Apr 23 2012

Antonio Machado – Last night, as I was sleeping

Published by at 8:31 am under Poetry

Last night, as I was sleeping
by Antonio Machado

English version by Robert Bly

Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt — marvelous error!–
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

      Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt — marvelous error!–
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

      Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt — marvelous error!–
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

      Last night, as I slept,
I dreamt — marvelous error!–
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

— from Times Alone: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado, Translated by Robert Bly

/ Photo by sammydavisdog /

This is my favorite poem by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado. Actually, it’s one of my favorite poems, period.

It speaks so richly for itself that no commentary is necessary to be caught in its spell. But I do want to take a moment to explore how this poem strongly parallels the mystic’s ecstatic experience…

In this poem, Machado discovers continual delights in his heart. Similarly, in the state of mystical union, the heart seems to expand, filling with a joy that encompasses everything.

The spring “breaking out” in his heart, running along a “secret aqueduct,” bringing “water of new life” — this is often part of sacred ecstasy. Mystics often experience a sensation of drinking some unknown liquid that warms the heart and fills one with a bubbling sense of life previously unknown and unimagined.

This “drink” is perceived as being sweet, eliciting comparisons to honey or wine. Thus, Machado discovers “white combs / and sweet honey” in his heart.

In such overwhelming delight one feels radically restored and whole. All past guilts and “failures” seem somehow resolved, transformed into the very matter that this joy is built upon.

And the awareness is filled with the perception of a radiant light, while the body is permeated with a great warmth — like a “fiery sun.”

Indeed, caught up in this experience, how can you doubt that it is God you have inside your heart?


A note about that phrase “marvelous error” which has some people confused. I think Bly’s translation of that line is misleading. Machado’s actual line in Spanish is “bendita ilusión.” A more exact translation might be “blessed illusion or dream.” When I read that, I don’t hear Machado calling this experience an “error”; it’s more of a vision…


It’s a lovely spring day here. The bees are out among the lilacs and apple blossoms. A good day to discover their hidden comb…

Antonio Machado, Antonio Machado poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Antonio Machado

Spain (1875 – 1939) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

Antonio Machado’s wife died when she was very young. It is through his lifelong anguish over this loss that a kind of sacred spiritual yearning emerges. He begins to see his dead wife as his divine beloved, ever present, ever calling to him, yet ever just out of reach. The goal of union can only be found within. In this way, his terrible ache was elevated to an experience of the sacred, similar to that sought through the ideal of “courtly love” several centuries earlier.

When his poems speak of this beloved woman, read into it the divine, and see what meaning emerges.

More poetry by Antonio Machado

15 responses so far

15 Responses to “Antonio Machado – Last night, as I was sleeping”

  1. Ryanon 23 Apr 2012 at 9:37 am

    This is also one of my favorites and have referred to it often during meditation. Bly’s translation with “marvelous error” seemed out of harmony to me at the beginning. Though I’m sure Bly had some reason for including those words when they seemed so obviously out of place. I still don’t know why he did it, but perhaps it could refer to the idea that the “error” was that it wasn’t a dream, but that it was a marvelous reality.

  2. beryl singleton bissellon 23 Apr 2012 at 10:27 am

    I’d not known of this poem before but certainly love the images. I especially love the line about the bees turning all past errors into honey. I wonder why Bly chose “Blessed error,” rather than illusion (which though slippery does not imply rational denial as does error). Vision can change a life.

  3. skyleron 23 Apr 2012 at 12:50 pm

    i’m glad you wrote a note about robert bly’s translation of “error,” which did not fit or make sense. of course machado is referring to a vision.
    then the entire, luminous poem falls into place.

    i love your offerings. thank you so much.

  4. Ana Holubon 23 Apr 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Thank you, Ian. What an incredible poem. Will you publish the original in Spanish for us?

  5. Jenny Maertenson 23 Apr 2012 at 1:53 pm

    If Machado meant “illusion” I can see why Bly used “error” because, really, what is an illusion but seeing somethin that isn’t there. Perhaps Machado meant it would be a blessed illusion or “error” to think that the images ( secret aquaduct, golden bees, God etc) were just a dream as each stanza begins with “last night, as I was sleeping I dreamt”.

  6. Gemma Wilsonon 23 Apr 2012 at 2:10 pm

    thank you Ivan! I too love this poem.

    I lived in Colombia and Mexico for many years and there “ilusion” means a living dream, something one dreams of doing or becoming. So that might be a better translation.

