The OF Blog: A short appreciation of an Antonio Machado poem

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A short appreciation of an Antonio Machado poem

Ever find yourself thinking or dreaming of walking along the shoreline, even when you live several miles from even a minor river?  Do you ever stop to dwell upon the lapping of the waves and the pathless water?  How do paths come into existence?  Why do we beat them down, trod repeatedly over them, and often are reluctant to diverge from a chosen path?  Of what symbolic importance is the path?

These are some of the questions I always ponder whenever I read Spanish poet Antonio Machado's "Caminante no hay camino," written about a century ago:

Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino y nada más;
Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace el camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante no hay camino
sino estelas en la mar.

Traveler, your steps are the road and nothing more.  You are defined, perhaps, by the road you are on.  It does not matter whether or not you choose to be on this road, for you are on it and you are traveling on.  Traveler,  you must know, however, that there really is no road ahead of you, but instead possibilities that you must beat down in order to walk it.  If you turn your head just a little bit, glancing back, you might just see that path you followed you shall not follow again, for it has passed.  There is no road, traveler, but rather the wakes on the sea, twisting, moving, ephemeral always.

What use is it to look back on those choices made, those steps made to trod a certain path?  That is the lingering question whenever I stop to think of how to advise a student how to avoid relapse, for isn't relapse just a retrodding of a difficult and painful path?  Machado's poem seems to me to have multiple levels, going beyond a reflection of a life's journey and the possibilities inherent in the pathless (represented by the ocean).  It is mutable, protean even, in its applications.  Whenever I am sad and think of this poem, it gives me strength to see that the road beaten down does not have its future shaped.  If I am in a peaceful state of mind, it reminds me that there are peaks and valleys and that the unknown is not always a frightful place.  If I question life, the answer is whispered in code and I have something to puzzle out while I trod down new roads that I make to house my current wandering.  But what always sticks out is that even in the pathless wakes, there is still the possibility of journey and that can entail discovery, which excites me.

These thoughts, mutable as they can be, make me appreciative of poets such as Machado.  Hopefully, there is something in this appreciation that might appeal to you, traveler.


Hélène said...

I work with teens and my job's vocational guidance. This poem is a great help for me when we strive to understand how they can make their path in life : no hay camino... se hace el camino al andar. No path in front, just behind, when one looks back.
This poem plays like a Buddhist koan - a treasure.

Myriam B. Mahiques said...

Nice, interesting blog :)

Lsrry said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Hélène. Didn't think of it as a koan, but now that you put it that way, it does certainly make sense.

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