VII: Cordova no Longer of the Caliphs
When we stepped out of the bookshop the narrow street steamed with the dust of many carriages. Above the swiftly whirling wheels gaudily dressed men and women sat motionless in attitudes. Over the backs of the carriages brilliant shawls trailed, triangles of red and purple and yellow.
"Bread and circuses," muttered the man who was with me, "but not enough bread."
It was fair-time in Cordova; the carriages were coming back from the toros. We turned into a narrow lane, where the dust was yellow between high green and lavender-washed walls. From the street we had left came a sound of cheers and hand-clapping. My friend stopped still and put his hand on my arm.
"There goes Belmonte," he said; "half the men who are cheering him have never had enough to eat in their lives. The old Romans knew better; to keep people quiet they filled their bellies. Those fools—" he jerked his head backwards with disgust; I thought, of the shawls and the high combs and the hair gleaming black under lace and the wasp-waists of the young men and the insolence of black eyes above the flashing wheels of the carriages, "—those fools give only circuses. Do you people in the outside world realize that we in Andalusia starve, that we have starved for generations, that those black bulls for the circuses may graze over good wheatland ... to make Spain picturesque! The only time we see meat is in the bullring. Those people who argue all the time as to why Spain's backward and write books about it, I could tell them in one word: malnutrition." He laughed despairingly and started walking fast again. "We have solved the problem of the cost of living. We live on air and dust and bad smells."
I had gone into his bookshop a few minutes before to ask an address, and had been taken into the back room with the wonderful enthusiastic courtesy one finds so often in Spain. There the bookseller, a carpenter and the bookseller's errand-boy had all talked at once, explaining the last strike of farm-laborers, when the region had been for months under martial law, and they, and every one else of socialist or republican sympathies, had been packed for weeks into overcrowded prisons. They all regretted they could not take me to the Casa del Pueblo, but, they explained laughing, the Civil Guard was occupying it at that moment. It ended by the bookseller's coming out with me to show me the way to Azorin's.
Azorin was an architect who had supported the strikers; he had just come back to Cordova from the obscure village where he had been imprisoned through the care of the military governor who had paid him the compliment of thinking that even in prison he would be dangerous in Cordova. He had recently been elected municipal councillor, and when we reached his office was busy designing a schoolhouse. On the stairs the bookseller had whispered to me that every workman in Cordova would die for Azorin. He was a sallow little man with a vaguely sarcastic voice and an amused air as if he would burst out laughing at any moment. He put aside his plans and we all went on to see the editor of Andalusia, a regionalist pro-labor weekly.
In that dark little office, over three cups of coffee that appeared miraculously from somewhere with the pungent smell of ink and fresh paper in our nostrils, we talked about the past and future of Cordova, and of all the wide region of northern Andalusia, fertile irrigated plains, dry olive-land stretching up to the rocky waterless mountains where the mines are. In Azorin's crisp phrases and in the long ornate periods of the editor, the serfdom and the squalor and the heroic hope of these peasants and miners and artisans became vivid to me for the first time. Occasionally the compositor, a boy of about fifteen with a brown ink-smudged face, would poke his head in the door and shout: "It's true what they say, but they don't say enough, they don't say enough."
The problem in the south of Spain is almost wholly agrarian. From the Tagus to the Mediterranean stretches a mountainous region of low rainfall, intersected by several series of broad river-valleys which, under irrigation, are enormously productive of rice, oranges, and, in the higher altitudes, of wheat. In the dry hills grow grapes, olives and almonds. A country on the whole much like southern California. Under the Moors this region was the richest and most civilised in Europe.
When the Christian nobles from the north reconquered it, the ecclesiastics laid hold of the towns and extinguished industry through the Inquisition, while the land was distributed in huge estates to the magnates of the court of the Catholic Kings. The agricultural workers became virtually serfs, and the communal village system of working the land gradually gave way, Now the province of Jaen, certainly as large as the State of Rhode Island, is virtually owned by six families. This process was helped by the fact that all through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the liveliest people in all Spain swarmed overseas to explore and plunder America or went into the church, so that the tilling of the land was left to the humblest and least vigorous. And immigration to America has continued the safety valve of the social order.
It is only comparatively recently that the consciousness has begun to form among the workers of the soil that it is possible for them to change their lot. As everywhere else, Russia has been the beacon-flare. Since 1918 an extraordinary tenseness has come over the lives of the frugal sinewy peasants who, through centuries of oppression and starvation, have kept, in spite of almost complete illiteracy, a curiously vivid sense of personal independence. In the backs of taverns revolutionary tracts are spelled out by some boy who has had a couple of years of school to a crowd of men who listen or repeat the words after him with the fervor of people going through a religious mystery. Unspeakable faith possesses them in what they call "la nueva ley" ("the new law"), by which the good things a man wrings by his sweat from the earth shall be his and not the property of a distant senor in Madrid.
It is this hopefulness that marks the difference between the present agrarian agitation and the violent and desperate peasant risings of the past. As early as October, 1918, a congress of agricultural workers was held to decide on strike methods and, more important, to formulate a demand for the expropriation of the land. In two months the unions, ("sociedades de resistencia") had been welded—at least in the province of Cordova—into a unified system with more or less central leadership. The strike which followed was so complete that in many cases even domestic servants went out. After savage repression and the military occupation of the whole province, the strike petered out into compromises which resulted in considerable betterment of working conditions but left the important issues untouched.
The rise in the cost of living and the growing unrest brought matters to a head again in the summer of 1919. The military was used with even more brutality than the previous year. Attempts at compromise, at parcelling out uncultivated land have proved as unavailing as the Mausers of the Civil Guard to quell the tumult. The peasants have kept their organizations and their demands intact. They are even willing to wait; but they are determined that the land upon which they have worn out generations and generations shall be theirs without question.
All this time the landlords brandish a redoubtable weapon: starvation. Already thousands of acres that might be richly fertile lie idle or are pasture for herds of wild bulls for the arena. The great land-owning families hold estates all over Spain; if in a given region the workers become too exigent, they decide to leave the land in fallow for a year or two. In the villages it becomes a question of starve or emigrate. To emigrate many certificates are needed. Many officials have to be placated. For all that money is needed. Men taking to the roads in search of work are persecuted as vagrants by the civil guards. Arson becomes the last retort of despair. At night the standing grain burns mysteriously or the country house of an absent landlord, and from the parched hills where gnarled almond-trees grow, groups of half starved men watch the flames with grim exultation.
Meanwhile the press in Madrid laments the incultura of the Andalusian peasants. The problem of civilization, after all, is often one of food calories. Fernando de los Rios, socialist deputy for Granada, recently published the result of an investigation of the food of the agricultural populations of Spain in which he showed that only in the Balkans—out of all Europe—was the working man so under-nourished. The calories which the diet of the average Cordova workman represented was something like a fourth of those of the British workman's diet. Even so the foremen of the big estates complain that as a result of all this social agitation their workmen have taken to eating more than they did in the good old times.
How long it will be before the final explosion comes no one can conjecture. The spring of 1920, when great things were expected, was completely calm. On the other hand, in the last municipal elections when six hundred socialist councillors were elected in all Spain—in contrast to sixty-two in 1915—the vote polled in Andalusia was unprecedented. Up to this election many of the peasants had never dared vote, and those that had had been completely under the thumb of the caciques, the bosses that control Spanish local politics. However, in spite of socialist and syndicalist propaganda, the agrarian problem will always remain separate from anything else in the minds of the peasants. This does not mean that they are opposed to communism or cling as violently as most of the European peasantry to the habit of private property.
All over Spain one comes upon traces of the old communist village institutions, by which flocks and mills and bakeries and often land were held in common. As in all arid countries, where everything depends upon irrigation, ditches are everywhere built and repaired in common. And the idea of private property is of necessity feeble where there is no rain; for what good is land to a man without water? Still, until there grows up a much stronger community of interest than now exists between the peasants and the industrial workers, the struggle for the land and the struggle for the control of industry will be, in Spain, as I think everywhere, parallel rather than unified. One thing is certain, however long the fire smoulders before it flares high to make a clean sweep of Spanish capitalism and Spanish feudalism together, Cordova, hoary city of the caliphs, where ghosts of old grandeurs flit about the zigzag ochre-colored lanes, will, when the moment comes, be the center of organization of the agrarian revolution. When I was leaving Spain I rode with some young men who were emigrating to America, to make their fortunes, they said. When I told them I had been to Cordova, their faces became suddenly bright with admiration.
"Ah, Cordova," one of them cried; "they've got the guts in Cordova."
VIII: Talk by the Road
At the first crossroads beyond Illescas the dumpling-man and Don Alonso turned off in quest of the trout stream. Don Alonso waved solemnly to Lyaeus and Telemachus.
"Perhaps we shall meet in Toledo," he said.
"Catch a lot of fish," shouted Lyaeus.
