Though I never knew Antonio Machado well my recollections of him are so sharp as to be almost painful. I remember him as a large sad fumbling man dressed like an old fashioned school teacher. Stiff wing collar none too clean; spots on his cloths, and the shine of wear on the black broadcloth. He had a handsomely deep voice (most Spanish men do). Always when I think of him he is wearing the dusty derby he wore one evening we walked around Segovia in the moonlight. (From an “Introduction” by John Dos Passos to The Dream Below the Sun)
This is probably an odd statement for a writer, but poetry is not really my thing. Maybe I’m just not smart enough to get it. Maybe my soul doesn’t respond to abstract presentations of ideas and sentiments. Could be the journalist in me prefers more straight talk. Not sure. But along with my extensive collection of 19th century Spanish literature, I felt obligated to read and include in the collection works by Spanish poets.
In conversations with Spanish people both learned and not so, the name Antonio Machado, the bard of Sevilla, always seemed to come up. It’s another thing I love about Spaniards. The most plebian among them knows and regards Spain’s cultural heroes. You can sit on a park bench and talk Cervantes till the cows come home.
So after one particular trip I sat down and scoured my favorite used book sites: Bookfinder.com; Biblio.com, Abe’s Books for first edition translations. Finally, I think it was Abe’s Books which rewarded my efforts with a hardbound copy of Machado’s collection, The Dream Below the Sun, Willis Barnstone translator, published 1981 by The Crossing Press. So it wasn’t a first edition; I bought it anyway.
One wintry March afternoon in 2013 I was looking for a book to curl up with. I remembered having put Dream aside for a quiet time, when I could really get into it. It seemed perfect for such a grey day as this. It is on such days I always feel a particular urge for my adopted Spanish homeland. As I read the poems that longing subsided, or did it increase? For a month later I was lounging on a veranda on the outskirts of Seville re-reading “Canciones,” a poem from Dream I’d read one month earlier in the clutches of a cold northeastern winter:
The dream below the sun that stuns and blinds,
torrid dream at the hour of reddening sky.
The wind burrows the luminous river;
mountains are ablaze;
the afternoon is dust and sun.
…Distantly, against the red afternoon,
windows in the great tower glitter.
Looking up, I smiled to see the Sierras red and glowing in the setting sun, felt the breeze across my brow – a gift from the nearby Guadalquivir. With my usual anticipation I awaited the evening hour welcomed by the ancient bells of the Giralda.
La Giralda: http://www.en-sevilla.com/la-giralda/ , CC BY 2.5
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