902, again through Carillo, Antonio got a post as vice-Consul for Gautemela in Paris and during this second one year stay in Paris, he got acquainted with Rubén Dario, whose Prosas profanas he admired. But he continued to follow a different path.
From a young age, the Machado brothers loved the theatre and had theatre friends like Ricardo Calvo and Antontio de Zayas and in 1900, he was briefly a member of the Fernando Díaz de Mendoza theatre and he would practice gestures and facial expressions before the mirror for hours. But he was never successful as an actor and only got a few lines on stage. His first book of poetry, Soleadades, published in 1903, was dedicated to De Zayas and Calvo. What is evident in this collection was his simple love of nature, his sympathy for poor beggars, and disappointed loves for virgins and yet there was already evident not only his zest for life but also his admiration of Jorge Manrique who meditated on death almost 5 centuries ago. There he was talking of lost love, hope for future happiness, feeling of alienation, roaming in quiet countryside without companion, talking to a fountain, the night and a day in spring. He had a great deal of admiration for ancient poetry of Gonzalo de Berceo of the 12th century who wanted to write "in the accents of the people" and also Lope de Vega and Calderón. But through his alter ego, Juan de Mairena, he advised others to read Lope before Calderón "becasuse Calderón is an end, a magnificent end, the cathedral in Jesuit style of the baroque literary Spaniard. Lope is an open door to the countryside, to a field where there is much to be gleaned, many flowers for the plucking.".
According to Alice Jane McVan in her Antonio Machado (1959), Antonio had dipped into Shakespeare, Edgar Alan Poe in his readings and there was a trace of Rainer Maria Rilke in Machado and something of Heinrich Heine in his works. He especially admired and loved the poetry of Bécquer and those of Góngora but amongst the older poets, he was influenced most by the poetry of Gustavo Adolfo. He was also familiar with French poetry. But he didn't like them much. He wrote to Unamuno in 1904: "Nothing is more foolish than to think, as certain French poets may have, that mystery should be an esthetic element--Mallarmé confirms this by censuring the Parnassians for clarity in form. Beauty is not in mystery but in the desire to penetrate it.". Later, he was to write that after Rimbaud, French poetry entered a period of disintegration. He disliked the "frigid intellectuality" of Paul Valéry as sentimental geometry or "emotional algebra" or the "algebra of poetry". According to McVan, Machado would "certainly" have read the works of the French-Belgian poets Georges Rodenbach who wrote about the countryside and of those of Emile Verhaeren, who was attracted by the thoughts of Henri Bergson and probably through the latter, Machado changed his conception of poetry and wrote about the effects of time upon human life. Throughout his life, he continued to buy French poetry and went to hear the recitation of the poetry of Paul Verlaine in Madrid and Paris and to McVan, he may consciously and deliberately try to resist his influence. In a letter to Jiménez, he wrote, "You have heard the violin that Verlaine heard." There might be another reference to him in his poem Otoño in "the chant of wind-borne fronds/of leaves dead and sere". In a review of a new work by Villa Moreno, Machado talked about the French Symbolists. He said that the melody of Verlaine was "not the music of Mozart, which still held clarity, grace and joy of Leibnitz's world, all illuminated and clairvoyant, but the music of his time, Wagner's music, the sonorous poem of total opacity of being; spelt out, it was the metaphysics of Schopenhauer." To Machado, "The line cannot sing, nor is it its office to do so, although to Verlaine, it was "la musique avant toute chose. ( music before everything else)"
Although as he continued to write, he developed more kinds of meters and forms, Machado basically continued to write in 11-syllable which he combined with the 7-syllable lines of the old masters. Sometimes he would also use the 8-syllable line and the Alexandrine which in Spanish has 14-syllables and is not strict where the stress would fall. Apart from these, he also wrote in 6 to 12-syllable lines. He also liked rhymes and assonances. But these are impossible to convey in a translation.
It appears to me that Machado's poetry is affected chiefly by three factors: the Spanish countryside, his struggle with time and his preoccupation with fate. He would write about Andalucia, the broad and rich Quadalquivir valley, the bare high valley of the Duero amongst the high plains and mountains of old Castile around Soria (the home country of his wife Leonor ) the dusty and chalky terra cotta of Castille, Baeza etc.In his 25 years of life as a school teacher and lecturer, he was forced to reside in three different towns and he wrote about each of them. He is deeply affected by the different landscapes. He wrote to Juan Ramon Jiménez in 1915: " I feel the weight of this provincial life (meaning Baeza) in which one ends by devouring oneself. Often I think of giving up my chair and going off on my own to live by my writing. But that would mean poverty again." To him, the Spanish countryside is not just something physical. It embodies the spirit of Spain: "So sad, they have a soul" . His feelings towards it is marked by ambivalence. On the one hand, he finds it austere, humble, barren and backward. On the other hand, he finds it stubborn, full of life, noble and beautiful. Space always conjures up in his mind memories of the landscape he witnessed and he views them philosophically. The physical countryside exists by themselves as something with its own character, opposed to man's wishes but may at the same time, take on other meanings, as the embodiment of the history of Spain. It is a peculiarity of Machado's style that he constantly reworks on more or less the same themes and the the same symbols in his poems, but with each new poem, the same theme and the same image may take on a new meaning in the new context.
