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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Machado (iii)

In Machado's classic self-portrait, he has some things about how he is financially self-sufficient:

... A mi trabajo acudo, con mi dinero pago 
el traje que me cubre y la mansión que habito
el pan que me alimenta y el lecho en donde yago

Here's the interesting thing.  He switches up to a more literary register in the parts I've italicized here.  So "I go to my job, with my money I pay for / the suit that covers me and the mansion in which I reside / the bread that feeds me and the fancy bed where I fancily lie."  He could have said "la cama donde duermo."  Yacer is a rarer verb, usually used for the dead (hic jacet in Latin). Yago is a an alternative conjugation instead of "yazco," but the verb is not frequent in the 1st person singular, since it is used of the dead. Here it is used to rhyme with pago.  

9 out 10 translators would not even notice this shift in register. Since Machado is supposedly a down-to-earth, simply poet, this simply does not register.  Another example in the same poem: he wants to be remembered not for his craftsmanship as a poet, but for his exploits as a soldier: he will leave his sword valued for the masculine hand that wielded it, not for the "docto oficio del forjador."  But in order to make this point, he does this:  

.... Dejar quisiera 
mi verso, como deja el capitán su espada: 
famosa por la mano viril que la blandiera, 
no por el docto oficio del forjador preciada. 

In other words, a virtuosic display of verse construction! The word order is unnatural, but it ends up fitting perfectly, the lexicon is at a high register, once again.  

This is the poem that made Machado's modesty a commonplace. But a poem that shouts out "look what a modest guy I am" has to have a lot of irony to it.  You'd be surprised how hard it is to get students to see this.   

I'm not saying Machado never used a less literary register: he does at time in this very poem, but overall critics are mistaken in taking his claims about his own language at face value rather than looking at the words on the page.  He railed against the baroque and put distance between himself and Darío, but there is a lot of Darío in him, and not only in the poems where he pays homage to the Nicaraguan poet.    

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