I never sought the glory: On seeking fame

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Antonio Machado’s poem “I never sought the glory” is an almost Taoist contemplation of the ephemerality of fame. In this poem he states that he’s never sought it out, he doesn’t want it, which is a strange claim to make for a poet, isn’t it?
When poets write, isn’t it to communicate something vital to others? To leave something so important behind that it had to be put down in a fixed form?

Most of us, at some point in our writing careers, realize that our poems, our stories, are like soap bubbles drifting by. 
They capture the awe and attention of some person who’s finely attuned enough to appreciate its beauty, and then it pops or is carried away by the wind and is lost against the backdrop of a busy city street.

Machodo’s soap bubbles are the perfect analogy for the impermanence of attention, as well as life. Indeed, the poet seems to be thinking about the time when he’ll no longer be around, as he states: ” I never sought […] to leave in memory of men my song”.
“Subtle” is the keyword in this poem. Subtle as in understated.

The poet expresses that he appreciates how his poems have briefly delighted readers, but that they should not be seen as important. In fact, his last lines contain a warning. We have seen the delicate bubble floating in blue, but then there is the foreboding verb “trembling”, and in the last line the bubble pops. A suitable onomatopoeic ending.

Fame and life are equally transient states. There’s something peaceful in giving up the striving. You’ll have more time to appreciate the small bits of beauty that float by you every day.

I never sought the glory
I never sought the glory
nor to leave in memory
of men my song;
I love subtle worlds,
Weightless and graceful
like bubbles of soap.
I like to see them painted
In sunlight and scarlet, wafting
under the blue sky, trembling
suddenly and pop.

Poem by Antonio Machado, translated from Spanish by Katie King.

8 thoughts on “I never sought the glory: On seeking fame

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