Machado — To a Dry Elm

When lightning struck, the elm was old already.
Its mighty bulk has rotted through, and yet
spring rain and sunshine have revived the ancient body;
a few green leaves begin to sprout.

Its bark, bleached white, is stained with yellow mosses.
Worms consume the crumbling trunk.
The elm stands while a century elapses,
lapped by the Duero’s curving bank.

No nightingales will nest here now. They favour
the rustling poplars which patrol
the roads and rivers. Other visitors take over:

ants climb up the tree’s dry bole
in single file, an army on the march;
spiders weave grey webs within, and wait and watch.

Elm of the Duero:

   before the woodman swings his axe
   and, after hours of his attacks,
   you topple at the final, fatal stroke;

   before the joiner comes to choose
   the bits of you he still can use
   to make a bell-tower, axle or a yoke;

   before you go for firewood
   in some poor hovel by the road
   and blaze next winter brightly on its hearth;

   before a whirlwind lays you low,
   uprooted, or the gales which blow
   from snow-capped mountains bring you to the earth;

   before you take the river’s course
   through valleys and ravines which force
   your great dead weight towards the open sea;

                         I will write one note of praise —
Your greening branch remains a thing of grace
and keep it in my wallet. You’re in leaf:
my heart, like yours, inclines toward the light, to life,
in hope that, as it has for you, old tree,
this spring may work a miracle for me.

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Listen to this poem — read by Peter Hetherington

A un olmo seco — Antonio Machado

Al olmo viejo, hendido por el rayo
y en su mitad podrido,
con las lluvias de abril y el sol de mayo
algunas hojas verdes le han salido.

¡El olmo centenario en la colina
que lame el Duero! Un musgo amarillento
le mancha la corteza blanquecina
al tronco carcomido y polvoriento.

No será, cual los álamos cantores
que guardan el camino y la ribera,
habitado de pardos ruiseñores.

Ejército de hormigas en hilera
va trepando por él, y en sus entrañas
urden sus telas grises las arañas.

Antes que te derribe, olmo del Duero,
con su hacha el leñador, y el carpintero
te convierta en melena de campana,
lanza de carro o yugo de carreta;
antes que rojo en el hogar, mañana,
ardas en alguna mísera caseta,
al borde de un camino;
antes que te descuaje un torbellino
y tronche el soplo de las sierras blancas;
antes que el río hasta la mar te empuje
por valles y barrancas,
olmo, quiero anotar en mi cartera
la gracia de tu rama verdecida.
Mi corazón espera
también, hacia la luz y hacia la vida,
otro milagro de la primavera.