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Home»Microsites»Antonio Machado in Segovia

Antonio Machado: Life and Work

Seville 1875 / Collioure 1939

Antonio Machado was born on 26th July, 1875 in Seville, to an illustrious and progressive family, a home with liberal attitudes to society and human dignity. Two important figures would mark the evolution of the poet. His father, Antonio Machado Álvarez, or Demófilo, known primarily as the first researcher into the world of flamenco, and his paternal grandfather, Antonio Machado Núñez, Professor of Zoology in several Spanish cities, among them the Universidad Central de Madrid, who, following "La Gloriosa" [The Glorious Revolution] would become governor and mayor of Seville.

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         Antonio and Manuel Machdo

Antonio Machado was the second of five brothers. Shy and reserved, his principal source of encouragement from a young age was his brother, Manuel. They lived and worked together at various times during their lives and together would see their respective debut works appear, "Alma and Soledades" [Soul and Solitudes]. Manuel, handsome and extrovert, was a guiding light for Machado. After eight years in Seville, the young Antonio and all of his family moved to Madrid in 1883. The Machado brothers studied at the "Institución Libre de Enseñanza", directed by the liberal and family friend Francisco Giner de los Ríos.

Antonio Machado, who in May 1889, had begun his baccalaureate studies at the Instituto San Isidro de Madrid and in 1890 had moved on to the Instituto Cardenal Cisneros, had to halt his studies a number of times due to the financial difficulties of the family. It was at this time that he discovered his passion for literature and theatre, attending with his brother Manuel all manner of events, where he met, among others, Valle Inclán, for whom he professed great admiration and friendship. He published, under a pen name, several pieces in the satirical weekly "La Caricatura".

Machado first visited Soria in May, 1907. He did so to undertake the professrship he had obtained and, during the three-day visit he wrote the poem "Orillas del Duero" [Shores of the Duero]. The landscape of Soria would provide a constant source of inspiration for the poet. When he arrived in Soria, Machado was a well-known poet in literary circles. Also, at the end of that year, in 1907, his second book, "Soledades, galerías y otros poemas" [Solitudes, Galleries and Other Poems] was published, an extended version of Soledades with a total of 93 compositions.

While in Soria, he met Leonor Izquierdo, whom he married in 1909. In 1912 he published his third book of poetry "Campos de Castilla" [Fields of Castile]. This work, which was an immediate success, is today, for many people, his finest work, drinking in the landscapes and scenes featuring the ordinary people of Soria, who touched the sensitive soul of the poet from the outset. The Duero River, with its poplar-lined banks; the Main Square, where the bells of the Audiencia clock chime; the old elm trees and the snow-capped hills are all immortalised in Campos de Castilla. In 1911, Machado applied to the "Ministerio de Instrucción Pública" [Ministry of Public Education] for a grant to study in France. They returned to Soria when Leonor became ill, having contracted tuberculosis in Paris. Leonor died in 1912. The insufferable memory of Soria without his wife led Machado to leave the city in the same year. He stayed in Madrid temporarily while organising his transfer to another school.

In October, he was named Professor at the Instituto de Baeza. During the following seven years, the poet dealt with his despair by throwing himself into his work and study. Machado travelled frequently to Madrid, where he kept abreast with Spanish intellectualism and witnessed the rapid transformations which were undergoing society at the beginning of the century, with the participation of new social sectors in public life, industrialisation, the boom of work migration and of social conflict... Machado was not alien to all of this and contributed to the most distinguished newspapers and magazines of the time together with a new generation of writers known as the Generation of 1914 , with names such as Ortega y Gasset, Manuel Azaña or Fernando de los Ríos.

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In Baeza, Machado met Federico García Lorca, who had gone there on a study trip with a group of students from the Universidad de Granada. The ensuing friendship would result in another great elegiac by Machado, "El crimen fue en Granada" [The Crime was in Granada], following the execution of Lorca in 1936.

