Sunday 5 September 2010

Soria and Antonio Machado

Soria - 04

Tue 11 May

Antonio Machado (1875-1939) is probably the most highly-regarded amongst the poets of 20th Century Spain. He only lived in Soria for 5 years, between 1907 and 1912, but he is forever associated with the town, and it with him. He taught French at the secondary school, which now bears his name, and there is a rough-hewn bust in the street outside to remind us as we pass by.

He loved going for walks in the town - his favourite routes are now signposted - and in the surrounding countryside; some of his best-known poems were inspired there, including the book Campos de Castilla (Lands of Castile), published in 1912.
¡Oh sí! Conmigo vais, campos de Soria,
tardes tranquilas, montes de violeta,
alamedas del río, verde sueño
del suelo gris y de la parda tierra
. . . .
Me habéis llegado al alma,
¿o acaso estabais en el fondo de ella?
Oh yes! You go with me, lands of Soria,
peaceful evenings, hills of violet,
poplars by the river, green dream
of the grey soil and of the drab earth
. . . .
You have reached into my soul,
or perhaps you were already deep within it?
In the town there was - and still is - the stump of an elm tree:
Al olmo viejo, hendido por el rayo
y en su mitad podrida,
con las lluvias de abril y el sol de mayo,
algunas hojas verdes le han salido.
. . . .
MI corazón espera
también, hacia la luz y hacia la vida,
otro milagro de primavera.
The old elm tree, split by lightning
and rotten to its core,
with the April rains and the May sun,
has put forth a few green leaves.
. . . .
My heart too awaits,
turning towards the light and towards life,
another miracle of spring.
In Soria he fell in love with Leonor, the daughter of his landlords, a girl some twenty years younger than him. They married as soon as she turned 16, but unfortunately she contracted tuberculosis, and died three years later, in August 1912, aged just 19. Machado felt unable to stay in the town, and moved to another French teaching post in Baeza in Andalucía, where he wrote a series of touching poems to Leonor.
Una noche de verano
-estaba abierto el balcón
y la puerta de mi casa-
la muerte en mi casa entró.

One summer's night
-the balcony and the door
of my house were open-
death came into my house.
In the 1930s he moved to Madrid, where he became a leading figure in the cultural life of the Spanish Republic. During the Civil War (1936-39) he spoke out strongly for cultural and democratic values, but as the Nationalists advanced across Spain the Republican Government and national institutions moved to Valencia, and later to Barcelona, and Machado moved with them.

Eventually he was swept up in the mass retirada (retreat), in which some half a million Spaniards fled across the border into France in a few short weeks at the beginning of 1939. He found accommodation in Collioure, on the coast some 20km from the border, but fell ill and died within the month. He is buried in the cemetery there, and his simple grave has become a shrine - every day there are visitors, and many of them leave flowers, poems and drawings.
Y cuando llegue el día del último viaje,
y esté al partir la nave que nunca ha de tornar,
me encontraréis a bordo ligero de equipaje,
casi desnudo, como los hijos del mar.
And when the day of the last journey comes,
and the boat which never returns is ready to leave,
you will find me on board, travelling light,
almost naked, like the sons of the sea.
If you're looking for a philosophy of life, try this, from a series of short poems - Cantares - in Campos de Castilla:
Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino, y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.

Traveller, your footprints
are the path, and nothing else;
traveller, there is no path,
we make the path as we walk.
If you'd like to read some more, there don't seem to be many English translations of Machado poems available online, though the 15 or so by A. S. Kline give a good flavour. Other than that, you'll have to resort to paper . . . Lands of Castile (Aris and Phillips, 2006) is an excellent dual-language version, with translations and commentary by Paul Burns and Salvador Ortiz-Carboneres. The Poesía en español site has an extensive collection in Spanish.

Here's a few Machado-in-Soria photos from our morning walk. There's much more on the Antonio Machado en Soria site (Spanish only), which has a Machado gallery and a Soria Gallery. Plus here's some from an earlier visit to Collioure.

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