"And perhaps a thought," was the last word they heard from Don Alonso.
The sun already high in the sky poured tingling heat on their heads and shoulders. There was sand in their shoes, an occasional sharp pain in their shins, in their bellies bitter emptiness.
"At the next village, Tel, I'm going to bed. You can do what you like," said Lyaeus in a tearful voice.
"I'll like that all right."
"Buenos dias, senores viajeros," came a cheerful voice. They found they were walking in the company of a man who wore a tight-waisted overcoat of a light blue color, a cream-colored felt hat from under which protruded long black moustaches with gimlet points, and shoes with lemon-yellow uppers. They passed the time of day with what cheerfulness they could muster.
"Ah, Toledo," said the man. "You are going to Toledo, my birthplace. There I was born in the shadow of the cathedral, there I shall die. I am a traveller of commerce." He produced two cards as large as postcards on which was written:
ANTONIO SILVA Y YEPES UNIVERSAL AGENT IMPORT EXPORT NATIONAL PRODUCTS
"At your service, gentlemen," he said and handed each of them a card. "I deal in tinware, ironware, pottery, lead pipes, enameled ware, kitchen utensils, American toilet articles, French perfumery, cutlery, linen, sewing machines, saddles, bridles, seeds, fancy poultry, fighting bantams and objects de vertu.... You are foreigners, are you not? How barbarous Spain, what people, what dirt, what lack of culture, what impoliteness, what lack of energy!"
The universal agent choked, coughed, spat, produced a handkerchief of crimson silk with which he wiped his eyes and mouth, twirled his moustaches and plunged again into a torrent of words, turning on Telemachus from time to time little red-rimmed eyes full of moist pathos like a dog's.
"Oh there are times, gentlemen, when it is too much to bear, when I rejoice to think that it's all up with my lungs and that I shan't live long anyway.... In America I should have been a Rockefeller, a Carnegie, a Morgan. I know it, for I am a man of genius. It is true. I am a man of genius.... And look at me here walking from one of these cursed tumbledown villages to another because I have not money enough to hire a cab.... And ill too, dying of consumption! O Spain, Spain, how do you crush your great men! What you must think of us, you who come from civilized countries, where life is organized, where commerce is a gentlemanly, even a noble occupation...."
"But you savor life more...."
"Ca, ca," interrupted the universal agent with a downward gesture of the hand. "To think that they call by the same name living here in a pen like a pig and living in Paris, London, New York, Biarritz, Trouville ... luxurious beds, coiffures, toilettes, theatrical functions, sumptuous automobiles, elegant ladies glittering with diamonds ... the world of light and enchantment! Oh to think of it! And Spain could be the richest country in Europe, if we had energy, organization, culture! Think of the exports: iron, coal, copper, silver, oranges, hides, mules, olives, food products, woolens, cotton cloth, sugarcane, raw cotton ... couplets, dancers, gipsy girls...."
The universal agent had quite lost his breath. He coughed for a long time into his crimson handkerchief, then looked about him over the rolling dun slopes to which the young grain sprouting gave a sheen of vivid green like the patina on a Pompeian bronze vase, and shrugged his shoulders.
"!Que vida! What a life!"
For some time a spire had been poking up into the sky at the road's end; now yellow-tiled roofs were just visible humped out of the wheatland, with the church standing guard over them, it's buttresses as bowed as the legs of a bulldog. At the sight of the village a certain spring came back to Telemachus's fatigue-sodden legs. He noticed with envy that Lyaeus took little skips as he walked.
"If we properly exploited our exports we should be the richest people in Europe," the universal agent kept shouting with far-flung gestures of despair. And the last they heard from him as they left him to turn into the manure-littered, chicken-noisy courtyard of the Posada de la Luna was, "!Que pueblo indecente!... What a beastly town ... yet if they exploited with energy, with modern energy, their exports...."
IX: An Inverted Midas
Every age must have had choice spirits whose golden fingers turned everything they touched to commonplace. Since we know our own literature best it seems unreasonably well equipped with these inverted Midases—though the fact that all Anglo-American writing during the last century has been so exclusively of the middle classes, by the middle classes and for the middle classes must count for something. Still Rome had her Marcus Aurelius, and we may be sure that platitudes would have obscured the slanting sides of the pyramids had stone-cutting in the reign of Cheops been as disastrously easy as is printing to-day. The addition of the typewriter to the printing-press has given a new and horrible impetus to the spread of half-baked thought. The labor of graving on stone or of baking tablets of brick or even of scrawling letters on paper with a pen is no longer a curb on the dangerous fluency of the inverted Midas. He now lolls in a Morris chair, sipping iced tea, dictating to four blonde and two dark-haired stenographers; three novels, a couple of books of travel and a short story written at once are nothing to a really enterprising universal genius. Poor Julius Caesar with his letters!
We complain that we have no supermen nowadays, that we can't live as much or as widely or as fervently or get through so much work as could Pico della Mirandola or Erasmus or Politian, that the race drifts towards mental and physical anaemia. I deny it. With the typewriter all these things shall be added unto us. This age too has its great universal geniuses. They overrun the seven continents and their respective seas. Accompanied by maenadic bands of stenographers, and a music of typewriters deliriously clicking, they go about the world, catching all the butterflies, rubbing the bloom off all the plums, tunneling mountains, bridging seas, smoothing the facets off ideas so that they may be swallowed harmlessly like pills. With true Anglo-Saxon conceit we had thought that our own Mr. Wells was the most universal of these universal geniuses. He has so diligently brought science, ethics, sex, marriage, sociology, God, and everything else—properly deodorized, of course—to the desk of the ordinary man, that he may lean back in his swivel-chair and receive faint susuration from the sense of progress and the complexity of life, without even having to go to the window to look at the sparrows sitting in rows on the telephone-wires, so that really it seemed inconceivable that anyone should be more universal. It was rumored that there lay the ultimate proof of Anglo-Saxon ascendancy. What other race had produced a great universal genius?
But all that was before the discovery of Blasco Ibanez.
On the backs of certain of Blasco Ibanez's novels published by the Casa Prometeo in Valencia is this significant advertisement: Obras de Vulgarizacion Popular ("Works of Popular Vulgarization"). Under it is an astounding list of volumes, all either translated or edited or arranged, if not written from cover to cover, by one tireless pen,—I mean typewriter. Ten volumes of universal history, three volumes of the French Revolution translated from Michelet, a universal geography, a social history, works on science, cookery and house-cleaning, nine volumes of Blasco Ibanez's own history of the European war, and a translation of the Arabian Nights, a thousand and one of them without an hour missing. "Works of Popular Vulgarization." I admit that in Spanish the word vulgarizacion has not yet sunk to its inevitable meaning, but can it long stand such a strain? Add to that list a round two dozen novels and some books of travel, and who can deny that Blasco Ibanez is a great universal genius? Read his novels and you will find that he has looked at the stars and knows Lord Kelvin's theory of vortices and the nebular hypothesis and the direction of ocean currents and the qualities of kelp and the direction the codfish go in Iceland waters when the northeast wind blows; that he knows about Gothic architecture and Byzantine painting, the social movement in Jerez and the exports of Patagonia, the wall-paper of Paris apartment houses and the red paste with which countesses polish their fingernails in Monte Carlo.
The very pattern of a modern major-general. And, like the great universal geniuses of the Renaissance, he has lived as well as thought and written. He is said to have been thirty times in prison, six times deputy; he has been a cowboy in the pampas of Argentina; he has founded a city in Patagonia with a bullring and a bust of Cervantes in the middle of it; he has rounded the Horn on a sailing-ship in a hurricane, and it is whispered that like Victor Hugo he eats lobsters with the shells on. He hobnobs with the universe.
One must admit, too, that Blasco Ibanez's universe is a bulkier, burlier universe than Mr. Wells's. One is strangely certain that the axle of Mr. Wells's universe is fixed in some suburb of London, say Putney, where each house has a bit of garden where waddles an asthmatic pet dog, where people drink tea weak, with milk in it, before a gas-log, where every bookcase makes a futile effort to impinge on infinity through the encyclopedia, where life is a monotonous going and coming, swathed in clothes that must above all be respectable, to business and from business. But who can say where Blasco Ibanez's universe centers? It is in constant progression.
Starting, as Walt Whitman from fish-shaped Paumonauk, from the fierce green fertility of Valencia, city of another great Spanish conqueror, the Cid, he had marched on the world in battle array. The whole history comes out in the series of novels at this moment being translated in such feverish haste for the edification of the American public. The beginnings are stories of the peasants of the fertile plain round about Valencia, of the fishermen and sailors of El Grao, the port, a sturdy violent people living amid a snappy fury of vegetation unexampled in Europe. His method is inspired to a certain extent by Zola, taking from him a little of the newspaper-horror mode of realism, with inevitable murder and sudden death in the last chapters. Yet he expresses that life vividly, although even then more given to grand vague ideas than to a careful scrutiny of men and things. He is at home in the strong communal feeling, in the individual anarchism, in the passionate worship of the water that runs through the fields to give life and of the blades of wheat that give bread and of the wine that gives joy, which is the moral make-up of the Valencian peasant. He is sincerely indignant about the agrarian system, about social inequality, and is full of the revolutionary bravado of his race.
