Machado’s evolution has strong links to larger European trends in the same period. He turned away from the hermetic esthetic principles of post-symbolism and cultivated the dynamic openness of social realism. Like such French æsthetes as Verlaine, Machado began with a fin de siècle contemplation of his sensory world, portraying it through memory and the impressions of his private consciousness. And like his socially-conscious colleagues of the Generation of 1898, he emerged from his solitude to contemplate Spain’s historical landscape with a sympathetic yet unindulgent eye. His poetic work begins with the publication of Soledades in 1903. In this short volume many personal links which will characterize his later work are noticeable. In Soledades, Galerías. Otros poemas, published in 1907, his voice becomes his own and influences 20th Century poets Octavio Paz, Derek Walcott, and Giannina Braschi. The most typical feature of his personality is the antipathetic, softly sorrowful tone that can be felt even when he describes real things or common themes of the time, for example abandoned gardens, old parks or fountains: places which he approaches via memory or dreams.
After Machado’s experience with the introspective poetry of his first period, he withdrew from the spectacle of his conflictive personality and undertook to witness the general battle of the “two Spains”, each one struggling to gain the ascendancy. In 1912 he published “Campos de Castilla”, a collection of poems lyricising the beauty of the Castilian countryside. Just as the poet’s own personality revealed mutually destructive elements in the earlier Galerías and Soledades, so too did the Cain-Abel Bible story, interpreted in “La Tierra de Alvargonzález”, later attest to the factions in Spain that shredded one another and the national fabric in an effort to restore unity. At the same time, other poems projected Castilian archetypes that evoked emotions like pathos (“La mujer manchega”, “The Manchegan Woman”), revulsion (“Un criminal”), and stark rapture (“Campos de Soria”).
Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.
By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing behind
one sees the path
that never will be trod again.
Wanderer, there is no road—
Only wakes upon the sea.“”from “Proverbios y cantares” in Campos de Castilla. 1912
In 1917 various poems were added to “Campos”, including a group of poems written in Baeza about the death of his young wife, a series of short reflective poems, often resembling popular songs or sayings, called “Proverbios y Cantares”, and a series of “Elogios”, dedicated to people such as Rubén Dario or Federico García Lorca who had been influential in his life.
Machado’s later poems are a virtual anthropology of Spain’s common people, describing their collective psychology, social mores, and historical destiny. He achieves this panorama through basic myths and recurrent, eternal patterns of group behavior. He developed these archetypes in Campos de Castilla (“Castilian Plains”) in such key poems as “La tierra de Alvargonzález”, and “Por tierras de España”, which are based on Biblical inheritance stories. The metaphors of this second period use geographical and topographical allusions that frame powerful judgments about socio-economic and moral conditions on the Peninsula.
His next book, “Nuevas canciones” (New Songs), published in 1924, marks the last period of his work. The complete works of his poetry, Poesías Completas was published in 1938 and contains Poesias de Guerra (Poems of War), with El crimen fue en Granada (The crime was in Granada), the elegy to Federico García Lorca.