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This poem is taken from Border of a Dream : Selected Poems of Antonio Machado forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press, Fall 2003, coppercanyonpress.org. All rights reserved.



Antonio Machado


Translated by Willis Barnstone Willis Barnstone


The land of Alvargonzález


           to the poet Juan Ramon Jiménez

1

Youthful Alvargonzález,
the owner of a hacienda,
would seem well off in other lands.
Here he lives in opulence.
In the feria of Berlanga,
he falls for a young woman.
The same year he meets her
he takes her as his wife.
There is a lavish marriage
as those who saw remember;
For the wedding celebration
he takes over his village,
bringing in bagpipes and timbrels,
bandoras, flutes and guitars,
night fireworks from Valencia
and leaping dances from Aragon.


2

Alvar lives in happiness.
He tends the orchard and fields,
and engenders three sons,
which in farmlands is wealth.
When they are grown he selects
one to cultivate the orchards,
the second to care for sheep,
and the youngest for the church.


3

The laborers of the field
have a lot of blood of Cain.
Next to the farmhouse fireplace
blood calls envy into battle.
He marries off the older sons,
but the daughters-in-law,
even before children come,
are a cauldron of discord.
Greed in the countryside
sees inheritance behind death.
There is no joy. Sons brood
on what they hope to win.
The youngest finds young women
far better than Latin texts,
and will not dress his head
with learning. One good day
he hangs up his cassock
and wanders to distant lands.
The mother weeps, the father
gives him birthright and blessing.


4

Now parched Alvargonzález
has a forehead of wrinkles.
The blue shadow on his face
begins to silver his beard.
One autumn morning
he walks alone into the fields;
he doesn't take the greyhounds,
his cunning hunting dogs.
He trails sadly and pensive
though the golden poplar grove;
he walks a great distance
to come on a bright spring.
He lies on the ground, spreads
a blanket over a stone,
and at the edge of the water
sleeps by the chattering brook.


The dream

1

And Alvargonzález
like Jacob sees a ladder
rising from earth to heaven
and he hears a voice calling,
but the fates spin on.
Amid the tufted threads
twirling 'some white, some gold'
lies a lock of black wool.


2

Three children are playing
at the farmhouse door.
Between the older brothers
hops a black-winged crow.
The mother sews, watching them,
stops, smiles, sometimes sings:
“Sons, what are you doing?”
They stare back in silence.
“Climb the mountain, my sons,
and come before nightfall
with an armful of brushwood
and make me a good fire.”


3

The men pile the firewood
on the Alvargonzález hearth;
the older tries to light it
but the flame sputters out.
'Father, the fire won't take,
the wood is soaking wet.
His brother comes to help
and scatters chips and branches
on the old oaken trunk
but the embers die.
The youngest comes in.
Under the black chimney
in the kitchen, he starts a flame
lighting the whole house.


4

Then Alvargonzález lifts
his young son in his arms
and seats him on his knees:
'Your hands made the fire.
Though you were born last,
in my love you are first.
The elder sons slip out
through the corners of dream.
Between the two fugitives
glitters an iron hatchet.


That evening

1

Over the naked fields
the full moon looms
stained with purplish red,
an enormous globe.
The sons of Alvargonzález
are walking silently
and see their father asleep
next to the bright spring.


2

The father's face
is creased by a scowl between
his eyebrows: a dark gash
like the print of an axe.
He's dreaming of his sons,
that his sons have raised knives
and when he wakes he sees
what he dreamt is right.


3

Beside the bright spring
the father lies dead.
He has four stab wounds
between his chest and ribs
through which his blood pours,
a hatchet blow on his neck.
The bright running water
tells the crime of the fields
while the two murderers flee
into the beechwood.
They carry the body out
to Laguna Negra below
the Duero river. Behind them
they leave a bloody trail.
In the bottomless lake
that surrenders no secrets,
they tie a stone to his feet,
bequeathing him a grave.


4

The Alvargonzález blanket
is found next to the spring,
and on the way to the beeches
a rivulet of blood is seen.
No one from the village dares
to come near the pool,
and to dredge the lake is futile
since the lake cannot be dredged.
A pedlar who comes
wandering through these lands
is tried in Dauria. The prisoner
dies by the horrible garrote.


5

After a few months
the mother dies of sorrow.
Those who find her dead
say that her stiffened hands
on her face clawed her face
which lay hidden in them.


6

The sons of Alvargonzález
now own the fold and orchard,
the fields of wheat and rye
and meadows of fine grass,
the hives in the old elm
split by the lightning,
two ox teams for plowing,
a mastiff and a thousand sheep.