A typical novel of this period is La Barraca, a story of a peasant family that takes up land which has lain vacant for years under the curse of the community, since the eviction of the tenants, who had held it for generations, by a landlord who was murdered as a result, on a lonely road by the father of the family he had turned out. The struggle of these peasants against their neighbours is told with a good deal of feeling, and the culmination in a rifle fight in an irrigation ditch is a splendid bit of blood and thunder. There are many descriptions of local customs, such as the Tribunal of Water that sits once a week under one of the portals of Valencia cathedral to settle conflicts of irrigation rights, a little dragged in by the heels, to be sure, but still worth reading. Yet even in these early novels one feels over and over again the force of that phrase "popular vulgarization." Valencia is being vulgarized for the benefit of the universe. The proletariat is being vulgarized for the benefit of the people who buy novels.
From Valencia raids seem to have been made on other parts of Spain. Sonnica la Cortesana gives you antique Saguntum and the usual "Aves," wreaths, flute-players and other claptrap of costume novels. In La Catedral you have Toledo, the church, socialism and the modern world in the shadow of Gothic spires. La Bodega takes you into the genial air of the wine vaults of Jerez-de-la-Frontera, with smugglers, processions blessing the vineyards and agrarian revolt in the background. Up to now they have been Spanish novels written for Spaniards; it is only with Sangre y Arena that the virus of a European reputation shows results.
In Sangre y Arena, to be sure, you learn that toreros use scent, have a home life, and are seduced by passionate Baudelairian ladies of the smart set who plant white teeth in their brown sinewy arms and teach them to smoke opium cigarettes. You see toreros taking the sacraments before going into the ring and you see them tossed by the bull while the crowd, which a moment before had been crying "hola" as if it didn't know that something was going wrong, gets very pale and chilly and begins to think what dreadful things corridas are anyway, until the arrival of the next bull makes them forget it. All of which is good fun when not obscured by grand, vague ideas, and incidentally sells like hot cakes. Thenceforward the Casa Prometeo becomes an exporting house dealing in the good Spanish products of violence and sunshine, blood, voluptuousness and death, as another vulgarizer put it.
Next comes the expedition to South America and The Argonauts appears. The Atlantic is bridged,—there open up rich veins of picturesqueness and new grand vague ideas, all in full swing when the war breaks out. Blasco Ibanez meets the challenge nobly, and very soon, with The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which captures the Allied world and proves again the mot about prophets. So without honor in its own country is the Four Horsemen that the English translation rights are sold for a paltry three thousand pesetas. But the great success in England and America soon shows that we can appreciate the acumen of a neutral who came in and rooted for our side; so early in the race too! While the iron is still hot another four hundred pages of well-sugared pro-Ally propaganda appears, Mare Nostrum, which mingles Ulysses and scientific information about ocean currents, Amphitrite and submarines, Circe and a vamping Theda Bara who was really a German Spy, in one grand chant of praise before the Mumbo-Jumbo of nationalism.
Los Enemigos de la Mujer, the latest production, abandons Spain entirely and plants itself in the midst of princes and countesses, all elaborately pro-Ally, at Monte Carlo. Forgotten the proletarian tastes of his youth, the local color he loved to lay on so thickly, the Habanera atmosphere; only the grand vague ideas subsist in the cosmopolite, and the fluency, that fatal Latin fluency.
And now the United States, the home of the blonde stenographer and the typewriter and the press agent. What are we to expect from the combination of Blasco Ibanez and Broadway?
At any rate the movies will profit.
Yet one can't help wishing that Blasco Ibanez had not learnt the typewriter trick so early. Print so easily spins a web of the commonplace over the fine outlines of life. And Blasco Ibanez need not have been an inverted Midas. His is a superbly Mediterranean type, with something of Arretino, something of Garibaldi, something of Tartarin of Tarascon. Blustering, sensual, enthusiastic, living at bottom in a real world—which can hardly be said of Anglo-Saxon vulgarizers—even if it is a real world obscured by grand vague ideas, Blasco Ibanez's mere energy would have produced interesting things if it had not found such easy and immediate vent in the typewriter. Bottle up a man like that for a lifetime without means of expression and he'll produce memoirs equal to Marco Polo and Casanova, but let his energies flow out evenly without resistance through a corps of clicking typewriters and all you have is one more popular novelist.
It is unfortunate too that Blasco Ibanez and the United States should have discovered each other at this moment. They will do each other no good. We have an abundance both of vague grand ideas and of popular novelists, and we are the favorite breeding place of the inverted Midas. We need writing that shall be acid, with sharp edges on it, yeasty to leaven the lump of glucose that the combination of the ideals of the man in the swivel-chair with decayed puritanism has made of our national consciousness. Of course Blasco Ibanez in America will only be a seven days' marvel. Nothing is ever more than that. But why need we pretend each time that our seven days' marvels are the great eternal things?
Then, too, if the American public is bound to take up Spain it might as well take up the worth-while things instead of the works of popular vulgarization. They have enough of those in their bookcases as it is. And in Spain there is a novelist like Baroja, essayists like Unamuno and Azorin, poets like Valle Inclan and Antonio Machado, ... but I suppose they will shine with the reflected glory of the author of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
X: Talk by the Road
When they woke up it was dark. They were cold. Their legs were stiff. They lay each along one edge of a tremendously wide bed, between them a tangle of narrow sheets and blankets. Telemachus raised himself to a sitting position and put his feet, that were still swollen, gingerly to the floor. He drew them up again with a jerk and sat with his teeth chattering hunched on the edge of the bed. Lyaeus burrowed into the blankets and went back to sleep. For a long while Telemachus could not thaw his frozen wits enough to discover what noise had waked him up. Then it came upon him suddenly that huge rhythms were pounding about him, sounds of shaken tambourines and castanettes and beaten dish-pans and roaring voices. Someone was singing in shrill tremolo above the din a song of which each verse seemed to end with the phrase, "y manana Carnaval."
"To-morrow's Carnival. Wake up," he cried out to Lyaeus, and pulled on his trousers.
Lyaeus sat up and rubbed his eyes.
"I smell wine," he said.
Telemachus, through hunger and stiffness and aching feet and the thought of what his mother Penelope would say about these goings on, if they ever came to her ears, felt a tremendous elation flare through him.
"Come on, they're dancing," he cried dragging Lyaeus out on the gallery that overhung the end of the court.
"Don't forget the butterfly net, Tel."
"To catch your gesture, what do you think?"
Telemachus caught Lyaeus by the shoulders and shook him. As they wrestled they caught glimpses of the courtyard full of couples bobbing up and down in a jota. In the doorway stood two guitar players and beside them a table with pitchers and glasses and a glint of spilt wine. Feeble light came from an occasional little constellation of olive-oil lamps. When the two of them pitched down stairs together and shot out reeling among the dancers everybody cried out: "Hola," and shouted that the foreigners must sing a song.
"After dinner," cried Lyaeus as he straightened his necktie. "We haven't eaten for a year and a half!"
The padron, a red thick-necked individual with a week's white bristle on his face, came up to them holding out hands as big as hams.
"You are going to Toledo for Carnival? O how lucky the young are, travelling all over the world." He turned to the company with a gesture; "I was like that when I was young."
They followed him into the kitchen, where they ensconced themselves on either side of a cave of a fireplace in which burned a fire all too small. The hunchbacked woman with a face like tanned leather who was tending the numerous steaming pots that stood about the hearth, noticing that they were shivering, heaped dry twigs on it that crackled and burst into flame and gave out a warm spicy tang.
"To-morrow's Carnival," she said. "We mustn't stint ourselves." Then she handed them each a plate of soup full of bread in which poached eggs floated, and the padron drew the table near the fire and sat down opposite them, peering with interest into their faces while they ate.
After a while he began talking. From outside the hand-clapping and the sound of castanettes continued interrupted by intervals of shouting and laughter and an occasional snatch from the song that ended every verse with "y manana Carnaval."
"I travelled when I was your age," he said. "I have been to America ... Nueva York, Montreal, Buenos Aires, Chicago, San Francisco.... Selling those little nuts.... Yes, peanuts. What a country! How many laws there are there, how many policemen. When I was young I did not like it, but now that I am old and own an inn and daughters and all that, vamos, I understand. You see in Spain we all do just as we like; then, if we are the sort that goes to church we repent afterwards and fix it up with God. In European, civilized, modern countries everybody learns what he's got to do and what he must not do.... That's why they have so many laws.... Here the police are just to help the government plunder and steal all it wants.... But that's not so in America...."
