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From the ephemeral past

This man from the local social club
who once saw the bullfighter Carancha,
has a glum face, grey hair,
eyes veiled by melancholy;
under his grey moustache, weary lips,
and a sad expression, which is not sadness,
but something like it: the emptiness
of the world in the hollow of his head.

He still cuts a dash in a maroon velvet
jacket and buttoned breeches
and a Cordoba hat of caramel colour,
looking refined and smart.
Three times he inherited money; three times
lost the lot; twice widowed.

He only brightens up at an illegal gamble,
lounging at the green baize,
or when evoking the feats of a bullfighter,
the luck of a thief, or when someone
recounts the derring-do of a brave outlaw,
or the blood-soaked acts of a thug.

He yawns about politics, uselessly
taunts the reactionary government,
and predicts the liberals will come to power,
just as the stork returns to the bell-tower.

Something of a farmer, he eyes the heavens
and fears them; and at times he sighs,
thinking about his olive grove, and looks up,
with an anxious eye if the rain is late.

The rest of the time, he is taciturn, hypochondriac,
prisoner in the paradise of the present,
bored; with only cigarette smoke
casting false shadows on his brow.

This man is neither of yesterday nor tomorrow,
but of never; coming from Spanish stock
he is not the ripe fruit nor the rotten fruit,
he is the worthless fruit
of a Spain that's gone and hasn’t been,
and is now grey haired.

English translation by Paul Archer of the poem Del pasado efímero by Antonio Machado.

Del pasado efímero by Antonio Machado.

Este hombre del casino provinciano
que vio a Carancha recibir un día,
tiene mustia la tez, el pelo cano,
ojos velados por melancolía;
bajo el bigote gris, labios de hastío,
y una triste expresión, que no es tristeza,
sino algo más y menos: el vacío
del mundo en la oquedad de su cabeza.

Aún luce de corinto terciopelo
chaqueta y pantalón abotinado,
y un cordobés color de caramelo,
pulido y torneado.
Tres veces heredó; tres ha perdido
al monte su caudal; dos ha enviudado.

Sólo se anima ante el azar prohibido,
sobre el verde tapete reclinado,
o al evocar la tarde de un torero,
la suerte de un tahúr, o si alguien cuenta
la hazaña de un gallardo bandolero,
o la proeza de un matón, sangrienta.

Bosteza de política banales
dicterios al gobierno reaccionario,
y augura que vendrán los liberales,
cual torna la cigüeña al campanario.

Un poco labrador, del cielo aguarda
y al cielo teme; alguna vez suspira,
pensando en su olivar, y al cielo mira
con ojo inquieto, si la lluvia tarda.

Lo demás, taciturno, hipocondriaco,
prisionero en la Arcadia del presente,
le aburre; sólo el humo del tabaco
simula algunas sombras en su frente.

Este hombre no es de ayer ni es de mañana,
sino de nunca; de la cepa hispana
no es el fruto maduro ni podrido,
es una fruta vana
de aquella España que pasó y no ha sido,
esa que hoy tiene la cabeza cana.

For more translations of poems by Antonio Machado, go to Translations.

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