Other days

1
Brambles are blossoming
and cherry trees whiten
and the gold bees suck
pollen for their hives,
and in their nests crowning
the church towers glow
the storks' spindly pothooks.
The elms along the road
and the poplars on the banks
of deep rivers turn green,
looking for father Duero.
The firmament is blue,
the snowless mountains violet.
The land of Alvargonzález
overflows with richness.
He who worked it is dead
but earth doesn't cover him.


2

Handsome land of Spain,
parched, fine and warlike
Castile, of the long rivers,
with its fist of sierras
between Soria and Burgos,
with fortified ramparts
like huge helmets festooned
with Urbi'n, the final crest.


3

The sons of Alvargonzález
are riding dark mules together
along a steep path up
under the pines of Vinuesa
to reach the highway
from Salduero to Covaleda.
They're going to buy cattle
and drive them to their village
and through the pine forest
they begin the day journey.
They climb above the Duero,
leaving behind the bridge
with stone arches and the idle
opulent house of the migrants.
The river dreams deep
in the valley, and their beasts'
iron shoes batter the rocks.
On the other bank of the Duero
a mournful voice is singing:
“The land of Alvargonzález
overflows with riches,
and he who worked the land
cannot sleep below the earth.”


4

Coming upon a spot
where the pinewood thickens,
the brother leading the way
spurs his dark mule, screaming,
'Goddamit, get going!
We've got miles and miles
before the night traps us.
The two sons of the fields
made of gorges and bitterness
remember an afternoon,
and quake before mountain night.
In the densest part of the forest
again they hear the voices:
“The land of Alvargonzález
overflows with riches,
and he who worked the land
cannot sleep below the earth.”


5

The road beyond Salduero
follows a thread of water.
On both banks of the river
the pine trees grow and soar,
and great rocks loom blurry
while the low valley narrows.
Strong pines of the forest
with gigantic spreading tops
and tribes of naked roots
clinging onto boulders.
Some of their trunks are silver,
their needles turning blue:
the young ones. The old ones
covered with leprous toadstools,
moss and gray lichen
gnaw their heavy bark.
The valley gone below them
with nothing on either side,
Juan the elder, says, 'Brother,
if Blas Antonio's cattle
are grazing on Urbi'n, we have a long road to go.
'When we leave the mountain,
we can take a shortcut
by going by Laguna Negra
and cutting down to the port
from Santa Inés to Vinuesa.

'Bad lands and worse road.
I swear to you I don't want
to see them again! Let's do
our business in Covaleda,
stay the night, leave at daybreak
and ride back to the village
through the valley. Sometimes
the shortcut is the long way.

By the river the brothers ride,
pondering how the centenary
forest hugely expands
with every step they take,
how the mountain's rocky slope
closes down the horizon,
and the tumbling waters
seem to sing or recount:
“The land of Alvargonzález
overflows with riches,
and he who worked the land
cannot sleep below the earth.”


Punishment

1

Although greed has ready
a sheepfold for the sheep,
barns to store the wheat,
bags to hold the coins,
and claws, it has no hands
skilled in working the soil.
So a year of abundance
yields to a year of poverty.


2

In the seeded fields grow
blood-soaked poppies;
the spikes and shoots of wheat
and oats are rotting blight
The late frost kills
the fruit blossoms in the orchard,
and an evil curse falls
on sheep dying of disease.
God curses the two Alvagonzález
struggling in their lands,
and a year of poverty
precedes long years of misery.


3

It is a winter evening.
The snow falls in whirwinds.
The Alvargonzáles watch
a fire which is almost out.
Both their minds are roped
to the same recollection
and their eyes are locked,
staring at the dying ashes
in the ancient hearth. They have
neither firewood nor sleep.
Night is long, numbing cold.
A smoking candle flame
is blackening the wall.
Wind shakes the flame and blows
it into a reddish gleam
around the two brooding heads
of the murderers.
The elder Alvargonzález
emitting a hoarse sigh
breaks the silence. He exclaims,
'Brother, we were evil!
The wind batters the door,
shaking it on its hinges,
and echoing in the chimney
a long hollow groan.
Then a return of silence
and irregularly the wick
of the candle sputters
in the hard frozen air.
The younger says, 'Brother,
let's forget the old man!


The Traveler

1

It is a winter evening.
Wind lashes the branches
of the poplars, and snow
settles on the white earth.
Under the snowfall a man
is riding on the road;
he is hooded up to his eyes,
enveloped in a black cape.
Entering the village he looks
for the Alvargonzález house
and stops before the door,
without dismounting, and knocks.


2

The two brothers hear
a pounding on the door,
and some animal whose hoofs
are clapping the stones.
Both of them raise their eyes
bloated with terror and surprise.
'Who is it? Answer, they shout.
'Miguel. A sound from outside;
it is the voice of the traveler
who'd gone to distant lands.


