Friday, April 23, 2010

Antonio Machado: I Never Wanted Fame

The short poems of Antonio Machado have found there way to Issa's Untidy Hut a few times. I Never Wanted Fame, a little chapbook published by Ally Press in 1979, is a delightful window into the work of this fine Spanish poet. The translations of Robert Bly are crystal clear, which brings the mystery of the poems themselves into high relief.


---I never wanted fame,
nor wanted to leave my poems
behind in the memory of men.
I love the subtle worlds,
delicate, almost without weight,
like soap bubbles.
I enjoy seeing them take the color
of sunlight and scarlet, float
in the blue sky, then
suddenly quiver and break.

I enjoy seeing them take the color
of sunlight and scarlet, float
in the blue sky, then
suddenly quiver and break.

The beauty of the image here almost overwhelms the meaning; the reader must confront what are the subtle worlds, transported as she/he is into lyrical realms upon contemplation. Of what subtle worlds speaks the poet?

Perhaps there is a clue here:

---Why should we call
these accidental furrows roads,...?
Everyone who moves on walks
like Jesus, on the sea.

If everyone who moves "walks / like Jesus, on the sea" perhaps these subtle realms aren't so distant after all.

---I love Jesus, who said to us:
Heaven and earth will pass away.
When heaven and earth have passed away,
my word will remain.
What was your word, Jesus?
Love? Forgiveness? Affection?
All your words were
one word: Wakeup.

Ah, that world, the world of spirit, the spiritual world. Gautama's favorite word: Wakeup! And when we are not awake, when we are lost, what then:

---It is good knowing that glasses
are to drink from;
the bad thing is not to know
what thirst is for.

There is a realm, too, a place, a world not so subtle. We find ourselves, we lose ourselves, we find ourselves again. When lost, how, how do we find our way back?


---All things die and all things live forever;
but our task is to die,
to die making roads,
roads over the sea.

Here is our way out, here is our way home, back home to the subtle worlds where we so long to be. Might we need instruction as to the how, the where?


---Mankind owns four things
that are no good at sea:
rudder, anchor, oars
and the fear of going down.

There are copies of this poignant little volume of ten verses, though long out of print, floating around for a very reasonable price on amazon (of course, some idiot is selling one for $90) and, if you cherish transcendent verse, this is right up your street. Since its been my policy for a couple of years now not to link to amazon, you may also find it here and here. I thought it might be available in Robert Bly's selected translations, The Winged Energy of Delight, but I checked at the library and, though there are some other Machado poems in that book, these little ones are not there.


In the ongoing, or on and off-going, feature of Lilliput broadsides, we've arrived at #84, Winter Prayers by Christien Gholson, a six-part poem. Here is part IV:

IV. None: heading to the bank

An old man stepped carefully down the ice sidewalk.
His skinny, brittle legs knew
that everything in his briefcase
----------------------- ------didn't matter

I knew he would not make it through the winter
and my knowing brought me closer
to that face,
------ -- - ---- beyond desperation,
---- --that saw the shadow of a sparrow
---- --as it slipped beneath the river
---- --and carried the bird shadow down
---- --to live in the form of curious fish
---- --moving through the cave of a skull.

And, to thread it all together, the master:

through the great red gate
no fear...
translated by Daniel G. Lanoue



L. Espenmiller said...

thanks for this post, Don. I have long been a fan of Machado's poetry.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

L: Very glad you liked these ... there transcendent quality finds its mark every time.

mhasan said...

Excellent post and good read. The small poems of Machado aren't at all small. Personally I like zen poems and haiku. Simple, condensed yet powerful. That style and philosophy has inspired my writings a lot.Thanks for the post.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

M. Hasan:

Very glad these spoke to you as they do to me. For me, they penetrate right to the heart of things.


TC said...

These are lovely, Don.

This one stopped me in my tracks:

Mankind owns four things
that are no good at sea:
rudder, anchor, oars
and the fear of going down.

Many thanks for reminding us.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks, Tom.

This volume, such a tiny little collection, is very powerful, indeed. The poem you point out seems to encompass all our desperation, ennui, and inadequacies and yet, somehow, there is a glint of hope.