Other Literary Forms
Although the majority of Antonio Machado’s sparse published work is poetry, he collaborated with his brother, Manuel, on a number of plays for the Madrid stage. These began in 1926 with adaptations of Spanish dramas of the Golden Age and culminated in 1929 with the very successful La Lola se va a los puertos (the Lola goes off to sea). The last of their plays to be staged in Madrid was El hombre que murió en la guerra (the man who died in the war), in 1941. Several series of prose commentaries on a variety of subjects, principally literary and philosophical, originally appeared in periodicals and were eventually collected and published in 1936 in the somewhat amorphous yet interesting Juan de Mairena (English translation, 1963).
Antonio Machado was one of the the two great lyric poets of Spain’s generación del 98 (Generation of ’98), the other being Juan Ramón Jiménez. In 1927, Machado was elected to the Royal Spanish Academy.
Antonio Machado y Ruiz was born into an interesting family of relatively successful professionals. His paternal grandfather had been to the New World, studied medicine in Paris, practiced for a time in Seville, published a philosophical and scientific journal there, and became governor of the province. Machado’s father studied but never practiced law, devoting himself to the study of Spanish folklore, especially flamenco song and poetry, and publishing four important collections. His mother was a vivacious woman who dedicated herself to her family and four sons, most particularly to Antonio, who was attached to her throughout life and whose death preceded hers by only a few days. Machado’s memory of the home where he was born and for eight years led a peaceful existence in charming surroundings never left him.
When Machado’s grandfather received a professorship in Madrid, the family accompanied him there. Life in the capital was turbulent and somewhat more hazardous than in Seville. Machado and two of his brothers were enrolled in the Free Institute, a private school founded by Francisco Giner de los Ríos, a friend of the Machado family, and dominated by the principles of Krausismo, named after an obscure German philosopher Karl Christian Friedrich Krause (1781-1832), whose system of philosophy, which attempted to combine pantheism and theism, was promoted in Spain by Julián Sanz del Río in an effort to establish a new, liberal educational system. Although he completed his secondary education in Catholic institutions, Machado was to remain faithful to the tenets of Krausismo and anticlerical to the end. At the conclusion of this first phase of his education, Machado’s family was undergoing a reversal of fortune, and in 1892 and 1895, respectively, his father and grandfather died.
Although Machado became “the man of the family,” he did not assume any responsibilities. Rather, he led a somewhat Bohemian life, as before, and began a literary career by writing satirical sketches for La caricatura under the pseudonym of “Cabellera” (“Long Hair”)—his brother Manuel wrote as “Polilla” (“Moth”)—meanwhile thinking of entering the theater. In 1899, Antonio and Manuel at last obtained paid positions as translators and editors for Garnier Brothers in Paris. What they accomplished at Garnier’s is not clear, but they did frequent the literary circles of Paris and became acquainted with many of the celebrities of the day, such as Jean Moréas and Darío. At the same time that the Machados were exploring new interests, they were reading, discussing, and beginning to write poetry.
Little is known of Antonio’s first efforts in France and Spain, but the small volume Soledades appeared in 1902 (although it was dated 1903) and soon began to enjoy some success in Madrid. Dissatisfied with the Modernista aestheticism of these early poems, however, Machado immediately started work on an expanded Soledades, in which the spiritual and the ethical would dominate and from which a number of the earlier poems would be excluded. During this period of rapid growth and maturation, the great influence on the poet was that of Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, who, in an open letter of 1904 in Helios, had urged Machado to abandon the principle of art for art’s sake. In an article of 1905 on Unamuno’s La vida de Don Quijote y Sancho (1905; Life of Don Quijote and Sancho, 1927), Machado admires his mentor’s re-creation of Miguel de Cervantes’ hero, in which spirit and feeling transform ideas into poetry.
