Jan 11 2010

Antonio Machado – Proverbs and Songs

Published by at 10:33 am under Poetry

Proverbs and Songs
by Antonio Machado

English version by Robert Bly

Dedicated to Jose Ortega y Gasset

      The eye you see is not
an eye because you see it;
it is an eye because it sees you.

      To talk with someone,
ask a question first,
then — listen.

is an ugly fault,
and now it’s a boring fault too.

      But look in your mirror for the other one,
the other one who walks by your side.

      Between living and dreaming
there is a third thing.
Guess it.

      This Narcissus of ours
can’t see his face in the mirror
because he has become the mirror.

      New century? Still
firing up the same forge?
Is the water still going along in its bed?

      Every instant is Still.

      The sun in Aries. My window
is open to the cool air.
Oh the sound of the water far off!
The evening awakens the river.

      In the old farmhouse
— a high tower with storks! —
the gregarious sound falls silent,
and in the field where no on is,
water makes a sound among the rocks.

      Just as before, I’m interested
in water held in;
but now water in living
rock of my chest.

      When you hear water, does its sound tell you
if it’s from a mountain or farm,
city street, formal garden, or orchard?

      What I find surprises me:
leaves of the garden balm
smell of lemonwood.

      Don’t trace out your profile,
forget your side view —
all that is outer stuff.

      Look for your other half
who walks always next to you
and tends to be what you aren’t.

      When spring comes,
go to the flowers —
why keep on sucking wax?

      In my solitude
I have seen things very clearly
that were not true.

      Water is good, so is thirst;
shadow is good, so is sun;
the honey from the rosemarys
and the honey of the bare fields.

      Only one creed stands:
quod elixum est ne asato.
Don’t roast what’s already boiled.

      Sing on, sing on, sing on,
the cricket in his cage
near his darling tomato.

      Form your letters slowly and well:
making things well
is more important than making them.

      All the same…
                  Ah yes! All the same,
moving the legs fast is important,
as the snail said to the greyhound.

      There are really men of action now!
The marsh was dreaming
of its mosquitoes.

      Wake up, you poets:
let echoes end,
and voices begin.

      But don’t hunt for dissonance;
because, in the end, there is no dissonance.
When the sound is heard people dance.

      What the poet is searching for
is not the fundamental I
but the deep you.

      The eyes you’re longing for —
listen now —
the eyes you see yourself in
are eyes because they see you.

      Beyond living and dreaming
there is something more important:
waking up.

      Now someone has come up with this!
Cogito ergo non sum.
What an exaggeration!

      I thought my fire was out,
and stirred the ashes…
I burnt my fingers.

      Pay attention now:
a heart that’s all by itself
is not a heart.

      I’ve caught a glimpse of him in dreams:
expert hunter of himself,
every minute in ambush.

      He caught his bad man:
the one who on sunny days
walks with head down.

      If a poem becomes common,
passed around, hand to hand, it’s OK:
gold is chosen for coins.

      If it’s good to live,
then it’s better to be asleep dreaming,
and best of all,
mother, is to awake.

      Sunlight is good for waking,
but I prefer bells —
the best thing about morning.

      Among the figs I am soft.
Among the rocks I am hard.
That’s bad!

      When I am alone
how close my friends are;
when I am with them
how distant they are!

      Now, poet, your prophecy?
“Tomorrow what is dumb will speak,
the human heart and the stone.”

      But art?
                  It is pure and intense play,
so it is like pure and intense life,
so it is like pure and intense fire.
You’ll see the coal burning.

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

/ Photo by lanchongzi /

Aren’t these riddling, haiku-like proverbs wonderful? I’m not sure they all entirely make sense even, but they bring the mind to a stop in contemplation and happy confusion.

Gathered together, I notice certain themes in these verses: Water keeps appearing, how its flow animates us and sustains us as it does the world. Narcissism and relationship with others. Action and stillness, how stillness underlies action, stillness suggesting something of the eternal. The seeing beyond the surface of reality to its inner depths, seeing the true nature of things. Waking up. And the secret, mysterious self.

Let’s just take a look at the opening verse, delightful and arcane:

The eye you see is not
an eye because you see it;
it is an eye because it sees you.

That first verse draws me in immediately. If I really want to find meaning in that first verse, perhaps he is saying that an eye is not an eye because it appears to be so (not “because you see it”) but because it sees. Maybe he is suggesting that it is not surface appearance but function and action that reveals the true nature of things. …But I don’t think reading such specific meaning in the verse is as important as simply being knocked cold by it.

Almost every pithy, strange saying stands out to me here. I could highlight them all. Instead, I encourage you to go back and read them slowly, one at a time, let them parade through the back of your thoughts as you go through your day. What are they saying to you

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 so union can only be found in a mystical embrace. In this way, his unsatisfied romantic yearning was elevated to an experience of the sacred, similar to that sought by the troubadour mystics 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

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7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Antonio Machado – Proverbs and Songs”

  1. maryann moonon 11 Jan 2010 at 12:04 pm

    The heart and the stone, are they ONE? They can be.
    A stony heart is not as sweet as the heart that truly learns
    to send great and shining love to a stone, to understand a
    stone, it DOES NEED LOVE.

