Antonio Machado emerged as the premier poet of Spain's Generation of '98, the youthful artists and intellectuals who aimed for optimism looking toward the new century even as they witnessed the demise of their nation's once-exalted empire. Machado's conflicted nationalism, compounded by a stay in Paris, was sorely tested in the 1930s civil war, when his exile turned out to be permanent.
The poet's preoccupation with time concerns, on the one hand, Spain's historical past (often associated with traditional, regional cultures and beautiful natural landscapes). On the other hand, he became concerned rather early on with death and elegiac remembrance, following the death of his young wife.
As Machado's upbringing was not religious, he struggled with finding meaning in mortality. In dreams, he looked for that significance, as he relived experiences through vivid memories. Poetry allowed him to transcend time and connect with the past, and Machado viewed this quality as the special ability of poets and poetry.
"The Ephemeral Past" encapsulates these concerns, as he describes a man with anachronistic tastes and dress:
This man is neither
of yesterday nor tomorrow
but of never. Hispanic stock, he's not
the fruit that grew to ripen or to rot,
but shadow fruit
from a Spain that did not come to be,
that passed away, yet, dead
persists to haunt us with a graying head.