In 1915, Machado returned to the study of Philosophy and Letters which he had abandoned 2 years previously. He sat his exams at the Universidad de Madrid, achieving his degree in 1918. He went on to complete his Doctorate in Philosophy, achieving a Distinction in Metaphysics with Ortega y Gasset as the examiner. Between June and July of 1917, an anthology of his poetic works was published, "Páginas Escogidas" [Selected Pages], and the first edition of his complete poems. In 1919, when about to leave Baeza, the second edition of "Soledades, galerías y otros poemas" was published.

In October, 1919 he obtained a transfer to the Instituto de Segovia, beginning on 25 Novemeber, as Professor of French at the "Instituto General y Técnico" in the city. He would teach at this centre until 1931, carrying out the role of vice principal for several years. Since his arrival, Machado resided in a humble dwelling, like the ones he had occupied in Soria and Baeza and typical of the times. It was a modest pension, run by proprietor, Luisa Torrego, and for which he paid 5 pesetas per day. He remained there until he moved to Madrid.

In Segovia, Machado found a cultural atmosphere more in line with his tastes and soon became a part of the most dynamic, intellectual local sector. He was associated with men of letters with whom he founded the "Universidad Popular Segoviana" [People´s University of Segovia], a pioneering educational experience in Spain, brought about by a number of teachers at the Instituto and the Escuela Normal several days before the poet arrived in the city. Machado embraced this initiative with enthusiasm offering free evening classes to the working class, as he had already done in Soria. He taught French and literature and led animated discussion forums. The aim of the People´s University was to extend culture to those sectors of society traditionally distanced from it.

In 1920, Machado began contributing to the newspaper "El Sol", to the magazine "La Pluma", founded by Manuel Azaña, and to "El Imparcial". These were years of intense press activity, as author of articles with a clear pedagogical focus. His dedication culminated in the years of the Republic, with the publication of Juan de Mairena and, later during the war.

From Segovia, Machado travelled weekly to Madrid, where he closely followed cultural and political events. These were years of great tension in Spain, with many incidents, such as the assassination of Eduardo Dato or the Annual Disaster (a Spanish military defeat), preluding the crisis which would lead to the Primo de Rivera dictatorship.

Machado was not unaware of the complicated situation facing the country. On the contrary, he became involved, along with other intellectuals, in a great number of events and initiatives to defend the rights and freedoms which were being violated or sacrificed in favour of order. Therefore, on 4 March, 1922, he signed the manifesto of the "Liga española para la Defensa de los Derechos del Hombre" [Spanish League for the Defence of Human Rights]. Machado became the president of the Segovian branch of the league and Unamuno, of the national division.

During these years, Machado stopped writing poetry little by little in order to dedicate his time to his many press collaborations, the theatre, literary criticism and essay writing. In 1923, he published "Proverbios y cantares"; [Proverbs and Songs] in the third edition of Revista de Occidente, founded by Ortega y Gasset and one of the most significant cultural publications in Europe. From this point onwards, he continued to contribute to this magazine together with La Pluma, España, Segovia and Alfar, a magazine from La Coruña whose editors paid homage to Machado on 7 March, 1924. A number of theatre adaptations by the Machado brothers of works by Tirso de Molina or Lope de Vega were premiered at this time. In April of the same year, "Nuevas Canciones" [New Songs] was published, the last book of poetry by Antonio Machado, which was progressively extended. It is a collection of poems written in Baeza and Segovia until the date.

In 1925, the second edition of "Páginas Escogidas" [Selected Pages] was published and, in February of the following year, the first theatre play by Antonio and Manuel Machado, "Desdichas de la fortuna o Julianillo Valcárcel" [The Misfortunes of Fortune or Julianillo Valcárcel], was premiered receiving public and critical acclaim. In the following years, Antonio and Manuel Machado, would use the former's time in Madrid to write and premiere a further five plays. "Juan de Mairena" (1927), "Las adelfas" [The Oleanders] (1928), "La Lola se va a los Puertos" [Lola goes off to Sea] (1929), which became their greatest theatrical success, "La prima Fernanda" [Cousin Fernanda] (1931) and "La duquesa de Benamejí" [The Dutchess of Benamejí] (1932).

