Wednesday, December 27, 2023

#361 / Se Hace Camino Al Andar

A student in a couple of the past classes I have taught at UCSC - the University of California, Santa Cruz - made an appointment to come in to see me in my office hours. He is not in any current class I am teaching, but he is getting ready to graduate, and he remembered the classes he took with me as "consequential." That is the word he used in the email he sent me, seeking to set up an appointment. He thought it might be good to check in with me, to see if I had any helpful advice or counsel as he exited the somewhat insulated purlieus of the university and embarked into "real life." 

In terms of advice, I would want to remind my former student of a poem to which he had been exposed on at least two occasions. This student had taken two of my classes, and I always make sure that all my students hear this poem, set to music, on the last day of any class they take with me. This is a poem to which I was exposed when I was a student myself (taking courses in Spanish at Cabrillo, our local community college). One of the professors who taught me presented me with a gift, a book that I still have today, Poesías Completas de Antonio Machado.

Machado, for those not familiar with him, is generally acknowledged to have been one of the greatest poets who wrote in Spanish. Wikipedia says this about Machado:

A Spanish poet and one of the leading figures of the Spanish literary movement known as the Generation of '98, his work, initially modernist, evolved towards an intimate form of symbolism with romantic traits. He gradually developed a style characterised by both an engagement with humanity on one side and an almost Taoist contemplation of existence on the other, a synthesis that according to Machado echoed the most ancient popular wisdom. In Gerardo Diego's words, Machado "spoke in verse and lived in poetry.

I have written about Machado before - way back in 2010, in one of my very earliest blog postings. I make sure the students I teach get exposed to Machado, as I was when I was a student, and I give them an opportunity to hear Machado's poetry put to music. If you want to hear the music, click right here; or, you can click on the title link, below. That's what I recommend. Below the title link, I am providing both the original Spanish and my own translation, into English, of my favorite poem by Antonio Machado

Having had quite a bit of life experience, and having done some serious thinking about the subject, I concur with what Machado says in the poem I am quoting below. Trying to "plan" one's life, as though our lives were "student projects" (to keep up with the educational metaphor), is not really the right way to approach the lives with which we have been entrusted. We take one step at a time, and if we pay attention to each step we take, and do what seems right - if we respond as best we can to each situation in which we find ourselves - we will end up realizing that we have had a "wonderful life," a "consequential" life. This is advice that I repeat to myself, quite frequently. It is a lesson ever more poignant and important, the older we become.

We make our lives by walking. One step at a time. I do think the poem is at its best when set to music, so consider clicking the link below, and read along as you hear Joan Manuel Serrat* sing out the poetry of Antonio Machado: 

Cantares de Antonio Machado
Songs by Antonio Machado

Todo pasa y todo queda,
pero lo nuestro es pasar,
pasar haciendo caminos,
caminos sobre la mar.

Everything passes and everything remains, 
But our own fate is to pass on.
We pass on as we make pathways, 
Pathways over the sea.
Nunca persequí la gloria,
ni dejar en la memoria
de los hombres mi canción;
yo amo los mundos sutiles,
ingrávidos y gentiles,
como pompas de jabón.

I have never pursued glory,
Or tried to make sure that
Others remember my song; 
I love those fragile worlds,
Weightless and delicate,
Like soap bubbles in the air. 
Me gusta verlos pintarse
de sol y grana, volar
bajo el cielo azul, temblar
súbitamente y quebrarse...

I like to watch them paint themselves in the sky,
Deep red, in the sunshine, as they fly,
To see them tremble, under the blue sky
Suddenly to break apart, and disappear...
Nunca perseguí la gloria.

I never have pursued glory.
Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.

Traveler, your footsteps
Are the path – and nothing else;
Traveler, there isn’t any path;
You make the path as you walk.
Al andar se hace camino
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.

You make the path as you walk, 
And when you look back 
You will see the pathway that 
You will never be able to travel again.
Caminante no hay camino
sino estelas en la mar...

Traveler, there isn’t any path, 
Just the traces of your footsteps on the sea.
Hace algún tiempo en ese lugar
donde hoy los bosques se visten de espinos
se oyó la voz de un poeta gritar
"Caminante no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar..."

A long time ago in a place,
Where today the woods are filled with hawthorn trees,
A poet was heard to cry,
“Traveler, there isn’t any path;
You make the path as you walk.”
Golpe a golpe, verso a verso...

Blow after blow, verse after verse…
Murió el poeta lejos del hogar.
Le cubre el polvo de un país vecino.
Al alejarse le vieron llorar.
"Caminante no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar..."

The poet died, so far from home, 
And was covered in the dust of a neighboring land.
As he moved on, people could hear him as he cried. 
“Traveler, there isn’t any path;
You make the path as you walk.”
Golpe a golpe, verso a verso...
Blow after blow, verse after verse...
Cuando el jilguero no puede cantar
Cuando el poeta es un peregrino,
Cuando de nada nos sirve rezar.
"Caminante no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar..."

When the goldfinch no longer can sing. 
When the poet has to travel as a pilgrim.
When there isn’t any use in praying anymore.
“Traveler, there isn’t any path;
You make the path as you walk.”
Golpe a golpe, verso a verso.
Golpe a golpe, verso a verso.
Golpe a golpe, verso a verso. 


Image Credit:

*Today, as it happens, is Serrat's birthday. I am exactly one day older!

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