927. To a Dry Elm, by Antonio Machado

The old elm, split by lightning
and half rotted
with April rain and May sun,
has sprouted a few green leaves.

The hundred-year-old elm on a hill
lapped by the Duero! A yellowish moss
stains the bleached bark
of the crumbling, worm-eaten trunk.

Unlike the singing poplars
that guard roads and riverbanks,
it won't be a home to nightingales.

An army of ants in a single line
climbs up its side and spiders weave
their gray webs in its hollowed core.

Elm by the Duero, before you are felled
by the woodman's ax and the carpenter
transforms you into a bell tower,
a wagon axle or cart's yoke;
before you are a red flame on
tomorrow's hearth in some poor cottage
along the side of the road;
before a whirlwind uproots you,
and the wind from the white sierras snaps you;
before the river pushes you to the sea
through valleys and ravines,
elm, I want to note
the grace of your greening branch.
My heart also waits in hope,
turned toward light and life,
for another miracle of spring.

(trans Mary G. Berg and Dennis Maloney)

Source: The Landscape of Castile

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