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Monday, February 10, 2014

Antonio Machado




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Aged 44, this poet took an exam in philosophy perhaps to increase what he earned as a French teacher first in Soria and then in Baeza, and also because he had fallen into a depression after the death of his wife. And he wrote prose, maybe to reach another audience. That prose often feels haughty.-- See the portrait photo ?



There is  a small book of aphorisms of his called Juan de Mairena, and it begins with this mini dialogue between  Agamemnon and his swineherd. :

The truth is the truth. Stated by Agamemnon or by his swineherd, it is the same.

Agamemnon. – That’s right.

The swineherd. - I doubt it.


Agamemnon was the heroic king and commander of the united Greek armed forces in the Trojan War, and the anonymous swineherd rejects a principle of ethics that the king accepted.

So the swineherd is more skeptical than the king and more demanding, because he is weaker and more ignorant.

The original Spanish:
La verdad es la verdad, dígala Agamenón o su porquero. 
Agamenón - Conforme.
El porquero - No me convence. 
 (Juan de Mairena, I)

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In the same book, Juan de Mairena, some pages further on, Machado repeats the idea more explicitly, though disguised as a sarcasm. It's a short exchange::

-- "You may deny or affirm that God exists, but you may not doubt it." (his italics)
-- "That is what you believe."

It is based on the philosopher Kant whom the poet probably got to know through the philosopher Unamuno. The idea is that, in hundreds of things that you yourself cannot verify, you must willy nilly let your spontaneous trust decide.

For example, when you start out at the univesity, you must trust your teachers, since you are not yet equipped to find out where their ideas come from.

When you buy medication, you are probably not equipped to judge the information. You must trust it, and the same when you buy a car, a computer, a house, and so you get caught by ads.
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Antonio Machado is unknown abroad except for some of  his sayings:

There is no path, but only a wake on the ocean.
To prohibit blasphemy by law is to poison the hearts of the people.

He seems to have thought that the dialogue with "the divinity" must leave room for some blasphemy because otherwise it would not be sincere.  -- This is partly sarcastic, but also an example of not so sweet a tendency he shared with many Spaniards of intentionally drawing absurd conclusions from sound principles. It often shows boredom with the very principles of reason.

The Quixote is  a good example. I have yet to meet a Spaniard  I would believe if he said that he had read all of it. -- However, the best example of this tendency is the Nobel lareate Camilo José Cela. He made a show of it, used literature and the press as his own personal circus, notoriously on TV and in his later life.


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His greatest poetry is collected in a book called
Campos de Castilla

It is online as a Wikimedia publication at http://es.wikisource.org/wiki/Campos_de_Castilla.
I do not think it can be translated.
However, there is a four-liner he wrote when his wife died. Machado paraphrases the distress suffered by Christ before his arrest and execution:

"Your will, Lord, has been done against mine."

  Señor, ya me arrancaste lo que yo más quería.
Oye otra vez, Dios mío, mi corazón clamar.
Tu voluntad se hizo, Señor, contra la mía.
Señor, ya estamos solos mi corazón y el mar.
 
Those of you who have been to Spain must have heard a Romany mother and that same ¡Señor! in her pitiful, helpless, and often cynical call. --  But even through that echo, you see Machado facing his Maker upright and as an equal, as indeed he also faced Death when the time came.

Here are two of his great poems.



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C r e d i t s

From the freely downloadable dictionary at http://www.wordwebonline.com/
Agamemnon:  the king who lead the Greeks against  the city of Troy in the Trojan War.
Aphorism: a short, instructive saying.-
Blasphemy: verbal attacks on what is holy or sacred to many people

In Spanish, Machado's complete works are by now free at Wikisource:
https://es.wikisource.org/wiki/Antonio_Machado

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When the civil war broke out, Mach tried to flee  to France. Many people were fleeing, and Machado took care of his mother. They were both in bad health, and they died both in an inn on the road in France.
The photo below is of that time, of that region, the frontier between Spain and France.
The photo is from El País, but I have not yet looked up the references.



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