Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Poem of the Day

Once upon a time in Washington, DC, there was a wonderful bar where a tile plaque and I hung. By about the fourth brandy I would grow pensive and puzzle over that plaque. Caminante, no hay camino....

The problem—and this was completely aside from the brandies—was that my Spanish was little more than a grunt. I was pretty sure I understood that first phrase, but the second would lead me into the sort of tantalizing speculation that's so available to the ignorant but so elusive of the well-informed.... Se hace camino al andar.

The poem has been on my mind lately, as I’m sure it’s been on everyone’s, so I’ve decided to translate it, hoping thereby to conserve some of the hours consumed by those who otherwise might sit in cantinas and stare at poems in a language they do not understand.

In fact the poem of the plaque is part of a poem within a poem by Antonio Machado—#29 from his “Proverbios y cantares.” We’ll consider only that inner poem, since the larger work will not easily fit on a bar room wall.

Wayfarer, the way
is nothing more than your footprints;
Wayfarer, there is no way,
you make the way as you go.
Going you make the way,
and behind as you turn
you see the path
you’ll never tread again.
Wayfarer, there is no way—
only wakes in the sea.

Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino y nada más;
Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace 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.

There is a small but interesting reference to this poem in the Wikipedia entry for constructivist epistemology.


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