3

The big gate opens and in
rides the gentleman on horseback.
He leaps down, touching earth.
He is all covered with snow.
Once in his brother's arms,
he weeps a while in silence.
Then gives his horse to one,
to the other his cape and hat,
and in the peasant mansion
he looks for comforting fire.


4

The youngest of the brothers,
a boy and adventurer
who went beyond the seas,
comes back a rich emigrant.
He is wearing a black suit
made of the finest velvet,
and circling his waist
a broad belt of leather.
A heavy watch chain of gold
is buckled across his chest.
He is a tall robust man
whose eyes are large and black
and filled with melancholy.
His complexion is brownish,
and over his forehead falls
a curling tangle of locks.
He's the son of a royal father
who was a plain working farmer
to whom good fortune came
with love, power and money.
Of the three Alvargonzáles
Miguel is the handsomest.
The eldest's face is spoiled
with a dominating frown
below a paltry forehead;
the second's disturbed eyes,
unable to focus straight
ahead, are ferocious and wild.


5

The three brothers contemplate
the sad home in quietude,
and as the night closes in
the cold and wind stiffen.
'Brothers, don't you have wood?
asks Miguel. 'We have nothing,
the elder replies.
A man
miraculously opens up
the bulky closed door
with its double bar of iron.
The man who comes inside
wears the dead father's face.
A halo of golden light
caresses his white locks.
He carries wood on his shoulder
and grasps an iron hatchet.


The returned emigrant

1

Of those cursed acres
Miguel buys a share
from his brothers. He brings
abundance from America,
and even in bad land, gold
shines better when not buried;
better in hands of the poor
than concealed in a clay jar.
He starts to work the earth
with faith and emigrant force
while the others look after
their portions of soil and cattle.
And now the fruitful summer
decorates Miguel's fields
with towering ears of wheat
pregnant with yellow grain,
and soon from village to village
the miracle is recounted,
and the murderers suffer
a curse invading their fields.
Soon the people sing verses
narrating the earlier crime:
“By the border of the spring
they killed him.
What an evil death they gave him,
the evil sons!”
In the bottomless pool,
they threw the dead father,
and he who worked the land
cannot sleep below the earth.


2

Miguel with two greyhounds
and armed with his shotgun,
goes toward the blue mountains
on a serene afternoon.
He is walking amid the green
poplars along the highway
and hears a voice singing:
“He has no grave in the earth.
Amid the valley pine trees
of Revinuesa
they carted their dead father
out to Laguna Negra.”


The house

1

The house of Alvargonzález
is an old humble mansion
with four narrow windows,
a hundred yards from the village
set between two elm trees,
two giant sentinels
who furnish shade in summer
and in autumn dry leaves.
It is a house of farmers,
people rich but peasants
where the smoking fireplace
with its seats made of stone
is easily seen from the outside,
the door open to the fields.
Set amid the embers
on the fireplace are bubbling
two stewpots of clay
for nourishing the two families.
On the right the yard
and the corral; on the left
the orchard and beehives.
In the back a worn staircase
leading up to the rooms
divided in sleeping quarters.
The Alvargonzáles live
in them with their women.
Neither of these couples
have brought sons into the world
and so the paternal house
bequeaths them ample space.
In one room with a view
on the light over the orchard,
a table with thick oak boards,
and two chairs of cowhide.
Hanging from the wall
a black abacus with great beads
and some old rusty spurs
lying on a wooden chest.
There is a forgotten room
where now Miguel is living.
It was there where his parents
saw the orchard in spring
buzzing with flowers, a sky
in blue May with a stork
(when roses spring open
and brambles turn white)
instructing its fledglings
to use their slow wings to fly.
And on a summer night
when heat won't permit sleep,
from the open window they hear
the invisible nightingale singing.
There Alvargonzález
with pride in his orchards
and love for his new family
had dreams of grandeur.
He saw the laughing figure
of his first son in the arms
of his mother, the face
radiant under yellow sun,
and then the boy's small greedy
hands reached for the red
mazzard berries and the cherries.
That autumn evening
was gold, placid and good,
and he thought it possible
to live happy on the earth.
Now the people sing verses
drifting from village to village,
“House of Alvargonzález,
bad days are waiting for you.
House of the murderers,
Let no one call at your door.”