"The difference is," broke in Telemachus, "as Butler put it, between living under the law and living under grace. I should rather live under gra...." But he thought of the maxims of Penelope and was silent.
"But after all we know how to sing," said the Padron. "Will you have coffee with cognac?... And poets, man alive, what poets!"
The padron stuck out his chest, put one hand in the black sash that held up his trousers and recited, emphasizing the rhythm with the cognac bottle:
'Aqui esta Don Juan Tenorio; no hay hombre para el ... Busquenle los renidores, cerquenle los jugadores, quien se precie que le ataje, a ver si hay quien le aventaje en juego, en lid o en amores.'
He finished with a flourish and poured more cognac into the coffee cups.
"!Que bonito! How pretty!" cried the old hunchbacked woman who sat on her heels in the fireplace.
"That's what we do," said the padron. "We brawl and gamble and seduce women, and we sing and we dance, and then we repent and the priest fixes it up with God. In America they live according to law."
Feeling well-toasted by the fire and well-warmed with food and drink, Lyaeus and Telemachus went to the inn door and looked out on the broad main street of the village where everything was snowy white under the cold stare of the moon. The dancing had stopped in the courtyard. A group of men and boys was moving slowly up the street, each one with a musical instrument. There were the two guitars, frying pans, castanettes, cymbals, and a goatskin bottle of wine that kept being passed from hand to hand. Each time the bottle made a round a new song started. And so they moved slowly up the street in the moonlight.
"Let's join them," said Lyaeus.
"No, I want to get up early so as...."
"To see the gesture by daylight!" cried Lyaeus jeeringly. Then he went on: "Tel, you live under the law. Under the law there can be no gestures, only machine movements."
Then he ran off and joined the group of men and boys who were singing and drinking. Telemachus went back to bed. On his way upstairs he cursed the maxims of his mother Penelope. But at any rate to-morrow, in Carnival-time, he would feel the gesture.
XI: Antonio Machado: Poet of Castile
"I spent fifty thousand pesetas in a year at the military school.... J'aime le chic," said the young artillery officer of whom I had asked the way. He was leading me up the steep cobbled hill that led to the irregular main street of Segovia. A moment before we had passed under the aqueduct that had soared above us arch upon arch into the crimson sky. He had snapped tightly gloved fingers and said: "And what's that good for, I'd like to know. I'd give it all for a puff of gasoline from a Hispano-Suizo.... D'you know the Hispano-Suizo? And look at this rotten town! There's not a street in it I can speed on in a motorcycle without running down some fool old woman or a squalling brat or other.... Who's this gentleman you are going to see?"
"He's a poet," I said.
"I like poetry too. I write it ... light, elegant, about light elegant women." He laughed and twirled the tiny waxed spike that stuck out from each side of his moustache.
He left me at the end of the street I was looking for, and after an elaborate salute walked off saying:
"To think that you should come here from New York to look for an address in such a shabby street, and I so want to go to New York. If I was a poet I wouldn't live here."
The name on the street corner was Calle de los Desemparados.... "Street of Abandoned Children."
* * * * *
We sat a long while in the casino, twiddling spoons in coffee-glasses while a wax-pink fat man played billiards in front of us, being ponderously beaten by a lean brownish swallow-tail with yellow face and walrus whiskers that emitted a rasping Bueno after every play. There was talk of Paris and possible new volumes of verse, homage to Walt Whitman, Maragall, questioning about Emily Dickinson. About us was a smell of old horsehair sofas, a buzz of the poignant musty ennui of old towns left centuries ago high and dry on the beach of history. The group grew. Talk of painting: Zuloaga had not come yet, the Zubiaurre brothers had abandoned their Basque coast towns, seduced by the bronze-colored people and the saffron hills of the province of Segovia. Sorolla was dying, another had gone mad. At last someone said, "It's stifling here, let's walk. There is full moon to-night."
There was no sound in the streets but the irregular clatter of our footsteps. The slanting moonlight cut the street into two triangular sections, one enormously black, the other bright, engraved like a silver plate with the lines of doors, roofs, windows, ornaments. Overhead the sky was white and blue like buttermilk. Blackness cut across our path, then there was dazzling light through an arch beyond. Outside the gate we sat in a ring on square fresh-cut stones in which you could still feel a trace of the warmth of the sun. To one side was the lime-washed wall of a house, white fire, cut by a wide oaken door where the moon gave a restless glitter to the spiked nails and the knocker, and above the door red geraniums hanging out of a pot, their color insanely bright in the silver-white glare. The other side a deep glen, the shimmering tops of poplar trees and the sound of a stream. In the dark above the arch of the gate a trembling oil flame showed up the green feet of a painted Virgin. Everybody was talking about El Buscon, a story of Quevedo's that takes place mostly in Segovia, a wandering story of thieves and escapes by night through the back doors of brothels, of rope ladders dangling from the windows of great ladies, of secrets overheard in confessionals, and trysts under bridges, and fingers touching significantly in the holy-water fonts of tall cathedrals. A ghostlike wraith of dust blew through the gate. The man next me shivered.
"The dead are stronger than the living," he said. "How little we have; and they...."
In the quaver of his voice was a remembering of long muletrains jingling through the gate, queens in litters hung with patchwork curtains from Samarcand, gold brocades splashed with the clay of deep roads, stained with the blood of ambuscades, bales of silks from Valencia, travelling gangs of Moorish artisans, heavy armed Templars on their way to the Sepulchre, wandering minstrels, sneakthieves, bawds, rowdy strings of knights and foot-soldiers setting out with wine-skins at their saddlebows to cross the passes towards the debatable lands of Extremadura, where there were infidels to kill and cattle to drive off and village girls to rape, all when the gate was as new and crisply cut out of clean stone as the blocks we were sitting on. Down in the valley a donkey brayed long and dismally.
"They too have their nostalgias," said someone sentimentally.
"What they of the old time did not have," came a deep voice from under a bowler hat, "was the leisure to be sad. The sweetness of putrefaction, the long remembering of palely colored moods; they had the sun, we have the colors of its setting. Who shall say which is worth more?"
The man next to me had got to his feet. "A night like this with a moon like this," he said, "we should go to the ancient quarter of the witches."
Gravel crunched under our feet down the road that led out of moonlight into the darkness of the glen—to San Millan de las brujas.
* * * * *
You cannot read any Spanish poet of to-day without thinking now and then of Ruben Dario, that prodigious Nicaraguan who collected into his verse all the tendencies of poetry in France and America and the Orient and poured them in a turgid cataract, full of mud and gold-dust, into the thought of the new generation in Spain. Overflowing with beauty and banality, patched out with images and ornaments from Greece and Egypt and France and Japan and his own Central America, symbolist and romantic and Parnassian all at once, Ruben Dario's verse is like those doorways of the Spanish Renaissance where French and Moorish and Italian motives jostle in headlong arabesques, where the vulgarest routine stone-chipping is interlocked with designs and forms of rare beauty and significance. Here and there among the turgid muddle, out of the impact of unassimilated things, comes a spark of real poetry. And that spark can be said—as truly as anything of the sort can be said—to be the motive force of the whole movement of renovation in Spanish poetry. Of course the poets have not been content to be influenced by the outside world only through Dario. Baudelaire and Verlaine had a very large direct influence, once the way was opened, and their influence succeeded in curbing the lush impromptu manner of romantic Spanish verse. In Antonio Machado's work—and he is beginning to be generally considered the central figure—there is a restraint and terseness of phrase rare in any poetry.
I do not mean to imply that Machado can be called in any real sense a pupil of either Dario or Verlaine; rather one would say that in a generation occupied largely in more or less unsuccessful imitation of these poets, Machado's poetry stands out as particularly original and personal. In fact, except for the verse of Juan Ramon Jimenez, it would be in America and England rather than in Spain, in Aldington and Amy Lowell, that one would find analogous aims and methods. The influence of the symbolists and the turbulent experimenting of the Nicaraguan broke down the bombastic romantic style current in Spain, as it was broken down everywhere else in the middle nineteenth century. In Machado's work a new method is being built up, that harks back more to early ballads and the verse of the first moments of the Renaissance than to anything foreign, but which shows the same enthusiasm for the rhythms of ordinary speech and for the simple pictorial expression of undoctored emotion that we find in the renovators of poetry the world over. Campos de Castilla, his first volume to be widely read, marks an epoch in Spanish poetry.
Antonio Machado's verse is taken up with places. It is obsessed with the old Spanish towns where he has lived, with the mellow sadness of tortuous streets and of old houses that have soaked up the lives of generations upon generations of men, crumbling in the flaming silence of summer noons or in the icy blast off the mountains in winter. Though born in Andalusia, the bitter strength of the Castilian plain, where half-deserted cities stand aloof from the world, shrunken into their walls, still dreaming of the ages of faith and conquest, has subjected his imagination, and the purity of Castilian speech has dominated his writing, until his poems seem as Castilian as Don Quixote.