As a result of his contact with Unamuno, Machado abandoned his semi-Bohemian life and, during 1906 and 1907, prepared for a serious profession. Considering himself too old to attend a university, he studied French and Spanish language and literature at home and passed the arduous examinations to become a professor. He was appointed to a post at the Institute in Soria, in the heart of Old Castile, where he spent five years. Soria was not what it had been in ancient and medieval times, and the Institute ran pedagogically and politically in ways far removed from the principles of Krausismo. Patient and unassuming, Machado adjusted to the school’s dull atmosphere, accepting old-fashioned patterns of unenthusiastic teaching and rote learning and ignoring local politics. His salvation lay in a few friendships with men of strong cultural interests and in the setting, steeped in the history and traditions of Spain.
Although an attractive man, Machado was timid and unaggressive with women, as was characteristic of the generally unromantic Generation of ’98, who placed the blame on old Spanish customs regarding courtship. In late 1907, however, when he was past thirty, Machado met Leonor Izquierdo, the daughter of the family in whose boardinghouse he lived. The girl was only thirteen at the time, and Machado had to wait until she was fourteen to court her; they were married in 1909. A simple, provincial girl of limited education, augmented only by short stays in Madrid and Paris, Leonor nevertheless pleased her husband, and his love for her endured well beyond the grave. While they were in Paris in 1911, where Machado had been awarded a fellowship, she fell seriously ill with tuberculosis and died in 1912, some time after their return to Soria.
After his wife’s death, Machado secured a transfer to Baeza in Jaén. His native Andalusia did not comfort him, however, and he sank into a depression that brought him close to suicide. His mother joined him for a time, which must have helped, and the success of The Castilian Camp made Machado aware of possessing a useful talent that he did not have the right to destroy. His faith in life was restored above all by a serious study of philosophy, including not only the work of modern philosophers, especially Henri Bergson, but also of the ancients and the languages to read them in the original. Unable to emulate Unamuno in his mastery of Greek, Machado nevertheless managed during several summers in Madrid to pass the necessary examinations to acquire his doctorate in 1918, at the age of forty-three.
In Baeza, Machado, older, heavier, careless of his appearance, resumed his old way of life. He was a seemingly aimless, somewhat lame, but indefatigable walker, usually alone. He sought the company of a few friends in a tertulia, at the Institute, or in the local pharmacy. Sometimes there would be an organized excursion to visit a point of interest; other times he would participate in the literary homages that are a part of Spanish culture, as when he read his “Desde mi rincón” (from my corner) in Aranjuez to honor José Martínez Ruiz (Azorín) and Castile. In 1915, Federico García Lorca, also an Andalusian, came to meet Machado at a cultural gathering in Baeza. Machado continued his work as a critic of Spanish society, concentrating on that of Baeza as most typical of the nation, except for Madrid. In his correspondence with Unamuno, he decried the state of religion in Baeza, dominated as it was by women. Both Machado and Unamuno were evolving from the Cain-Abel theme applied to Spain to a reaffirmation of Jesus’s principle of Christian charity, yet Machado was not yet prepared to be an open activist.
Resigned but not satisfied in Baeza, and his inspiration grown thin, Machado obtained a post in Segovia in 1919. Segovia possessed everything that Soria had offered the poet and more, and Madrid was near. He would toil during the week in Segovia, pursuing other interests, especially in the theater, on his weekends in Madrid. Machado’s scant poetic production during this time is varied in nature and high in quality. Outwardly he revealed little of his thoughts and feelings, but his mind was teeming with ideas and projects. One project that Machado eagerly worked to realize was the Segovian activists’ Popular University. To it he contributed, with all its political overtones, his philosophy of an active Christian brotherhood outside the hierarchy of the Church. Further, he delivered a lecture on Russian literature in which he declared the Revolution a failure because of a lack of philosophical tradition, but praised Russian literature for its universality, founded on Christian brotherhood.
In the mid-1920’s, Machado began to feel discontented with his image as a somewhat eccentric widower and schoolteacher and as an isolated poet exploiting a few memories. Furthermore, the poets of the Generation of ’98 were being displaced by those of the Generation of ’27. It was time to do something new. During this period, Machado began to collaborate with his brother on a series of plays. His desire for rejuvenation also led him henceforth to use pseudonyms and to seek and...