  7. Kay Engleron 23 Apr 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Thank you, Ivan, for posting this poem. It was truly a gift to be reminded of how much I have always loved Antonio Machado’s poetry. I studied Spanish literature as a graduate student. I found the poetry of Machado and Juan Ramon Jimenez to be particularly lovely.

  8. Leah Joneson 23 Apr 2012 at 3:07 pm

    Very dear Ivan,
    Thank you so much for this absolutely delightful poem. A friend of mine has used the verse about the bees as her signature on her mails for a long time, and it was such a delight to see this in full.
    I have only written to say thank you for your posts once before, and I’m very sorry for that. I must tell you, that I read this avidly, every day, and am very grateful for the time you take to put it together. Today was such a stunner that I just had to remark on it. I shall try and mend my manners, and say thank you more often to the poems and commentry by you that I love so much.
    Very best wishes to you, and a big hug too.
    Always, Leah.

  9. Shantion 23 Apr 2012 at 5:38 pm

    Perhaps the error or acknowledgement of what really happened is a but a marvelous humility to disarm the rational self that always tries to pull one back into the familiar light and life.Why engage with it and lose what is essential.Leave me with my wine and my saki!O yes!Its all an error but I dwell in a garden that maps do not direct me to.

  10. Shaion 23 Apr 2012 at 9:38 pm

    One should pay attention to the fact that the illusions manifest in a stat of sleep and dream, where everything is possible, and that is probably the so called error Bly pointed out.

  11. amir freimannon 23 Apr 2012 at 9:54 pm

    הלילה, בעת שישנתי
    מאת אנטוניו מצ’אדו
    תרגום לאנגלית: רוברט בליי
    תרגום לעברית: עמיר פריימן

    הלילה, בעת שישנתי,
    חלמתי – הזיה נפלאה! –
    שאביב מבצבץ ובוקע
    מתוך לבי.
    אמרתי: באיזה תעלה נסתרת
    מים, אתם באים אלי,
    מים של חיים חדשים
    שטרם שתיתי מעודי?

    הלילה, בעת שישנתי,
    חלמתי – הזיה נפלאה! –
    שכוורת דבורים רוחשת
    כאן בתוך לבי.
    והדבורים הזהובות
    הכינו חלות דבש לבנות
    ודבש מתוק
    מכישלונותיי הישנים.

    הלילה, בעת שישנתי,
    חלמתי – הזיה נפלאה! –
    ששמש לוהטת מפיצה
    אור בתוך לבי.
    היא הייתה לוהטת כי חשתי
    חום כמו מתנור,
    ושמש כי הפיצה אור
    והביאה דמעות לעיניי.

    הלילה, בעת שישנתי,
    חלמתי – הזיה נפלאה! –
    שזהו אלוהים ששוכן
    כאן בתוך לבי.

  12. rena navonon 24 Apr 2012 at 12:37 pm

    There seems to be more confusion over Bly’s translation than anything else in the above comments, yet I admire how the responses try to straighten out ‘error’ by stretching their accepting hearts to embrace his criticism without reservation.
    Robert Bly seems to me to be less trusting than the poet he is assessing; less given to accepting the experience such as it feels. Maybe he even feels bitter over information he can’t really believe. In other words, is he bridging two worlds it is not so simple to relate to one other, but in his intellectual audacity, he can’t resist embracing? I don’t believe mutual understanding can be taken for granted between all poets. One can only try.

  13. Qahiraon 24 Apr 2012 at 1:04 pm

    yes, it’s very odd that a poet would translate Holy Illusion as Marvellous Error. (Marvellous vision works too!)
    If it had been just once it might’ve worked, but it was a repeated line which became very jarring.
    An illusion is not necessarily an error… it changes the tone of the poem from one of hope & appreciation to one of despair.
    Especially when you read the last line – Last night i dreamt i had god in my heart. Holy illusion! Marvellous vision! Hopefully not an error…

  14. John Ron 28 Aug 2017 at 8:03 am

    i have always read the translation “marvelous error” as referring to calling the experience as one dreamt … rather than that the experience was “merely a dream” … to me, that changes everything.

  15. fredon 05 Sep 2017 at 12:15 pm

    Well, “error” works for me. I don’t find it jarring; I admit it is a little ambiguous, but I like that about it, and it is an interesting counterpoint to the somewhat sentimental details of the dreams. So, I trust Bly. If you have read any of his poetry anthologies (News of the Universe” “Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart) you will know where his heart and spirit are in relation to Antonio Machado and “Last Night…” I trust his translation: “illusion” is a weak word in English, with too many irrelevant interpretations (show business, ghosts, hallucinations, etc.).

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