"My childhood: memories of a courtyard in Seville, and of a bright garden where lemons hung ripening. My youth: twenty years in the land of Castile. My history: a few events I do not care to remember."
So Machado writes of himself. He was born in the eighties, has been a teacher of French in government schools in Soria and Baeza and at present in Segovia—all old Spanish cities very mellow and very stately—and has made the migration to Paris customary with Spanish writers and artists. He says in the Poema de un Dia:
Here I am, already a teacher of modern languages, who yesterday was a master of the gai scavoir and the nightingale's apprentice.
He has published three volumes of verse, Soledades ("Solitudes"), Campos de Castilla ("Fields of Castile"), and Soledades y Galerias ("Solitudes and Galleries"), and recently a government institution, the Residencia de Estudiantes, has published his complete works up to date.
The following translations are necessarily inadequate, as the poems depend very much on modulations of rhythm and on the expressive fitting together of words impossible to render in a foreign language. He uses rhyme comparatively little, often substituting assonance in accordance with the peculiar traditions of Spanish prosody. I have made no attempt to imitate his form exactly.
Yes, come away with me—fields of Soria, quiet evenings, violet mountains, aspens of the river, green dreams of the grey earth, bitter melancholy of the crumbling city— perhaps it is that you have become the background of my life.
Men of the high Numantine plain, who keep God like old—Christians, may the sun of Spain fill you with joy and light and abundance!
A frail sound of a tunic trailing across the infertile earth, and the sonorous weeping of the old bells. The dying embers of the horizon smoke. White ancestral ghosts go lighting the stars.
—Open the balcony-window. The hour of illusion draws near... The afternoon has gone to sleep and the bells dream.
Figures in the fields against the sky! Two slow oxen plough on a hillside early in autumn, and between the black heads bent down under the weight of the yoke, hangs and sways a basket of reeds, a child's cradle; And behind the yoke stride a man who leans towards the earth and a woman who, into the open furrows, throws the seed. Under a cloud of carmine and flame, in the liquid green gold of the setting, their shadows grow monstrous.
Naked is the earth and the soul howls to the wan horizon like a hungry she-wolf. What do you seek, poet, in the sunset? Bitter going, for the path weighs one down, the frozen wind, and the coming night and the bitterness of distance.... On the white path the trunks of frustrate trees show black, on the distant mountains there is gold and blood. The sun dies....
What do you seek, poet, in the sunset?
Silver hills and grey ploughed lands, violet outcroppings of rock through which the Duero traces its curve like a cross-bow about Soria, dark oak-wood, wild cliffs, bald peaks, and the white roads and the aspens of the river.
Afternoons of Soria, mystic and warlike, to-day I am very sad for you, sadness of love, Fields of Soria, where it seems that the rocks dream, come with me! Violet rocky outcroppings, silver hills and grey ploughed lands.
We think to create festivals of love out of our love, to burn new incense on untrodden mountains; and to keep the secret of our pale faces, and why in the bacchanals of life we carry empty glasses, while with tinkling echoes and laughing foams the gold must of the grape....
A hidden bird among the branches of the solitary park whistles mockery.... We feel the shadow of a dream in our wine-glass, and something that is earth in our flesh feels the dampness of the garden like a caress.
I have been back to see the golden aspens, aspens of the road along the Duero between San Polo and San Saturio, beyond the old stiff walls of Soria, barbican towards Aragon of the Castilian lands.
These poplars of the river, that chime when the wind blows their dry leaves to the sound of the water, have in their bark the names of lovers, initials and dates. Aspens of love where yesterday the branches were full of nightingales, aspens that to-morrow will sing under the scented wind of the springtime, aspens of love by the water that speeds and goes by dreaming, aspens of the bank of the Duero, come away with me.
Cold Soria, clear Soria, key of the outlands, with the warrior castle in ruins beside the Duero, and the stiff old walls, and the blackened houses.
Dead city of barons and soldiers and huntsmen, whose portals bear the shields of a hundred hidalgos; city of hungry greyhounds, of lean greyhounds that swarm among the dirty lanes and howl at midnight when the crows caw.
Cold Soria! The clock of the Lawcourts has struck one. Soria, city of Castile, so beautiful under the moon.
AT A FRIEND'S BURIAL
They put him away in the earth a horrible July afternoon under a sun of fire.
A step from the open grave grew roses with rotting petals among geraniums of bitter fragrance, red-flowered. The sky a pale blue. A wind hard and dry.
Hanging on the thick ropes, the two gravediggers let the coffin heavily down into the grave.
It struck the bottom with a sharp sound, solemnly, in the silence.
The sound of a coffin striking the earth is something unutterably solemn.
The heavy clods broke into dust over the black coffin.
A white mist of dust rose in the air out of the deep grave.
And you, without a shadow now, sleep. Long peace to your bones. For all time you sleep a tranquil and a real sleep.
THE IBERIAN GOD
Like the cross-bowman, the gambler in the song, the Iberian had an arrow for his god when he shattered the grain with hail and ruined the fruits of autumn; and a gloria when he fattened the barley and the oats that were to make bread to-morrow. "God of ruin, I worship because I wait and because I fear. I bend in prayer to the earth a blasphemous heart.
"Lord, through whom I snatch my bread with pain, I know your strength, I know my slavery. Lord of the clouds in the east that trample the country-side, of dry autumns and late frosts and of the blasts of heat that scorch the harvests!
"Lord of the iris in the green meadows where the sheep graze, Lord of the fruit the worms gnaw and of the hut the whirlwind shatters, your breath gives life to the fire in the hearth, your warmth ripens the tawny grain, and your holy hand, St. John's eve, hardens the stone of the green olive.
"Lord of riches and poverty, Of fortune and mishap, who gives to the rich luck and idleness, and pain and hope to the poor!
"Lord, Lord, in the inconstant wheel of the year I have sown my sowing that has an equal chance with the coins of a gambler sown on the gambling-table!
"Lord, a father to-day, though stained with yesterday's blood, two-faced of love and vengeance, to you, dice cast into the wind, goes my prayer, blasphemy and praise!"
This man who insults God in his altars, without more care of the frown of fate, also dreamed of paths across the seas and said: "It is God who walks upon the waters."
Is it not he who put God above war, beyond fate, beyond the earth, beyond the sea and death?
Did he not give the greenest bough of the dark-green Iberian oak for God's holy bonfire, and for love flame one with God?
But to-day ... What does a day matter? for the new household gods there are plains in forest shade and green boughs in the old oak-woods.
Though long the land waits for the curved plough to open the first furrow, there is sowing for God's grain under thistles and burdocks and nettles.
What does a day matter? Yesterday waits for to-morrow, to-morrow for infinity; men of Spain, neither is the past dead, nor is to-morrow, nor yesterday, written.
Who has seen the face of the Iberian God? I wait for the Iberian man who with strong hands will carve out of Castilian oak The parched God of the grey land.
XII: A Catalan Poet
It is time for sailing; the swallow has come chattering and the mellow west wind; the meadows are already in bloom; the sea is silent and the waves the rough winds pummeled. Up anchors and loose the hawsers, sailor, set every stitch of canvas. This I, Priapos the harbor god, command you, man, that you may sail for all manner of ladings. (Leonidas in the Greek Anthology.)
Catalonia like Greece is a country of mountains and harbors, where the farmers and herdsmen of the hills can hear in the morning the creak of oars and the crackling of cordage as the great booms of the wing-shaped sails are hoisted to the tops of the stumpy masts of the fishermen's boats. Barcelona with its fine harbor nestling under the towering slopes of Montjuic has been a trading city since most ancient times. In the middle ages the fleets of its stocky merchants were the economic scaffolding which underlay the pomp and heraldry of the great sea kingdom of the Aragonese. To this day you can find on old buildings the arms of the kings of Aragon and the counts of Barcelona in Mallorca and Manorca and Ibiza and Sardinia and Sicily and Naples. It follows that when Catalonia begins to reemerge as a nucleus of national consciousness after nearly four centuries of subjection to Castile, poets speaking Catalan, writing Catalan, shall be poets of the mountains and of the sea.
Yet this time the motor force is not the sailing of white argosies towards the east. It is textile mills, stable, motionless, drawing about them muddled populations, raw towns, fattening to new arrogance the descendants of those stubborn burghers who gave the kings of Aragon and of Castile such vexing moments. (There's a story of one king who was so chagrined by the tight-pursed contrariness of the Cortes of Barcelona that he died of a broken heart in full parliament assembled.) This growth of industry during the last century, coupled with the reawakening of the whole Mediterranean, took form politically in the Catalan movement for secession from Spain, and in literature in the resurrection of Catalan thought and Catalan language.