2

It is an autumn afternoon.
In the golden poplar grove
there are no more nightingales;
the cicada is numb.
The last few swallows
who have not begun to migrate
will die, and the storks
from their nest of broom twigs
on bell towers and spires
have fled.
On the farmhouse roof
the wind has left a scattering
of elm leaves torn from the branches.
Yet three round acacias
in the courtyard of the church
still have green leafage.
The horse chestnuts, protected
in their husks, one by one
break loose, drop on the ground.
The rose tree again is dropping
seed, and the wide meadows
glitter in the season's rays.
On hillsides and hollows,
on banks and on clearings,
bits of new green and grass
that summer hasn't scorched
flap about. Barren summits
and bald knolls and bluffs
wear the crown of sinking
metallic globes of clouds.
On the floor of pine forests,
between withered brambles
and the yellowish bracken
small swollen streams race
to fatten the master river
swirling over rocks and ravines.
The plowed earth is colored
with lead and silver blue,
with stains of red iron rust
enveloped in violet light.
O fields of Alvargonzález
tracing the heart of Spain,
poor lands, sorrowful lands,
so sad they have a soul! Wasteland. The wolf crosses,
howling under the bright moon,
as it goes from wood to wood,
circled by scrubland and gnawed cliffs
where the vultures pick clean
remnants of shiny white bones.
The poor solitary fields
have no highway nor inns,
O poor doomed fields,
the poor fields of my country!


Earth

1

One morning in autumn
when the land is being plowed,
Juan and Miguel harness
the farm's two teams of oxen.
Martín stays in the orchard,
pulling out the bad weeds.


2

One morning in autumn
when the fields are being plowed,
Juan slowly moves ahead
with the yoked oxen up
and over a hill to the skyline
holding morning in its depths.
Thistles, burdocks and thorns,
wild oats and darnel
spread through the cursed land,
resisting hoe and sickle.
The curved oak plow,
drowned in weeds, struggles deep
against the soil in vain. It seems
as soon as it splits the tangle
to dig a furrow ahead, the sod
closes up again behind.
“When a murderer plows,
his labor will be heavy.
Before each furrow in the land
he'll cut a wrinkle on his face.”


3

Martín is in the orchard,
digging. He stops and leans
on his hoe a moment,
paralyzed as cold sweat
drowns his face.
In the east
the full moon stained
with a purple haze
glows behind the garden
fence.
Martín's blood freezes
in horror. The hoe
that sank into the earth
is dyed with blood.


4 In the land where he was born
the emigrant knows how to prosper.
He weds a young woman
who is rich and beautiful.
The Alvargonzález hacienda
belongs to him. His brothers
sold it all: farmhouse,
orchard, beehives and fields.


The murderers

1

Juan and Martín, the elder
Alvargonzález brothers
go on a grim journey
at dawn to the upper Duero.
The morning star
is burning in high blue.
The white and dense mist
of the valleys and ravines
is gradually dyed pink,
and some leaden clouds
by Urbi'n where the Duero starts
place a turban on the peak.
They come near the spring.
The water is racing bright,
sounding as if it were telling
an old story, a tale told
a thousand times, and told
a thousand times again:
“I know the crime. A crime
beside the water? A life.”
As the two brothers near,
the pristine water relates:
“At the edge of the spring
Alvargonzález was sleeping.”


2

'Last night, when I got back
to the house, Juan tells
his brother, ' under the moon
I saw a miracle in the orchard.
Far off, among the rose trees
I made out a man leaning
toward the earth. His silver hoe
was glistening in his hand.
Then he stood up and turned
his face, took a few steps
in the garden, not looking
at me, and soon I saw him
hunched over the earth again.
His hair was all white.
A miracle in the orchard.


3 They walk down from the pass
of Santa Inés, the afternoon
half gone, a filthy evening
in November, cold and dull.
Toward Laguna Negra
they are walking in silence.


4

When dusk comes on
through the venerable beeches
and centenary pines,
the red sun filters away.
There is a patch of woods
and jutting cliffsides:
Here are yawning mouths
or monsters with iron claws;
here, a shapeless hunchback,
there, a grotesque belly.
Steel snouts of wild beasts
and cracked false teeth,
rocks and rocks, trunks
and trunks, branches and branches.
In the depth of the canyon
night, terror and water.


5

A wolf emerges, its eyes
shining like two hot embers.
It is night, a rainy,
dark and enveloping night.
The two brothers want
to go back. The forest howls.
A hundred wild beasts in
the forest burn at their backs


6

The two murderers
reach Laguna Negra,
transparent and still water,
an enormous wall of stone
where the vultures nest
and echo sleeps and circles;
bright water where the eagles
of the sierra drink,
where the wild mountain boar,
stag and doe drink together.
Pure and silent water
copies eternal things.
The indifferent water holds
the stars in its heart.
“Father,” they scream. Down
to the bottom of the serene pool
they fall. The echo father!
booms from boulder to boulder.