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  • Antonio Machado’s Fountains: Archeology of an Image
  • Elizabeth Scarlett

Readers of Antonio Machado’s poetry have often selected the road as his most central image, a metaphor for life as a journey with no fixed destination (Zardoya 340). A close second, it has been suggested, is running water in a variety of forms (Ribbans 26). Water in motion conveys well Machado’s conception of poetry as “la palabra esencial en el tiempo.” The river and the ocean, representing the course of an individual life and the collective destiny of death, are permanent metaphors in Hispanic poetry thanks to Manrique, a debt that Machado acknowledges openly. The multiple meanings of fuente have a similarly rich history in Spanish poetry, especially in the divine wellsprings of mysticism: Juan de la Cruz’s “fonte que mana y corre, aunque es de noche” and Teresa de Jesús’s inner fountains build upon a Biblical tradition of the fountain as source of life and goodness, and hence, of divinity. Symbolist and modernista fountains are an intervening influence to which Machado also responds: they tend to pour out nostalgia musically against a motionless or silent background. Having absorbed these images, Machado develops his own set of associations for the fountain. I hope to clarify how this image contributes to the meaning of poems in which it appears, and to draw attention to a particular motivation that makes Machado’s fountains uniquely conspicuous in his early poetry. This is his employment of the fountain as articulate water that offers a feminine counterdiscourse in opposition to the poet’s masculine discourse of solitude.

Criticism of Machado has noted the capacity for speech enjoyed by the fountain in Soledades (1899–1907). As Zubiría asserts, “Ciertamente, [End Page 305] las fuentes de Machado son manaderos de melancolía, y lo que cantan es la tristeza de los amores perdidos, o el dolor de la existencia” (38). Alonso has suggested that the fountain embodies femininity in the fluidity of its water and masculinity in the stone construction that holds the water in place (147). Both Zubiría and Lapesa view the fountain represented in Machado’s early poetry as the most vital and significant one. 1 While fountains also appear in Campos de Castilla (1907–17), Nuevas canciones (1917–30), and the Cancionero apócrifo (1924–36), it is with decreasing frequency and prominence. The fountain is mentioned in twenty-two of the ninety-five poems contained in the expanded edition of Soledades. In contrast, the 152 poetic texts that compose Campos de Castilla include only three mentions, and only five of the 217 poems or poetic fragments of Nuevas canciones are graced with fountains.

The difference is more than one of quantity. The fountains of post-Soledades volumes are usually more conventional; they are not gifted with the eloquence of earlier examples. They often blend in with the rest of the landscape. In a few instances they are distant echoes of the vocal fountains from before, but their clarity has diminished with repetition. This study will focus above all on the more significant fountains in Machado’s first complete volume of poetry. Further examination of fountain imagery in Soledades shows that it substitutes for a suppressed part of the poetic self; the philosophical Other of the Noventayochistas aligns itself through the fountain with the otherness of repressed memories, silenced voices, and half-forgotten scenes and sentiments. In the network of associations that grows from one poem to the next, a feminine Other comes to speak through the dripping, laughing, or bubbling fountain. The poet assigns the gender that he is not (female) to the voice that reminds him of what he does not possess: love, or the past. This lost element varies from poem to poem. The use of gender is in keeping with the dichotomies of male/female, subject/object, civilization/nature, mind/body, day/night, and life/death that Beauvoir discerned at the foundation of patriarchal culture. The first term in each is the more familiar, comfortable, identifiable, rational, or controllable one from the [End Page 306] point of view of patriarchy, or culture that takes the male subject as its center. The feminine that...

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