Naturally the first generation was not interested in the manufactures that were the dynamo that generated the ferment of their lives. They had first to state the emotions of the mountains and the sea and of ancient heroic stories that had been bottled up in their race during centuries of inexpressiveness. For another generation perhaps the symbols will be the cluck of oiled cogs, the whirring of looms, the dragon forms of smoke spewed out of tall chimneys, and the substance will be the painful struggle for freedom, for sunnier, richer life of the huddled mobs of the slaves of the machines. For the first men conscious of their status as Catalans the striving was to make permanent their individual lives in terms of political liberty, of the mist-capped mountains and the changing sea.
Of this first generation was Juan Maragall who died in 1912, five years after the shooting of Ferrer, after a life spent almost entirely in Barcelona writing for newspapers,—as far as one can gather, a completely peaceful well-married existence, punctuated by a certain amount of political agitation in the cause of the independence of Catalonia, the life of a placid and recognized literary figure; "un maitre" the French would have called him.
Perhaps six centuries before, in Palma de Mallorca, a young nobleman, a poet, a skilled player on the lute had stood tiptoe for attainment before the high-born and very stately lady he had courted through many moonlight nights, when her eye had chilled his quivering love suddenly and she had pulled open her bodice with both hands and shown him her breasts, one white and firm and the other swollen black and purple with cancer. The horror of the sight of such beauty rotting away before his eyes had turned all his passion inward and would have made him a saint had his ideas been more orthodox; as it was the Blessed Ramon Lull lived to write many mystical works in Catalan and Latin, in which he sought the love of God in the love of Earth after the manner of the sufi of Persia. Eventually he attained bloody martyrdom arguing with the sages in some North African town. Somehow the spirit of the tortured thirteenth-century mystic was born again in the calm Barcelona journalist, whose life was untroubled by the impact of events as could only be a life comprising the last half of the nineteenth century. In Maragall's writings modulated in the lovely homely language of the peasants and fishermen of Catalonia, there flames again the passionate metaphor of Lull.
Here is a rough translation of one of his best known poems:
At sunset time drinking at the spring's edge I drank down the secrets of mysterious earth.
Deep in the runnel I saw the stainless water born out of darkness for the delight of my mouth,
and it poured into my throat and with its clear spurting there filled me entirely mellowness of wisdom.
When I stood straight and looked, mountains and woods and meadows seemed to me otherwise, everything altered.
Above the great sunset there already shone through the glowing carmine contours of the clouds the white sliver of the new moon.
It was a world in flower and the soul of it was I.
I the fragrant soul of the meadows that expands at flower-time and reaping-time.
I the peaceful soul of the herds that tinkle half-hidden by the tall grass.
I the soul of the forest that sways in waves like the sea, and has as far horizons.
And also I was the soul of the willow tree that gives every spring its shade.
I the sheer soul of the cliffs where the mist creeps up and scatters.
And the unquiet soul of the stream that shrieks in shining waterfalls.
I was the blue soul of the pond that looks with strange eyes on the wanderer.
I the soul of the all-moving wind and the humble soul of opening flowers.
I was the height of the high peaks...
The clouds caressed me with great gestures and the wide love of misty spaces clove to me, placid.
I felt the delightfulness of springs born in my flanks, gifts of the glaciers; and in the ample quietude of horizons I felt the reposeful sleep of storms.
And when the sky opened about me and the sun laughed on my green planes people, far off, stood still all day staring at my sovereign beauty.
But I, full of the lust that makes furious the sea and mountains lifted myself up strongly through the sky lifted the diversity of my flanks and entrails...
At sunset time drinking at the spring's edge I drank down the secrets of mysterious earth.
The sea and mountains, mist and cattle and yellow broom-flowers, and fishing boats with lateen sails like dark wings against the sunrise towards Mallorca: delight of the nose and the eyes and the ears in all living perceptions until the poison of other-worldliness wells up suddenly in him and he is a Christian and a mystic full of echoes of old soul-torturing. In Maragall's most expressive work, a sequence of poems called El Comte Arnau, all this is synthesized. These are from the climax.
All the voices of the earth acclaim count Arnold because from the dark trial he has come back triumphant.
"Son of the earth, son of the earth, count Arnold, now ask, now ask what cannot you do?"
"Live, live, live forever, I would never die: to be like a wheel revolving; to live with wine and a sword."
"Wheels roll, roll, but they count the years."
"Then I would be a rock immobile to suns or storms."
"Rock lives without life forever impenetrable."
"Then the ever-moving sea that opens a path for all things."
"The sea is alone, alone, you go accompanied."
"Then be the air when it flames in the light of the deathless sun."
"But air and sun are loveless, ignorant of eternity."
"Then to be man more than man to be earth palpitant."
"You shall be wheel and rock, you shall be the mist-veiled sea you shall be the air in flame, you shall be the whirling stars, you shall be man more than man for you have the will for it. You shall run the plains and hills, all the earth that is so wide, mounted on a horse of flame you shall be tireless, terrible as the tramp of the storms All the voices of earth will cry out whirling about you. They will call you spirit in torment call you forever damned."
Night. All the beauty of Adalaisa asleep at the feet of naked Christ. Arnold goes pacing a dark path; there is silence among the mountains; in front of him the rustling lisp of a river, a pool.... Then it is lost and soundless. Arnold stands under the sheer portal.
He goes searching the cells for Adalaisa and sees her sleeping, beautiful, prone at the feet of the naked Christ, without veil without kerchief, without cloak, gestureless, without any defense, there, sleeping....
She had a great head of turbulent hair.
"How like fine silk your hair, Adalaisa," thinks Arnold. But he looks at her silently. She sleeps, she sleeps and little by little a flush spreads over all her face as if a dream had crept through her gently until she laughs aloud very softly with a tremulous flutter of the lips.
"What amorous lips, Adalaisa," thinks Arnold. But he looks at her silently.
A great sigh swells through her, sleeping, like a seawave, and fades to stillness.
"What sighs swell in your breast, Adalaisa," thinks Arnold. But he stares at her silently.
But when she opens her eyes he, awake, tingling, carries her off in his arms.
When they burst out into the open fields it is day.
But the fear of life gushes suddenly to muddy the dear wellspring of sensation, and the poet, beaten to his knees, writes:
And when the terror-haunted moment comes to close these earthly eyes of mine, open for me, Lord, other greater eyes to look upon the immensity of your face.
But before that moment comes, through the medium of an extraordinarily terse and unspoiled language, a language that has not lost its earthy freshness by mauling and softening at the hands of literary generations, what a lilting crystal-bright vision of things. It is as if the air of the Mediterranean itself, thin, brilliant, had been hammered into cadences. The verse is leaping and free, full of echoes and refrains. The images are sudden and unlabored like the images in the Greek anthology: a hermit released from Nebuchadnezzar's spell gets to his feet "like a bear standing upright"; fishing boats being shoved off the beach slide into the sea one by one "like village girls joining a dance"; on a rough day the smacks with reefed sails "skip like goats at the harbor entrance." There are phrases like "the great asleepness of the mountains"; "a long sigh like a seawave through her sleep"; "my speech of her is like a flight of birds that lead your glance into intense blue sky"; "the disquieting unquiet sea." Perhaps it is that the eyes are sharpened by the yearning to stare through the brilliant changing forms of things into some intenser beyond. Perhaps it takes a hot intoxicating draught of divinity to melt into such white fire the various colors of the senses. Perhaps earthly joy is intenser for the beckoning flames of hell.
The daily life, too, to which Maragall aspires seems strangely out of another age. That came home to me most strongly once, talking to a Catalan after a mountain scramble in the eastern end of Mallorca. We sat looking at the sea that was violet with sunset, where the sails of the homecoming fishing boats were the wan yellow of primroses. Behind us the hills were sharp pyrites blue. From a window in the adobe hut at one side of us came a smell of sizzling olive oil and tomatoes and peppers and the muffled sound of eggs being beaten. We were footsore, hungry, and we talked about women and love. And after all it was marriage that counted, he told me at last, women's bodies and souls and the love of them were all very well, but it was the ordered life of a family, children, that counted; the family was the immortal chain on which lives were strung; and he recited this quatrain, saying, in that proud awefilled tone with which Latins speak of creative achievement, "By our greatest poet, Juan Maragall":
Canta esposa, fila i canta que el pati em faras suau Quan l'esposa canta i fila el casal s'adorm en pau.
It was hard explaining how all our desires lay towards the completer and completer affirming of the individual, that we in Anglo-Saxon countries felt that the family was dead as a social unit, that new cohesions were in the making.
"I want my liberty," he broke in, "as much as—as Byron did, liberty of thought and action." He was silent a moment; then he said simply, "But I want a wife and children and a family, mine, mine."
