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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Last Night As I Was Sleeping

- by Antonio Machado

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.


Blogger cowboyangel said...


Great to see some Machado! I may have said it before, but he and T.S. Eliot may be my favorites. Oh, and probably Neruda.

I'm puzzled, though, by the translation. I don't know why the translator has rendered "¡bendita ilusión!" as "marvellous error." Bendita is "blessed." Ilusión can be several things, none of which are "error" - at least in Castilian. It can be positive and mean "hope." It can be negative and mean "illusory hope" or "delusion." Or it can just be "illusion," which is how I personally translate it in this poem. A dream is like a blessed illusion.

The rest of that first stanza has other problems as well. The translator says "a spring was breaking out in my heart." In Spanish, it's "una fontana fluía dentro de mi corazón" - a spring or fountain was flowing inside of my heart. Fontana is associated with fontanería, which is plumbing - fontanero is a plumber. So this is water flowing inside of his heart in a channel, like plumbing. "Secret aqueduct" sounds cool, but the original Spanish is "acequia escondida," which is closer to "hidden ditch" or "irrigation channel." I read it as a passageway of water cutting through the earth, not like an aqueduct which is up off the ground. Finally, the translator misses the last part, saying "Oh water, are you coming to me, water of a new life," as if he's addressing "water" twice. But the Spanish says the water from the hidden ditch is coming towards the "manantial" or "spring" of his new life, WHERE he has never drunk. It's a place - an underground spring. The three water words - fontana, acequia and manatial all conjure up earthiness, water under or in the earth. his heart is like the ground and the water is flowing inside of it.

I would translate the next stanza thus:
"Last night as I was sleeping
I dreamt--blessed illusion!--
that I had a beehive
inside of my heart;

and the golden bees
were fashioning in it,
with old bitterness,
white honeycomb and sweet honey."

He says "failures," but the Spanish is "amarguras," which is really bitterness, which makes sense in teh poem, because the bees are taking old bitterness and making sweet honey out of it, which is a beautiful image of redemption.

Also, Machado repeats "dentro de mi corazón" in all four parts, so the beehive is "inside of his heart," in a physical manner, just as the springs of water are - channels, if you will.

In the third part, it's the burning or fiery sun that shines inside of his heart. That stanza puzzles me, though I guess there's a transition happening in each of the four parts. The 1st stanza is water under the earth. The 2nd is the beehive, which is of the earth but also connects to the sky through the flying bees. The 3rd stanza is the sun, so now we're up in the sky. And the last part is God. So he progresses from inside the earth up to heaven. An image of rising from the dead, perhaps? The "new life" in the first stanza.

The translator misses a nice touch in the 3rd stanza - Machado says the sun was "ardiente porque daba
calores de rojo hogar." Hogar can be both the hearth/fireplace AND a home. "Calores de hogar" is the "warmth of home." But calores de ROJO hogar turns that into a red or burning hearth. It also reminds me a bit of Hell. So the sun is both a warmth of home but also a burning thing like Hell. He continues this ambiguity in the next line, where the sun gives us light but also brings tears to our eyes (makes us cry.) You can't look at it. This is why Machado is so great - because he really captures the deep, deepl complexities of Spain and the Spanish spirituality. It's such a rocky, earthy country, but it's also so spiritual. Rilke said Toledo was a point of contact between Heaven and Earth, but I think all of Spain has that feeling. An amazing combination. And the Almighty is both loving Father and the Terrifying, Awesome Ancient of Days who cannot even be looked at. And, in wonderful Machado fashion, all of this mixing of Heaven and Earth is all taking place in a dream anyway! Brilliant. His poems seem pretty simple on teh surface, but the imagery and symbolic language is really very deep and rich.

Here's the original Spanish. Notice that it's a ryhming poem. It's quite beautiful when you read it out loud.


Anoche cuando dormía
soñé, ¡bendita ilusión!,
que una fontana fluía
dentro de mi corazón.

Di, ¿por qué acequia escondida,
agua, vienes hasta mí,
manantial de nueva vida
de donde nunca bebí?

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé, ¡bendita ilusión!,
que una colmena tenía
dentro de mi corazón;

y las doradas abejas
iban fabricando en él,
con las amarguras viejas
blanca cera y dulce miel.

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé, ¡bendita ilusión!,
que un ardiente sol lucía
dentro de mi corazón.

Era ardiente porque daba
calores de rojo hogar,
y era sol porque alumbraba
y porque hacía llorar.

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé, ¡bendita ilusión!,
que era Dios lo que tenía
dentro de mi corazón.

8:06 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Wow, William - that was amazing! It's surprising what a difference a translation can make. Thanks for going to the trouble of doing all that.

It's funny - I was showing the poem to my sister and we were sort of charmed by the awkwardness of the phrasing. I've read some Rilke poems like that too - they sound so not american/english. Charming is one thing, though, but it would be nice for the translation to also be accurate :-)

I hope those that read the poem see your comment - it really adds a lot to the meaning.

1:07 AM  
Blogger Rachel said...

hi! I was wondering if you (cowboyangel) could give your own translation of the entire poem as you did the second stanza. I really liked your understanding of it.

1:37 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Rachel, you can find cowboyangel here - ZONE

1:42 PM  

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