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Antonio Machado: Four Poems Translated by Glenn Hubbard

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Antonio Machado (26 July 1875 – 22 February 1939) was one of the leading figures of the Spanish literary movement known as the Generation of ’98. His work, initially modernist, evolved towards an intimate form of symbolism with romantic traits. He gradually developed a style characterised by both an engagement with humanity on one side and an almost Taoist contemplation of existence on the other, a synthesis that according to Machado echoed the most ancient popular wisdom. In Gerardo Diego’s words, Machado ‘spoke in verse and lived in poetry.’

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Antonio Machado: Four Poems Translated by Glenn Hubbard

ON THE BANKS OF THE DUERO

xxxxxxxxxThe middle of July. A beautiful day.
Searching for a shady spot, I slowly made my way,
alone, up the gaps in the stony terrain,
stopping every now and again
to give relief to my heaving chest,
a handkerchief to my forehead pressed;
then, stepping out with resolute mind,
my body bent forward, to the right inclined,
supported on a walking stick with the look
of a rustic shepherd’s crook,
I climbed the hills, home to rapacious, height-dwelling birds,
stepping on pungently perfumed mountain herbs:
rosemary, salvia, lavender and thyme.
An incandescent sun was descending at the time
above the exhausted fields.

xxxxxxxxxOn wide wings a solitary vulture regally flew
across a sky of pure blue.
In the distance, above the brownish land,
I could see a hill, high and steep-sided, and
a rounded knoll like some embroidered shield,
and small violets hills – left on the battlefield
the scattered remnants from the harness of some war horse –
and a small, bald strip of mountains where the Duero changes course
to form the curved crossbow of an archer
around Soria. – Soria, with its Castilian tower,
a barbican facing Aragon -. I could see a horizon bound
by dark hills, with oaks and holm oaks crowned;
denuded rocky peaks, some few meadows where merinos graze
and bulls were ruminating, couchant on the grass;
I could see green poplars that shone
in the clear summer sun on
the margins of the river, and the tiniest distant travellers
– carts, horsemen and muleteers –
silently crossing the long bridge, as below
the arches, darkening, flowed the silvery waters of the Duero.

xxxxxxxxxThe Duero crosses the oaken heart of
Iberia and Castile.
Oh noble and unhappy land,
of untilled, unwatered and treeless fields, and
high, barren plains and pastures rocky,
of crumbling cities and roads with no hostelry
and dumbfound peasants without revels
or songs who, like your great rivers, still travel,
Castile, to the sea, abandoning their ever sadder homes!

xxxxxxxxxOnce noble, now wretched, wrapped in rags,
Castile, what it does not know, despising.

xxxxxxxxxIs it waiting, sleeping or dreaming?
Does the spilt blood recall
the fevered age of the sword?
All moves, flows, runs or shouts;
the sea and the mountain range
and the eye that sees them change.
Did it pass by? Through its fields, foot-sore,
the ghost of a people who put God above war.

xxxxxxxxxThe mother who once bore scores of captains
is now barely a stepmother to humble bumpkins.
Castile is no longer that generous land
to which one day Myo Cid Rodrigo of Vivar returned,
proud of his fortune and opulence,
to present to Alfonso the market gardens of Valencia;
which, after the adventures which attested to its spirit,
requested from the court a permit
to conquer immense Indian rivers,
the mother of soldiers, warriors and leaders
who returned to Spain laden
with gold and silver in regal galleons,
ravens after the prize, lions in a fight.
Philosophers full of convent soup each night
contemplate impassively the celestial sphere
and if in dreams in the distance they hear
the clamour of the merchants in the markets of the Levant,
they do not stir themselves to ask What was that?
And the war has already opened the doors of their houses.

xxxxxxxxxOnce noble, now wretched, wrapped in rags,
Castile, what it does not know, despising.
The sun is going down.
From the distant city comes the sound
of the harmonious ringing of bells – now the grieving widows will go to say a rosary.
From between two rocks come a pair of weasels; they look at me
and move off, fleeing,
and then reappearing.
A curiousness so charming! …
The fields are darkening.
Down towards the white road
the inn is open to the shadowed
land and the deserted stony ground.

You can read the Spanish here

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THE HOSPICE

It is the hospice, the old provincial hospice,
the run-down, ramshackle building with its grimy tiles
where the swifts nest in summer
and the jackdaws caw on winter nights.

With its north-facing gable, between the two turrets
of the old fortress, the squalid building
with its cracked and dirty walls,
is a place of eternal shadow. The old hospice!

While the January sun sends it weak light,
its sad, evening light over the barren fields,
some pale faces, puzzled and sick, appear
in a small window as the day declines

to contemplate the blue mountain peaks
or the white snow falling, as if upon a grave,
from the white sky onto the cold soil,
the silent snow onto the cold soil! …

You can read the Spanish here

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SUMMER’S NIGHT

It is a beautiful summer’s night.
The balcony windows of the old town
stand open in the tall houses
that look down on the wide square.
In the spacious deserted rectangle,
stone benches, symmetrical spindles
and acacias sketch
their black shadows on the white sand.
In the zenith, the moon, and in the tower,
the bright circle of the clock.
Me, walking alone in this old town, like a ghost.

You can read the Spanish here

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A MADMAN

A barren autumn, a gloomy and unpleasant
afternoon in the sterile
and exhausted countryside
where the shadow of a centaur wanders.

Along a track on the arid plain,
between yellowing poplars,
alone with his shadow and his madness,
goes the madman, shouting to himself.

In the distance, dark steppes,
weed- and bramble-smothered hillsides,
and the ruins of old groves of holm oak,
crowning the steep-sided hilltops.

The madman yells
at his shadow and his fantasies.
Ugly and grotesque his appearance;
thin, dirty, worse for wear and badly shaven,
his feverish eyes
light up his gaunt features.

He flees the city… vulgar evils,
wretched virtues and the doings
of bored pimps, and the mean
actions of idle merchants.

The madman advances through God’s lands.
Beyond the devastated and dry fields
– rusty red and ash grey –
there is a distant dream of lilies.

He flees the city. The urban tedium.
– Sad flesh and evil spirit!

No tragic bitterness made this
lost and broken wandering soul leave;
he is purging the sins of others: the good sense,
the terrible good sense of the idiot.

You can read the Spanish here

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Glenn Hubbard has lived in Spain since 1987. He has been writing poetry since 2013 and has recently started working on translations of poems by Lorca and Machado.

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