The valley is made by water
A quote from a poem by Antonio Machado at the beginning of a fine mystery novel, The Drifter, by Nicholas Petrie…
“Traveler, there is no path.
The path is made by walking.”
…led me to want to find out more about Machado. The first thing Google turned up, a Derek Walcott poem, “Reading Machado,” seemed like a good place to start. To read it in The New Yorker archives, I signed up for a digital subscription, which I should have anyway, and posted a little self-congratulatory note on Facebook about paying for news.
Now, prompted by a request for a Machado poem from Joan Biren responding to my Facebook post, I’ve typed out the Walcott poem – something I like to do with poems I want to get more of a sense of, and also a way to feel I’m not really stealing it to share it here. Fair use, I hope!
by Derek Walcott
in The New Yorker Nov. 18, 1996
The barren frangipani branches uncurl their sweet threat
out of the blue. More echoes than blossoms, they stun the senses
like the nocturnal magnolia, white as the pages I read,
with the prose printed on the left bank of the page
and, on the right, the shale-like speckle of stanzas
and the seam, like a stream stitching its own language.
The Spanish genius bristling like thistles. What provoked this?
The pods of a dry season, heat rippling in cadenzas,
black ruffles and the arc of a white throat?
These are all echoes, all associations and inferences,
the tone of Antonio Machado, even in translation,
the verb in the earth, the nouns in the stones, the walls,
all inference, all echo, all association,
the blue distance of Spain from bougainvillea verandaha
when white flowers sprout from the branches of a bull’s home,
the white frangipani flowers like the white souls of nuns
that move like ponies under pine trees in the autumn mountains,
onions, and rope, the silvery bulb of garlic, the creak
of saddles, and fast water quarrelling over clear stones,
rooted and stunted as olive trees, these heat-cracked stanzas,
all inferences, all echoes, associations.
Information on Antonio Machado at the Poetry Foundation: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/antonio-machado#about
I like Walcott’s poem a lot, for the strong physicality, earthiness, and how well it conveys something about translation – the possibilities as well as what is impossible (lines 4-6 are wonderful). Of course it makes me want to read Machado, too. I am not so sure about the white souls of nuns moving like ponies under pine trees, but maybe when I come to know Machado, the image will work.
Does anyone else find the list at the end of Walcott’s poem puts them in mind of something by another Antonio,“The Waters of March” by the Brazilian musician and songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim? “A stick, a stone…” A song I always find great comfort in.
Finally, in this rather circuitous progression, the way of water reminds me of what I am so glad Ursula Le Guin has written for us at this time, a clarifying piece, in the way that water may clarify. The blog post also includes a new poem, “Meditation”:
“119. The Election, Lao Tzu, a Cup of Water”
As one of our finest Lao Tzu translators, Le Guin knows what she’s writing about. And how sweet it is, when looking up a reference to that book to post here, to find myself returned to a walk:
“Reading [Le Guin’s] translations is like taking a shared walk down a familiar trail where we discover rocks and water that we somehow missed before. . . . Undeniably refreshing, capturing a language that is casual and clear, reflective and pointed, full of the wise humor of the Way.”—Parabola
The sun just broke through the clouds on a chilly day here in Sandisfield, a good time for a walk on a dirt road, and to see if the recent snow and rains have filled up the streams that have been dry for months.