Then the girl who was cooking leaned out of the window to tell us in soft Mallorquin that supper was ready. She had a full brown face flushed on the cheek-bones and given triangular shape like an El Greco madonna's face by the bright blue handkerchief knotted under the chin. Her breasts hung out from her body, solid like a Victory's under the sleek grey shawl as she leaned from the window. In her eyes that were sea-grey there was an unimaginable calm. I thought of Penelope sitting beside her loom in a smoky-raftered hall, grey eyes looking out on a sailless sea. And for a moment I understood the Catalan's phrase: the family was the chain on which lives were strung, and all of Maragall's lyricizing of wifehood,
When the wife sits singing as she spins all the house can sleep in peace.
From the fishermen's huts down the beach came an intense blue smoke of fires; above the soft rustle of the swell among the boats came the chatter of many sleepy voices, like the sound of sparrows in a city park at dusk. The day dissolved slowly in utter timelessness. And when the last fishing boat came out of the dark sea, the tall slanting sail folding suddenly as the wings of a sea-gull alighting, the red-brown face of the man in the bow was the face of returning Odysseus. It was not the continuity of men's lives I felt, but their oneness. On that beach, beside that sea, there was no time.
When we were eating in the whitewashed room by the light of three brass olive oil lamps, I found that my argument had suddenly crumbled. What could I, who had come out of ragged and barbarous outlands, tell of the art of living to a man who had taught me both system and revolt? So am I, to whom the connubial lyrics of Patmore and Ella Wheeler Wilcox have always seemed inexpressible soiling of possible loveliness, forced to bow before the rich cadences with which Juan Maragall, Catalan, poet of the Mediterranean, celebrates the familia.
And in Maragall's work it is always the Mediterranean that one feels, the Mediterranean and the men who sailed on it in black ships with bright pointed sails. Just as in Homer and Euripides and Pindar and Theocritus and in that tantalizing kaleidoscope, the Anthology, beyond the grammar and the footnotes and the desolation of German texts there is always the rhythm of sea waves and the smell of well-caulked ships drawn up on dazzling beaches, so in Maragall, beyond the graceful well-kept literary existence, beyond wife and children and pompous demonstrations in the cause of abstract freedom, there is the sea lashing the rocky shins of the Pyrenees,—actual, dangerous, wet.
In this day when we Americans are plundering the earth far and near for flowers and seeds and ferments of literature in the hope, perhaps vain, of fallowing our thin soil with manure rich and diverse and promiscuous so that the somewhat sickly plants of our own culture may burst sappy and green through the steel and cement and inhibitions of our lives, we should not forget that northwest corner of the Mediterranean where the Langue d'Oc is as terse and salty as it was in the days of Pierre Vidal, whose rhythms of life, intrinsically Mediterranean, are finding new permanence—poetry richly ordered and lucid.
To the Catalans of the last fifty years has fallen the heritage of the oar which the cunning sailor Odysseus dedicated to the Sea, the earth-shaker, on his last voyage. And the first of them is Maragall.
XIII: Talk by the Road
On the top step Telemachus found a man sitting with his head in his hands moaning "!Ay de mi!" over and over again.
"I beg pardon," he said stiffly, trying to slip by.
"Did you see the function this evening, sir?" asked the man looking up at Telemachus with tears streaming from his eyes. He had a yellow face with lean blue chin and jowls shaven close and a little waxed moustache that had lost all its swagger for the moment as he had the ends of it in his mouth.
"In the theatre.... I am an artist, an actor." He got to his feet and tried to twirl his ragged moustaches back into shape. Then he stuck out his chest, straightened his waistcoat so that the large watchchain clinked, and invited Telemachus to have a cup of coffee with him.
They sat at the black oak table in front of the fire. The actor told how there had been only twelve people at his show. How was he to be expected to make his living if only twelve people came to see him? And the night before Carnival, too, when they usually got such a crowd. He'd learned a new song especially for the occasion, too good, too artistic for these pigs of provincials.
"Here in Spain the stage is ruined, ruined!" he cried out finally.
"How ruined?" asked Telemachus.
"The Zarzuela is dead. The days of the great writers of zarzuela have gone never to return. O the music, the lightness, the jollity of the zarzuelas of my father's time! My father was a great singer, a tenor whose voice was an enchantment.... I know the princely life of a great singer of zarzuela.... When a small boy I lived it.... And now look at me!"
Telemachus thought how strangely out of place was the actor's anaemic wasplike figure in this huge kitchen where everything was dark, strong-smelling, massive. Black beams with here and there a trace of red daub on them held up the ceiling and bristled with square iron spikes from which hung hams and sausages and white strands of garlic. The table at which they sat was an oak slab, black from smoke and generations of spillings, firmly straddled on thick trestles. Over the fire hung a copper pot, sooty, with a glitter of grease on it where the soup had boiled over. When one leaned to put a bundle of sticks on the fire one could see up the chimney an oblong patch of blackness spangled with stars. On the edge of the hearth was the great hunched figure of the padron, half asleep, a silk handkerchief round his head, watching the coffee-pot.
"It was an elegant life, full of voyages," went on the actor. "South America, Naples, Sicily, and all over Spain. There were formal dinners, receptions, ceremonial dress.... Ladies of high society came to congratulate us.... I played all the child roles.... When I was fourteen a duchess fell in love with me. And now, look at me, ragged, dying of hunger—not even able to fill a theatre in this hog of a village. In Spain they have lost all love of the art. All they want is foreign importations, Viennese musical comedies, smutty farces from Paris...."
"With cognac or rum?" the padron roared out suddenly in his deep voice, swinging the coffee pot up out of the fire.
"Cognac," said the actor. "What rotten coffee!" He gave little petulant sniffs as he poured sugar into his glass.
The wail of a baby rose up suddenly out of the dark end of the kitchen.
The actor took two handfuls of his hair and yanked at them.
"Ay my nerves!" he shrieked. The baby wailed louder in spasm after spasm of yelling. The actor jumped to his feet, "!Dolores, Dolores, ven aca!"
After he had called several times a girl came into the room padding softly on bare feet and stood before him tottering sleepily in the firelight. Her heavy lids hung over her eyes. A strand of black hair curled round her full throat and spread raggedly over her breasts. She had pulled a blanket over her shoulders but through a rent in her coarse nightgown the fire threw a patch of red glow curved like a rose petal about one brown thigh.
"!Que desvergonza'a!... How shameless!" muttered the padron.
The actor was scolding her in a shrill endless whine. The girl stood still without answering, her teeth clenched to keep them from chattering. Then she turned without a word and brought the baby from the packing box in which he lay at the end of the room, and drawing the blanket about both her and the child crouched on her heels very close to the flame with her bare feet in the ashes. When the crying had ceased she turned to the actor with a full-lipped smile and said, "There's nothing the matter with him, Paco. He's not even hungry. You woke him up, the poor little angel, talking so loud."
She got to her feet again, and with slow unspeakable dignity walked back and forth across the end of the room with the child at her breast. Each time she turned she swung the trailing blanket round with a sudden twist of her body from the hips.
Telemachus watched her furtively, sniffing the hot aroma of coffee and cognac from his glass, and whenever she turned the muscles of his body drew into tight knots from joy.
"Es buena chica.... She's a nice kid, from Malaga. I picked her up there. A little stupid.... But these days...." the actor was saying with much shrugging of the shoulders. "She dances well, but the public doesn't like her. No tiene cara de parisiana. She hasn't the Parisian air.... But these days, vamos, one can't be too fastidious. This taste for French plays, French women, French cuisine, it's ruined the Spanish theatre."
The fire flared crackling. Telemachus sat sipping his coffee waiting for the unbearable delight of the swing of the girl's body as she turned to pace back towards him across the room.
