The spiritual crisis brought about in Spain by the loss of its last overseas possessions in Spanish America in 1898 found expression through the works of the Spanish writers of the Generation of ’98. Pessimism, analysis of the past, desire for change, and consciousness of history are reflected in productions of Spanish writers of that time.
Spain had actually been suffering a prolonged frustration in its national goals. Most of Spain’s American colonies—discovered, explored, conquered, acculturated, and exploited by the mother country—had obtained their independence during the first quarter of the nineteenth century. A relatively small portion of the old Spanish Empire remained. When Cuba and Puerto Rico gained their freedom, Spain lost all its political links with the American continent. Four centuries of Spanish rule and influence in the Americas had ended.
A strong reaction appeared among the Spanish intelligentsia. Spain was obliged to set new goals, examine its traditions, and reexamine its political life. Philosophers, fiction writers, and essayists put together their efforts to arouse the soul of their country and make it open its eyes to reality and the future. It could be thought that this generation had no place for poets, who are often unconcerned with national affairs. Antonio Machado, however, who is the best poet of the Generation of ’98, fully shared the intellectual and emotional attitude of his age. The development of his themes and his poetic perspective began in the critical years following the last breath of the Spanish Empire. From his first poems Machado shows the concerns of his poetry. He is, in all his books, the poet of time, of melancholy memories, of death, and of concern for his country. He would die in exile.
Perhaps no other Spanish-speaking poet has written so much about the phenomenon of time. For him, poetry is the essential method by which one may communicate with his or her time. Poetry is a way of bridging time and obtaining permanent, intemporal results. In other words, poetry for him is the result of inner, personal experience, in contact with his world, expressed not only by way of ideas, but mainly by way of intuition, with the intention of giving to such experiences a universal value.
Few writers have felt the burden of time as Machado did. A philosopher and poet, he went deep into the analysis of its essence both as a metaphysical entity and as a reality affecting human life. He did not theorize about it; through poetry he tried to grasp its meaning and to present its pathetic impact upon the individual.
Among his preferred ways of meeting time and interpreting his own life, Machado finds in daydreams a fit instrument. For Machado, poetry is also a daydream; life is a permanent attitude of watchful vision with open eyes. Readers can frequently discover in his poetry an ecstatic mood. Rather than recalling his memories, he used to dream of them. For him the true interior life was that of dreams and, conversely, dreams were the best way of knowing his inward being.
These dreams are not the substance of the subconscious, nor are they expressed in a super-realistic manner. They are simply the manifestation of yesterday that presses upon the poet, causing him to live his life again in recollection. In this way they are made present and converted into poetic forms. Time is the span between birth and death. For Machado, who was reared in an educational...
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