Trauma and World Literature
November 26, 2013
A recent trip to Spain on a music cultural exchange awakened me to the enduring legacy of poet Antonio Machado (1875-1939). Our music featured newly-composed pieces based on Machado’s poetry. These brought warm acclamation from Spaniards of all ages.What, I wondered, did “Don Machado” bestow upon Spanish letters that he remains so loved nearly 75 years after his death? Inquiry convinced me that, while lyricism upon Spain’s beauty afforded early notice, and thoughtful aphoristic lines conferred intellectual caché, the effects of personal loss ultimately are what have emblazoned Machado’s poems upon his peoples’ hearts.
Machado gained prominence as one of several Spanish poets and writers who addressed the trauma of their country’s displacement from world power at the end of the 19th Century. His early works chiefly celebrate the beauty of Spain’s landscape. These poems offered Spaniards pause to reflect upon both weaknesses and strengths of their picturesque nation (Berg & Maloney, 2003).
While writing, Machado also taught French in public high schools throughout Spain. On assignment in the town of Soria he fell in love with and married Leonor Izquierdo Cuevas. Soon thereafter Machado won a fellowship to study in France, and the couple moved happily to turn-of-the-century Paris. Then, suddenly, Leonor developed tuberculosis. Machado returned with her to Spain, caring for her until she died. Heartbroken, the poet sonnetized:
Leonor do you see the river poplars…?
Give me your hand and let us stroll.
Through these fields of my countryside…
I go walking alone
Sad, tired, pensive, old.
(Machado 1917/2004, p.237)
¿No ves, Leonor, los álamos del río...
Dame tu mano y paseemos.
Por estos campos de la tierra mía,
voy caminando solo,
triste, cansado, pensativo y viejo.
(Machado 1917/2004, pág. 236)
Antonio was 37 at the time. His moving response to Leonor’s death added elements in the poetry that I speculate have immortalized it. For now Machado grasped more deeply his personal adage “love is in the absence.” (Barnstone, 2004, p.XXVI). Now he wrote not only of natural beauty remembered, but also nuanced recollection of longed-for relationships. Some variations were tender, others (especially those written during Spain’s civil war), sardonic. Consider two examples:
Life also is the water of a spring
…trickling brightly from its source
Or else a raucous cataract flooding
…over broken rocks.
And there your name echoes eternally.
(Machado, 1924/2004, p.399)
Es la vida también agua de fuente...
que de claro venero, gota a gota...
oruidoso penacho de torrente,
Y allí suena tu nombre ¡eternamente!
(Machado, 1924/2004, pág. 398)
Pure Soria, mountainside of violet.
Warplane, let me know if the upper Duero,
Your target now, remembers who its poet once was.
(Machado, 1936/2004, p.479)
Soria pura, entre montes de violeta.
Di tú, avión marcial, si el alto Duero
adonde vas, recuerda a su poeta.
(Machado, 1936/2004, pág. 470)
By evoking an outer landscape, then adding notes from a now-absent internal vista (Barnstone, 2004), Machado creates a sanctuary for the heart, particularly one in isolation and anguish. Such coming to terms with loss and trauma is an enduring gift to the world. The lasting impact of Machado’s poetry is perhaps best described by the writer and Jungian therapist, Thomas Moore:
“The enjoyment of Machado is sensual…more like good food than a great idea. At the same time, you could design your life around his poems” (2003, p.23).
Thus, from initial labors to help a great people regain equilibrium, through fires of personal trauma, Antonio Machado’s work remains a sagacious guide toward personal reconnection wherever life’s vicissitudes divide.
About the Author
Steven A. Hamon, PhD, is a cofounder and president of The Antioch Group, Inc., a 22-clinician private mental health practice in Peoria, Illinois. He specializes in post-traumatic stress disorders, including Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Barnstone, W. (2004). Border of a dream: Selected poems of Antonio Machado (Translation and introduction). Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press
Berg, M.G. & Maloney, D. (2003). There is no road: Antonio Machado (Translations). Buffalo, NY: White Pine Press.
Machado, A. (2004) “There in the highlands.” In W. Barnstone (Trans.). Border of a dream: Selected poems of Antonio Machado (p.237). Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press. (Original work published in Complete Poems, 1917.)
Machado, A. (2004). “Sonnets, 3.” In W. Barnstone (Trans.) Border of a dream: Selected poems of Antonio Machado (p.379). Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press. (Original work published in New Songs, 1924.)
Machado, A. (2004). “The poet recalls the lands of Soria.” In W. Barnstone (Trans.). Border of a dream: Selected poems of Antonio Machado (p.479). Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press. (Original work published in Complete Poems, 4th Edition, 1936).
Moore, T. (2003). Antonio Machado: An introduction. In M.G. Berg & D. Maloney (Trans.) (pp.18-26). There is no road: Antonio Machado. Buffalo, NY: White Pine Press.