XIV: Benavente's Madrid
All the gravel paths of the Plaza Santa Ana were encumbered with wicker chairs. At one corner seven blind musicians all in a row, with violins, a cello, guitars and a mournful cornet, toodled and wheezed and twiddled through the "Blue Danube." At another a crumpled old man, with a monkey dressed in red silk drawers on his shoulder, ground out "la Paloma" from a hurdygurdy. In the middle of the green plot a fountain sparkled in the yellow light that streamed horizontally from the cafes fuming with tobacco smoke on two sides of the square, and ragged guttersnipes dipped their legs in the slimy basin round about it, splashing one another, rolling like little colts in the grass. From the cafes and the wicker chairs and tables, clink of glasses and dominoes, patter of voices, scuttle of waiters with laden trays, shouts of men selling shrimps, prawns, fried potatoes, watermelon, nuts in little cornucopias of red, green, or yellow paper. Light gleamed on the buff-colored disk of a table in front of me, on the rims of two beer-mugs, in the eyes of a bearded man with an aquiline nose very slender at the bridge who leaned towards me talking in a deep even voice, telling me in swift lisping Castilian stories of Madrid. First of the Madrid of Felipe Cuarto: corridas in the Plaza Mayor, auto da fe, pictures by Velasquez on view under the arcade where now there is a doughnut and coffee shop, pompous coaches painted vermilion, cobalt, gilded, stuffed with ladies in vast bulge of damask and brocade, plumed cavaliers, pert ogling pages, lurching and swaying through the foot-deep stinking mud of the streets; plays of Calderon and Lope presented in gardens tinkling with jewels and sword-chains where ladies of the court flirted behind ostrich fans with stiff lean-faced lovers. Then Goya's Madrid: riots in the Puerta del Sol, majas leaning from balconies, the fair of San Isidro by the river, scuttling of ragged guerrilla bands, brigands and patriots; tramp of the stiffnecked grenadiers of Napoleon; pompous little men in short-tailed wigs dying the dos de Mayo with phrases from Mirabeau on their lips under the brick arch of the arsenal; frantic carnivals of the Burial of the Sardine; naked backs of flagellants dripping blood, lovers hiding under the hoop skirts of the queen. Then the romantic Madrid of the thirties, Larra, Becquer, Espronceda, Byronic gestures, vigils in graveyards, duels, struttings among the box-alleys of the Retiro, pale young men in white stocks shooting themselves in attics along the Calle Mayor. "And now," the voice became suddenly gruff with anger, "look at Madrid. They closed the Cafe Suizo, they are building a subway, the Castellana looks more like the Champs Elysees every day.... It's only on the stage that you get any remnant of the real Madrid. Benavente is the last madrileno. Tiene el sentido de lo castizo. He has the sense of the ..." all the end of the evening went to the discussion of the meaning of the famous word "castizo."
The very existence of such a word in a language argues an acute sense of style, of the manner of doing things. Like all words of real import its meaning is a gamut, a section of a spectrum rather than something fixed and irrevocable. The first implication seems to be "according to Hoyle," following tradition: a neatly turned phrase, an essentially Castilian cadence, is castizo; a piece of pastry or a poem in the old tradition are castizo, or a compliment daintily turned, or a cloak of the proper fullness with the proper red velvet-bordered lining gracefully flung about the ears outside of a cafe. Lo castizo is the essence of the local, of the regional, the last stronghold of Castilian arrogance, refers not to the empty shell of traditional observances but to the very core and gesture of them. Ultimately lo castizo means all that is salty, savourous of the red and yellow hills and the bare plains and the deep arroyos and the dust-colored towns full of palaces and belfries, and the beggars in snuff-colored cloaks and the mule-drivers with blankets over their shoulders, and the discursive lean-faced gentlemen grouped about tables at cafes and casinos, and the stout dowagers with mantillas over their gleaming black hair walking to church in the morning with missals clasped in fat hands, all that is acutely indigenous, Iberian, in the life of Castile.
In the flood of industrialism that for the last twenty years has swelled to obliterate landmarks, to bring all the world to the same level of nickel-plated dullness, the theatre in Madrid has been the refuge of lo castizo. It has been a theatre of manners and local types and customs, of observation and natural history, where a rather specialized well-trained audience accustomed to satire as the tone of daily conversation was tickled by any portrayal of its quips and cranks. A tradition of character-acting grew up nearer that of the Yiddish theatre than of any other stage we know in America. Benavente and the brothers Quintero have been the playwrights who most typified the school that has been in vogue since the going out of the drame passionel style of Echegaray. At present Benavente as director of the Teatro Nacional is unquestionably the leading figure. Therefore it is very fitting that Benavente should be in life and works of all madrilenos the most castizo.
Later, as we sat drinking milk in la Granja after a couple of hours of a shabby third-generation Viennese musical show at the Apollo, my friend discoursed to me of the manner of life of the madrileno in general and of Don Jacinto Benavente in particular. Round eleven or twelve one got up, took a cup of thick chocolate, strolled on the Castellana under the chestnut trees or looked in at one's office in the theatre. At two one lunched. At three or so one sat a while drinking coffee or anis in the Gato Negro, where the waiters have the air of cabinet ministers and listen to every word of the rather languid discussions on art and letters that while away the afternoon hours. Then as it got towards five one drifted to a matinee, if there chanced to be a new play opening, or to tea somewhere out in the new Frenchified Barrio de Salamanca. Dinner came along round nine; from there one went straight to the theatre to see that all went well with the evening performance. At one the day culminated in a famous tertulia at the Cafe de Lisboa, where all the world met and argued and quarreled and listened to disquisitions and epigrams at tables stacked with coffee glasses amid spiral reek of cigarette smoke.
"But when were the plays written?" I asked.
My friend laughed. "Oh between semicolons," he said, "and en route, and in bed, and while being shaved. Here in Madrid you write a comedy between biscuits at breakfast.... And now that the Metro's open, it's a great help. I know a young poet who tossed off a five-act tragedy, sex-psychology and all, between the Puerta del Sol and Cuatro Caminos!"
"But Madrid's being spoiled," he went on sadly, "at least from the point of view of lo castizo. In the last generation all one saw of daylight were sunset and dawn, people used to go out to fight duels where the Residencia de Estudiantes is now, and they had real tertulias, tertulias where conversation swaggered and parried and lunged, sparing nothing, laughing at everything, for all the world like our unique Spanish hero, Don Juan Tenorio.
'Yo a las cabanas baje, yo a los palacios subi, y los claustros escale, y en todas partes deje memorias amargas de mi.'
"Talk ranged from peasant huts to the palaces of Carlist duchesses, and God knows the crows and the cloisters weren't let off scot free. And like good old absurd Tenorio they didn't care if laughter did leave bitter memories, and were willing to wait till their deathbeds to reconcile themselves with heaven and solemnity. But our generation, they all went solemn in their cradles.... Except for the theatre people, always except for the theatre people! We of the theatres will be castizo to the death."
As we left the cafe, I to go home to bed, my friend to go on to another tertulia, he stood for a moment looking back among the tables and glasses.
"What the Agora was to the Athenians," he said, and finished the sentence with an expressive wave of the hand.
It's hard for Anglo-Saxons, ante-social, as suspicious of neighbors as if they still lived in the boggy forests of Finland, city-dwellers for a paltry thirty generations, to understand the publicity, the communal quality of life in the region of the Mediterranean. The first thought when one gets up is to go out of doors to see what people are talking of, the last thing before going to bed is to chat with the neighbors about the events of the day. The home, cloistered off, exclusive, can hardly be said to exist. Instead of the nordic hearth there is the courtyard about which the women sit while the men are away at the marketplace. In Spain this social life centers in the cafe and the casino. The modern theatre is as directly the offshoot of the cafe as the old theatre was of the marketplace where people gathered in front of the church porch to see an interlude or mystery acted by travelling players in a wagon. The people who write the plays, the people who act them and the people who see them spend their spare time smoking about marbletop tables, drinking coffee, discussing. Those too poor to buy a drink stand outside in groups the sunny side of squares. Constant talk about everything that may happen or had happened or will happen manages to butter the bread of life pretty evenly with passion and thought and significance, but one loses the chunks of intensity. There is little chance for the burst dams that suddenly flood the dry watercourse of emotion among more inhibited, less civilized people. Generations upon generations of townsmen have made of life a well-dredged canal, easy-flowing, somewhat shallow.
It follows that the theatre under such conditions shall be talkative, witty, full of neat swift caricaturing, improvised, unselfconscious; at its worst, glib. Boisterous action often, passionate strain almost never. In Echegaray there are hecatombs, half the characters habitually go insane in the last act; tremendous barking but no bite of real intensity. Benavente has recaptured some of Lope de Vega's marvellous quality of adventurous progression. The Quinteros write domestic comedies full of whim and sparkle and tenderness. But expression always seems too easy; there is never the unbearable tension, the utter self-forgetfulness of the greatest drama. The Spanish theatre plays on the nerves and intellect rather than on the great harpstrings of emotion in which all of life is drawn taut.
At present in Madrid even cafe life is receding before the exigencies of business and the hardly excusable mania for imitating English and American manners. Spain is undergoing great changes in its relation to the rest of Europe, to Latin America, in its own internal structure. Notwithstanding Madrid's wartime growth and prosperity, the city is fast losing ground as the nucleus of the life and thought of Spanish-speaking people. The madrileno, lean, cynical, unscrupulous, nocturnal, explosive with a curious sort of febrile wit is becoming extinct. His theatre is beginning to pander to foreign tastes, to be ashamed of itself, to take on respectability and stodginess. Prices of seats, up to 1918 very low, rise continually; the artisans, apprentice boys, loafers, clerks, porters, who formed the backbone of the audiences can no longer afford the theatre and have taken to the movies instead. Managers spend money on scenery and costumes as a way of attracting fashionables. It has become quite proper for women to go to the theatre. Benavente's plays thus acquire double significance as the summing up and the chief expression of a movement that has reached its hey-day, from which the sap has already been cut off. It is, indeed, the thing to disparage them for their very finest quality, the vividness with which they express the texture of Madrid, the animated humorous mordant conversation about cafe tables: lo castizo.