Oct 15 2012

Antonio Machado – Last night, as I was sleeping

Published by at 9:13 am under Poetry

Last night, as I was sleeping
by Antonio Machado

English version by Ivan M. Granger

      Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt – blessed vision! –
that a fountain flowed
here in my heart.
I said: Why, O water, have you come
along this secret waterway,
spring of new life,
which I have never tasted?

      Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt – blessed vision! –
that I had a beehive
here in my heart;
and the golden bees
were making
from all my old sorrows
white wax and sweet honey.

      Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt – blessed vision! –
a blazing sun shone
here in my heart.
It was blazing because it gave heat
from a red home,
and it was sun because it gave light
and because it made me weep.

      Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt – blessed vision! –
that it was God I had
here in my heart.

/ Photo by Ecstatic Mark /

Feeling better, so we’re back. I thought I’d return with a new translation of one of my favorite poems.

I featured a version of this poem about half a year ago, the well known version translated by Robert Bly. Although I generally like the feel and rhythm of Bly’s rendition, I find one important detail frustrating, even misleading: The repeated line, which I’ve translated as “blessed vision,” he rendered as “marvelous error.” This causes readers so much confusion that I finally decided to do my own translation. 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…

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 fountain flows from his heart, running along a “secret waterway.” It is a “spring 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 wax / and sweet honey” in his heart.

In such overwhelming delight one feels radically restored and whole. All past guilts and “sorrows” 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 “blazing sun.”

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

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

5 responses so far

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

  1. Beryl Singleton Bissellon 15 Oct 2012 at 12:15 pm

    This is a beauty. No wonder it is a favorite of yours. It is now a favorite of mine. Thanks for the gift introducing me to this work, to your translation which is indeed blessed, and for the depth of your sharing.

  2. simonbaghon 15 Oct 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Jesus says,
    God is in me, or He is me and I am in Him, Who has sent me,

  3. bharation 15 Oct 2012 at 10:07 pm

    to get from THERE to HERE, we need to enter Night (ignore the sensory) and Sleep (ignore the mind).
    So easy to say… but words like your poems and translations come from immense focussed-ness, and make it feel easy for each reader to get Here too!

    Glad to know you are feeling better, May Life protect you and your work, and give you the strength to flow into transformations that lie ahead.

  4. Lutgarton 16 Oct 2012 at 12:33 am

    Beautiful, it is one of my favourites too! Thanks for sharing, Ivan! Be embrassed!

  5. Pegon 16 Oct 2012 at 7:47 am

    I think in the past I was in awe of the mystical experience, maybe not sure if they (the mystical poets) were talking in complete metaphors. It was not that I did not believe them but as I did not yet experience seeing higher light and the taste of amrita it all seemed like they were trying to put something they felt and not experienced into words. However, with my experiences of the mystical ecstatic, the poem experience becomes richer and more complete. I go back to remember the sweet taste and see the light all over again.

    In furthering your thoughts on “marvelous error,” was Bly trying to say that the man felt he was unworthy of receiving the gift, or a misstake because the man was not ready or prepared spiritually for the visit? He is crying out asking why have you come because my heart is not filled with love. The man was also not asking or seeking this holy visit. It is the middle of the cold dark night for the man’s body and his soul. The man did not know that he was wanting the warmth of the light and the nourishment it offers to his body and his soul until he expeienced the ecstatic mysitical.

    For me as illusory as these ecstatic mystical experiences at times seem to be, the night is the best time for them because the mind is quiet and the body relaxed enough to allow these “huge” moments of greeting the divine within. I cannot deny the divine as easily as the logic mind can during the day when it is operating so much in our physical world.

    Thank you for the discission. Love and light, Peg

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