His second preoccupation is time. To him, time is not just objective clock time, which ticks away inexorably second by second. Time is always subjective. Time expresses itself in memories of the past glory of Spain, of which little remains but the ruined walls of its castles and its folk traditions but also provoked in him hopes and longings for a better future and a revival and rejuvenation of Spanish culture. Time also expresses itself more intimately in the form of memories of lost loves of his youth, especially the memories of his teacher, his friends, and of course his teenage wife whom he married and who died just 5 years later after which he never again married, and all the others who have influenced him or his development . More imporantly, the memories of the places he visited or lived in always affected him emotionally. Thus, the time that he writes about is always subjective time, or the Bergsonian durée. Especially towards the end of his life, after he discovered Heidegger in the late 1930s, and learned about the relationship between time and existence, time became even more important. The angst or the Spanish angustia is first of of all an existential uneasiness "the fear or alarm which the ordinary anonymous man calms by trivializing it, converting it into everyday tedium" and secondly" man's ïncurable anguish in the face of man's infinite helplessness....together with a vision of the totality of our existence and a reflection of its end and conclusion; death." But paradoxically, it is precisely from facing death that man draws his strength. He writes: "it is from the existential interpretation of death--death as a borderline, in itself nothing--that we are to draw strength to face it....There is no avoiding the fact that our thought is sad. And it would be much more so if our faith went with it, if it enjoyed our most intimate allegiance. That--never!". Here we find a certain defiance against that most destructive effect of time: our mortality. Hence, we often find images of springs, streams, rivers, gushing out endlessly and flowing towards the sea, the dawns, the dusks, the seasons which ceaselessly repeat themselves each day, each year and which seem to bring a measure of hope. It is in the cyclic nature of time that Machado find grounds for the renewal of his hopes. He finds hope in the Hercliterean changes which never allows time itself to stop changing.
Closely associated with these two themes is the larger theme of fate: his personal fate, the fate of Spain and through these the fate of humanity. The universal finds expression only in the particular. In his later years, his thoughts became progressively more philosophical. He read the pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristitotle, later Descartes, Kant, Leibnitz, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and jotted down his musings in his notebooks and sometimes even in his verses like Proverbios y cantares He reflected on such subjects as the relationship between subject and object, the self and other, reality and epistemological approaches thereto, logic and intuition, immanence and transcendence, art in theory and in history etc. Apart from merely depicting people and places in his images, his poetry is frequently imbued also with philosophical thought: the solitude of man, his sorrow at the inevitability of the passing of time, his nostalgia for past happiness and his longing for fulfilment in the future. Yet, although Spain is one of the most Catholic countries in Europe, the country which produced such mystics as St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross,the counter-Reformation against the Protestant Reformation, the foundation of the Jesuit order and more notoriously, the most fanatical Spanish Inquisition, for Machado, his solution is not religious. It does not derive at all from the mystery of the Christian God. Instead, it is a personal and partial salvation, through the tortured appreciation of the forces of time upon space and people and the always doubtful hope for a better but equally enigmatic future. After the death of his wife, he wrote to Unamuno: " I felt adoration for her, but over and above love is pity. I would have preferred dying a thousand times to watching her die...I don't think there is anything extraordinary about this feeling. There is something immortal in us that wants to die with whatever dies. Perhaps that is why God came into the world. This thought is some consolation, at times I feel hopeful. A negative faith is absurd too...today, she is more than ever alive in me and sometimes I firmly believe I shall be reunited with her."
The paradoxes Machado finds in life are never conclusively resolved one way or another. Any triumphs that he acheives are ephemeral, subjective and are as insubstantial as mere "dreams". For him, writing poetry may well be a way to love others. In one of his poems, he toys with the idea that soliloquizing with himself may show him the way to loving humankind.. He wrote in 1917: " a state of feeling is something created by the individual subject out of materials from the outer world made over in one's heart. There is always in it a collaboration of a you, i.e., of other subjects. One cannot settle for this simple formula: My heart, face to face with the landscape, produces feeling. Once produced, I communicate it by means of language to my fellow man. Face to face with the landscape, my heart would scarcely even be capable of feeling cosmic terror because even this elemental feeling needs, for its production, the distress of other frightened hearts amidst a nature not understood. My feeling in the face of external nature, which I here call landscape, does not arise without an atmosphere of fellow feeling. In short, my feeling is not exclusively mine, but ours. Without emerging from myself, I note that in my feeling, other feelings are pulsating and that my heart always sings in chorus although its voice is for me the best tempered one. The problem of lyric expression is to make it such for others as well.". The better to express more complex thoughts and feelings, Machado invented two alter egos, Abel Martin as a Sevillian philosopher and poet (1840-1889) and Juan de Mairena in a book called Juan de Mariena (Sayings, Witticisms, Notes and Recollection of an Apocrypjal Professor,) and through their masks, he speaks of things he could not conveniently say by himself in his poetry.
But above all, poetry is to Machado, not just words nor thoughts nor thoughts in words or images. To him, poetry is always something of the spirit: " ..the poetic element was not the word in its phonic value, nor color, nor line, nor a complex of sensation, but a deep pulsing of spirit: what the soul supplies, if it does supply anything; or what it says, if it says anything, when aroused to response by contact with the world". Reality is for him, never completely objective. Reality is preceived as real only through the media of the poet's consciousness. He seeks in such concsiousness to reconcile too his own lyric impulse with the world of ideas. He wrote in 1923 : "the poet's metaphysics need not necesarily be that which expresses the basis of his thought, as thinker, as philosopher, that is, as a man with a passion for truth, but that which suits his poetry." and in 1931, he wrote " The poet's idea are not formal categories, logical capsules, but direct intuitions of being in the process of becoming, of his own existence.".
Whatever I may personally think about the poetry of Machado, the test of the pudding must be in the eating. I shall have to refine some of the translations of his poems I did during my recent vacation and finish translating some new ones and then publish them when I have more time. The readers can then judge for themselves.