    Thanks for this lovely poem! maryann

  2. Jim Atwellon 11 Jan 2010 at 12:52 pm

    “they bring the mind to a stop in contemplation and happy confusion.”
    This is a nice line Ivan. It reminds me of Children on a Merry Go Round who are giddy with excitement and when they step off they continue to go around in circles and laugh.
    When you stand at the crossroads of your heart all roads point towards Love. There you stand in happy confusion and giddy with excitement. What adventures will the next road bring?

    Much love
    jim atwell

  3. Bill Sigleron 11 Jan 2010 at 7:44 pm

    Love your site-

    My shortened translation of this Machado poem was one of the first things I posted to my blog:

    The eye you see is not
    An eye because you see it;
    But because it sees you.

    To talk,
    Ask, first;

    In between living and dreaming
    Comes another thing.
    Divine it.

    Find in your mirror the Friend,
    The other who keeps you company.

    After the living and the dreaming
    Comes the most important thing:
    Waking up.

    A new age? Does the flame
    Still explode in the forge?
    Does the water still
    Cascade to canals?

    Today is still always.

    Sun in Aries. My window
    Is open to the cold air.
    —Oh, rumor of distant water!—
    Sunset wakes up the river.

    In the old city
    —Oh, towers anchored with storks!—
    No more bells are shaking
    And from the solitary land
    The sound of water entering rocks

    One more time, my attention
    Is water’s captive;
    But it’s water in the living
    Rock of my heart.

    Can you tell, from water’s sound,
    If it’s from the mountaintop or valley,
    From fountain, garden or grove?

    How unexpected:
    To find the balmy leaves of roses
    Smell like ripened lemons.

    Never trace your boundary,
    Or edit your profile;
    All of that’s only of the outside.

    So now it’s spring,
    Hover over flowers;
    Don’t chew on wax.

    Search for your complement,
    Who walks always beside you
    And is usually your opposite.

    In my solitude
    I see things very clearly
    That are not there.

    My friends are with me
    In my solitude;
    When they are near,
    They’re so far away!

    Good are water and thirst;
    Good are shadow and sun;
    The honey from the rosemary flower,
    The honey from the flowerless fields.

    At the side of the road
    There’s a spring of stone,
    And a canteen of earth—glug, glug—
    That no one removes.

    Divine this riddle:
    What’s meant by the spring,
    The canteen and the water?

    …Still, I’ve seen people drink
    From the muddy scum of ponds, even.
    Thirst is capricious…

    Sing, sing, sing
    Beside his tomato—
    The cricket in his cage.

    Singers, leave
    The claps and cheers
    For the others.

    Awaken, singers;
    The end of echoes,
    Let the voices begin.

    But don’t seek dissonances;
    For, in the end, none exist,
    All tunes people dance to.

    It’s not the fundamental I
    That’s the quest of the poet
    It’s the essential you.

    To this pay attention:
    A solitary heart
    Is not a heart.

    Bees, singers,
    It’s not the honey, it’s the flowers

    Your truth? No, the Truth;
    Come seek it with me.
    Yours, you can keep.

    —”But art?…”
    —”It’s simply play,
    Which is to say, simply life,
    Which is to say, simply fire.
    See the coal encendering.”

  4. Moiraon 11 Jan 2010 at 7:47 pm

    Thank you, I very much enjoyed these verses

  5. esha sharmaon 13 Jan 2010 at 12:55 am

    ivan u r doing a great job your work nd devotion is just amazing the world needs people like u who think and spread so many good thoughts in world trust me i m your biggest fan .

  6. Rena Navonon 13 Jan 2010 at 10:04 am

    “Narcissus has become the mirror”. How provocative a metaphor to chide the self-serving egotist, caught forever in his own image. Beautiful or not, a conceited actor on life’s stage cannot appeal to us; it can only repell us, or if we are generous enough in spirit, it might bring out our critical side to try and help this imprisoned reflection soften to the view and find some variation, some alternative physical existense. A rigid face will not inspire, only freeze the viewer. Like water on a relentless winter day.

    I swam in a pool of water this morning. I noticed how no two people were swimming in the same pattern. I found meaning in the fact that I was creating myself anew by simply moving in my own natural way, body and soul. It made no difference that nobody was looking at me, as far as I was concerned. I was more alive in myself than earlier. And I feel blessed to be enabled now to understand Bly better.

    It takes a poet to discover the changes in the invisible world and I am priviledged to learn from one today, when I did not stiffen into mirror, but melted into magical swimmer.

  7. Joëlle Conlon-Blétryon 08 Feb 2010 at 10:51 am

    As a reply, here is visual art of the East, http://www.npm.gov.tw/exh96/orientation/flash_4/index.html
    before you click : you can move the curser to stop or go back on the painting
    click inside the white boxes to zoom in…. have fun
    a great number of people queue up to visit this museum in Shanghai to contemplate this wonder

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