Last night, as I was sleeping [Bly]

by Antonio Machado

English version by Robert Bly
Original Language Spanish

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

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

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 ilusiĆ³n." 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 that hidden comb...

Recommended Books: Antonio Machado

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry Times Alone: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado Border of a Dream: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado
More Books >>

Last night, as I