At this time the publication of the "Cancionero apócrifo de Abel Martín" [Apocryphal Songbooks by Abel Martín] began in the magazine "Revista de Occidente". In Machado's own words, Abel Martín and his disciple Juan de Mairena are two poets from the 19th Century who didn't exist, but should have existed, and would have existed if Spanish lyrical poetry had had its day". The work Abel Martín had a long gestation period, around ten years, beginning at this time.

On 23rd March, 1927, having been in Segovia for eight years, Antonio Machado was elected a member of the "Real Academia Española" [Royal Academy of Spain]. He did not fill the seat with the letter V which had been allocated to him. In 1931, he drafted an entrance speech which remained as such, a draft.

On 24th November, 1936 the evacuation of intellectuals to Valencia began, arranged by the Republican government. Machado left Madrid with his mother and his brothers José, Francisco and Joaquín along with their families.

He continued with his fervent press activity. During the war, he wrote in numerous publications such as "La Voz de España", "Ahora", "Ayuda", "Liberación", "Nueva Cultura" or "Frente Rojo". He also published "La Guerra" [The War], which would be his final book.

On a personal level, Antonio Machado was experiencing a second youth at this time. In June, 1928, Machado met Pilar Valderrama, a high-class poetess from Madrid. It took place in the lobby of the old Hotel Comercio. The following day, they dined together and took a stroll to the gardens of the Alcázar. This encounter resuscitated Machado's heart, who, having lived with intensity the love and then pain at the tragic loss of his beloved Leonor, found in the poetess, at 54 years of age, a tonic for his heart. As he was mature man, such love was only a platonic one, since the Guiomar of his final poems was a married woman. Neverthless, the relationship they maintained until the outbreak of war in 1936 helped Machado to relive a forgotten sentiment.

In 1928, the second edition of "Poesías Completas" [Complete Poetry] was published. In September, 1929, "Canciones a Guiomar"  [«Songs to Giomar»] was published in the magazine "Revista de Occidente".

Machado continued to actively participate in the tumultuous politics of the country. On 24th February, 1931, a week after legislative elections were announced, he presided over a meeting of the Republican campaign attended by Ortega y Gasset, Gregorio Marañón and Ramón Pérez de Ayala in the Juan Bravo Theatre, in the Main Square of Segovia. Exactly two months later, on 24th April, the Republic was proclaimed and Machado himself raised the flag on the balcony of the Town Hall.

In September, 1932, Machado earned the position of Professor of French in the Instituto Calderón de la Barca in Madrid. The poet left Segovia in October.

Machado was 57 years old at the time he found himself in Madrid, the epicentre of the political earthquake which in just a few years' time would devastate the country.

In 1933, the third edition of Complete Poetry was published, including The Apocryphal Booksongs by Abel Martín and Juan de Mairena, the imaginary poets created by Machado. Federico García Lorca at this time founded the university Theatre Company "La Barraca" which, under his direction, would stage "La tierra de Alvargonzález" [The Land of Alvargonzález] .

In June, 1935, Machado joined the International Association of Writers in Defence of Culture, later the International Alliance of Anti-fascist Writers, which created great repercussions. Antonio and Manuel Machado finished the drama play "El hombre que murió en la guerra" [The Man who died in the War] -it premiered in Madrid in 1941, without the presence of Antonio-.

In April, 1936, the fourth edition of Complete Poetry was published. In July, the Civil War broke out following the coup of the 18th. Machado joined the side in defence of the Republic. In March, 1938, in the face of advancing national troops, Machado and a group of intellectuals moved to Barcelona. On 22 January, 1939, exactly one month before his death and six days before the fall of Barcelona, Machado and his family left the city towards the French border. They arrived on the 27th, after a punishing trek. Along with them, a great many others were gathering to cross over to France. Machado was 64 and his mother, also in the group, 88. On 29th January, Machado, his mother and his brother arrived in the small fishing village of Collioure and took up residence in the Bougnol-Quintana Hotel. On 18th February, Machado's state of health seriously worsened. Four days later, on 22nd February, he died in his hotel room. His mother only survived him by three days. Both are buried in the cemetery of this small village which inspired the last lines of the poet: "Estos días azules y este sol de la infancia" [«These blue days and this sun of childhood»].

 

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