One of the most emblematic figures of the turn of the XX century, Antonio Machado was a Spanish poet born in Seville in 1875, whose work situated within the higher echelons of creative writing at a time when developments away from Spain very much conditioned the lifestyle and, even, the mood prevalent in the country. Born into an intellectual family with ample means, Antonio was one of five siblings, and while he remains to this day the most famous of the Machado poets, his brother, Manuel, was a similarly accomplished writer.
The Andaluz heeritage of the Machado family will play an instrumental role in the development of both Antonio and Manuel's careers. Nevertheless, equally important, if easily overlooked, was their family's decision to move to Madrid when both of them were mere infants. Consequently, the Machados grew up in the cosmopolitan environment of the capital of the kingdom, where they were able to rub shoulders from a very early age with central figures in the Spanish intellectual establishment, such as Ramón del Valle-Inclán, Pío Baroja and Juan Ramón Jiménez.
Equally edifying, and the final great influence in the erection of Antonio Machado's emotional and conceptual interpretation of the world, was his connection to Paris, the great capital of artistic creation in the west at the time. Between 1899 and 1903, Machado spent large portions of time in Paris, working as a translator for the publishing house, Garnier, and acquainting himself with the latest lines of thought in western civilization, for instance, attending lectures by French philosopher Henri Bergson, or coming across the boldest Modernist trends through the influence of Rubén Darío.
Generación del '98
The end of the XIX century spelled a pivotal point in the history of the Spanish Empire, practically signaling its extinction after a long crisis that reached far deeper than merely the extension of its territorial boundaries. Mired in a drawn out civil war that took the shape of several conflicts, Spain reached the end of the XIX century in a state of near despondency. Politically, the country had lived decades of chaos, following the Glorious Revolution of 1868, which ousted Queen Isabella II.
Economically, the nation has suffered tremendously, as a result of the constant armed confrontations between liberals and conservatives, Carlists and republicans. Moreover, the effects of the political and economic crisis could be felt vividly in the social structures that regulated the interaction of the population. These precarious circumstances contrasted heavily with the officialist vision of the situation, which clung obstinately to a grandiose discourse of wide geopolitical influence and importance that finally came crashing down with the categorical defeat in the Cuban War of Independence, which escalated into the Spanish-American War of 1898 and which constituted the twilight of the Spanish Empire.
In the face of the contradictions presented by the reality lived in the Spanish mainland at the time, the intellectual elite of the country sought new means to assert the true essence, as it were, of the Spanish condition, distanced from the mirage of greatness that still pervaded the dominant discourse. Thus, continental influences were called upon to shape the new enunciation of Spanish intellectualism – influences that drew on Rubén Darío's symbolism as they embraced the subjectivity of Bergson's conception of time, combined with the transcendental pessimism of Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard.
The People's Poet
Machado's first collection of poems was released within the complex atmosphere described above in 1903, bearing the name of Soledades. Deeply personal and lyrical, his work would continuously seek the popular roots of Spanish tradition, digging progressively more and more into the lore of Andalucían Spain and detaching his creation from the vanity of life in the capital.
Other publications followed in 1907 (Soledades. Galerías. Otros Poemas) and 1912 (Campos de Castilla), with additional sets of poems contributing to the construction of a comprehensive compendium, which was seen by many Spanish intellectuals as the ultimate achievement of a life dedicated to literature (Luis Cernuda and Juan Ramón Jiménez are but two examples of authors who sought to integrate all their poetry in a single volume, for instance).
Antonio Machado was in Madrid in 1936, when a new Civil War broke out in spain. This one would last three years, before establishing the fascist regime of Francisco Franco. Machado died of ill health in the final days of the war, tired and defeated by a long journey into the relative safety offered by France. Although not a direct casualty of the war, like García Lorca, for instance, Machado has been heralded since his death as one of the most high profile victims of the war.
Antonio's Memorable work
- Soledades. Galerías. Otros poemas
- Campos de Castilla
- Poesías completas
- Nuevas canciones
- Juan de Mairena