Jun 25 2021

Antonio Machado – Last night, as I was sleeping

Published by at 6:10 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.

— from The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology), Edited by Ivan M. Granger

/ Image by Ecstatic Mark /

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

Robert Bly’s English version is probably the best known. 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 renders as “marvelous error.” Machado’s actual line in Spanish is bendita ilusión. A more exact translation might be “blessed vision or dream.” Perhaps the poet can’t quite believe the beauty of his vision, but he hardly regards it as an “error.” Reading the original Spanish, I have the feeling Machado is teasing us by calling the experience a dream, seeing if we are foolish enough to cast it aside.

Let’s take just a moment to explore how this poem parallels the mystic’s ecstatic experience…

Machado discovers continual delights in his heart: a flowing fountain, a honey-filled beehive, a blazing sun, God… all found within the heart. Read enough descriptions of mystical union, and the same descriptions come up again and again — a heart ablaze with light and heat, filled with sweetness, bubbling and overflowing, a heart expanding to embrace all creation.

The fountain flows from the heart, running along a “secret waterway.” It is a “spring of new life.” This is often part of sacred ecstasy. Mystics 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 from which this joy emerges.

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 we doubt that it is God we have inside our hearts?

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 >>

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

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2 responses so far

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

  1. Janet Goldbergon 25 Jun 2021 at 7:15 am


    The quiet lays heavy
    this morning.
    These are the moments
    of giddy preparation.

    Guests appear,
    musicians tune,
    servers stir.

    Stop a moment.
    Let your heart skip a beat.
    Take a big gasp.
    Blow out a deafening

    It’s a party,
    and we are each
    honored guest

  2. Ann R Lillyon 25 Jun 2021 at 2:06 pm

    Ivan, I agree with you about Robert Bly’s translation, and for that reason I have always preferred to read this poem in Spanish. I love your translation, and I appreciate it very much. I know how difficult translating poetry can be, as I write in both English and Spanish and am currently working on a dual language poetry collection. Thank you.

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