Book Club



Border Of A Dream


Antonio Machado (1875-1939) was a member of Spain's famous "Generation of '98," and one of the great poets of the twentieth century. His suffered a number of tragedies in his short life. In 1911, only two years after marrying Leonor Izquierdo, she died of tuberculosis. Between 1919 and 1931 Machado was Professor of French at the Instituto de Segovia, in Segovia. When Francisco Franco launched his coup d'état in July 1936, launching the Spanish Civil War, Machado was in Madrid and was separated forever from his brother, Manuel (also a poet), who was trapped in the Nationalist (Francoist) zone. In 1939, as Franco closed in on the last Republican strongholds, Machado was compelled to try to flee to France, but died about a month after crossing the border.

Willis Barnstone (born 1927) is an American poet, memoirist, translator, Hispanist, and comparatist. In addition to translating Machado, he has translated the Ancient Greek poets and the complete fragments of the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus. He is also a New Testament and Gnostic scholar.


Willis Barnstone carefully selects the best and most representative poems from each of Machado's books and presents them in Border of a Dream with the originals on the facing page. The book also features a forward by John Dos Passos, a "reminiscence" by Juan Ramón Jiménez, and a chronology of Machado's life.


1. Machado was a member of what is commonly called Spain's "Generation of '98," named for the year Spain was defeated in the Spanish-American war, a very significant event in the history of Spain. What is your own personal relationship to Spain? Do you keep up to date with their politics or culture? Have you visited Spain? If not, what comes to mind when it comes up. Do you think of Spain as, in some way, the "mother country" for Spanish-speaking countries?

2. At the end of his life, Machado was directly affected by the Spanish Civil War, which is still considered one of the most polarizing and brutal conflicts of the 20th century. Did you know anyone who talked about that war or experienced it? Are you familiar with the nature of the conflict, or with the history of Spain after Franco took over?

3. In his "reminiscence," Juan Ramón Jiménez calls Machado a "poet of death." Do you agree with Jiménez that death is the major subject of a lot of Machado's work? Do his poems dealing with death ring true to you? Do they strike you as depressing, consoling, brave, or something else?

4. Machado is well known as a writer who keeps his language, as John Dos Passos puts it, "austere and plain." Passos also says: "Eloquence is avoided at all costs." Did you notice the preference for simple, straightforward language in these poems? Is plain-spokeness something you value, either in art or in your own life?

5. If the language is somewhat plain and bare in Machado's work, what is it that makes this writing into poems at all? Do you think it is easier or better to make good poems out of plain, everyday language or out of flowery, ornate language?

6. What else did you notice about Machado's way of writing poems? Can you list a few things that are generally consistent about his poems, such as certain words or phrases he likes to use, the person talking in the poem, some of the imagery, or something about the way the lines look?

This reading group guide is provided by Small Press Distribution to Engage as You Age as part of the "I Remember Project" to support reading groups for seniors in Marin Country. SPD's "I Remember Project" is generously supported by the Marin Community Foundation.

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