I was reminded of this paradox during my visit last month to Soria, high up at the eastern end of the Castillian meseta near the headwaters of the River Duero, where Machado wrote his most famous collection of poems - Campos de Castilla - and where he met, married and then buried his young wife Leonor. While the strident literary nationalism that inhabits much of this collection is disconcerting, when actually physically confronted with the landscape which Machado describes in these poems it is difficult not to feel moved in a similarly irrational, 'Romantic' way... Somehow this desolate, rocky terrain - with its accumulated millenia of ruined cities, fortresses and monasteries - speaks to you in a way that the empty vistas of 'Godzone' can never even hope to aspire to...
He vuelto a ver los álamos dorados,
álamos del camino en la ribera
del Duero, entre San Polo y San Saturio,
tras las murallas viejas de Soria - barbacana
hacia Aragón, en castellana tierra-.
Estos chopos del río, que acompañan
con el sonido de sus hojas secas
el son del agua, cuando el viento sopla,
tienen en sus cortezas
grabadas iniciales que son nombres
de enamorados, cifras que son fechas.
¡Alamos del amor que ayer tuvisteis
de ruiseñores vuestras ramas llenas;
álamos que seréis mañana liras
del viento perfumado en primavera;
álamos del amor cerca del agua
que corre y pasa y sueña;
alamos de las márgenes del Duero,
conmigo vais, mi corazón os lleva!
('Campos de Soria' VIII)
Along the banks of the river it is also possible to see the remains of the monastery of San Polo, which belonged to the Templar military order until their forcible dissolution in the 14th century, and about which the patron saint of Spanish Romanticism Gustavo Bécquer dedicated his gothic tales 'El Monte de los Ánimas' and 'El Rayo de Luna'.
In this sense then, it might be said that the problem is not so much a surfeit of irrationality or Romanticism on the part of Machado, but rather that in his pursuit of these strategies he simply does not go far enough...
I couldn't conclude this brief soliloquy on Spanish left nationalism without mentioning the website of the Castilian federation of the Stalinist Partido Comunista de los Pueblos de España, which amusingly fights for the self-determination of Castile (along with all the other "oppressed nations" of Spain) and 'liberation' from the rule of EU and US imperialism (since they view Spain as essentially an exploited neo-colony of these latter). Somewhat scarily, in large parts of provincial Spain (such as La Rioja, where I spent the majority of time during my recent trip to the Iberian peninsular) these guys seem to be just about the only organised far left force!