“Last night as I was sleeping”

For pleasure, I translate Spanish poetry to English.

Antonio Machado is one of my favorites and this is my translation of one of his most famous poems.

If you search online, the most easily found translation of this particular Machado poem is probably the one by Robert Bly, which is nice, but sacrifices rhyme for his interpretation of the meaning. Bly’s book of Machado translations is on Google Books and you can read both the original and his translation.

I like my version because it takes a stab at the rhyme but also surfaces the spiritual tone. Machado was deeply religious and in this poem he is writing is about God and redemption.

There is also a lovely version by Willis Barnstone but you have to buy his book to read it!


Last night as I was sleeping” by Antonio Machado

Translated to the English by Katie King /Copyright 2010 all rights reserved

Last night as I was sleeping

– blessed vision! – I dreamt

of a fountain that was rippling

deep within my heart.

Tell me, what is this hidden aquifer,

water, flowing up to me,

spring of new life

which never before did I drink?


Last night as I was sleeping

– blessed vision! – I dreamt

of a beehive that was nesting

deep within my heart;

and the golden bees

inside it,

from old bitterness weave

pure white comb and honey sweet.


Last night as I was sleeping

– blessed vision! – I dreamt

that a brilliant sun was burning,

deep within my heart.

It was brilliant because it lent

the warmth of home aglow,

and it was sun because it showed the light

and because it made the teardrops flow.


Last night as I was sleeping

– blessed vision! – I dreamt

that it was God that I had glowing

deep within my heart.


And the original:

Anoche cuando dormía – Antonio Machado

    Anoche cuando dormía

soñé ¡bendita ilusión!

que una fontana fluía

dentro de mi corazón.

Dí: ¿por qué acequia escondida,

agua, vienes hasta mí,

manantial de nueva vida

en donde nunca bebí?


  Anoche cuando dormía

soñé ¡bendita ilusión!

que una colmena tenía

dentro de mi corazón;

y las doradas abejas

iban fabricando en él,

con las amarguras viejas,

blanca cera y dulce miel.


  Anoche cuando dormía

soñé ¡bendita ilusión!

que un ardiente sol lucía

dentro de mi corazón.

Era ardiente porque daba

calores de rojo hogar,

y era sol porque alumbraba

y porque hacía llorar.


  Anoche cuando dormía

soñé ¡bendita ilusión!

que era Dios lo que tenía

dentro de mi corazón.


About Katie King

Literary Translator, Journalist, Media Professional, Professor. Currently working toward PhD in Hispanic Studies at the University of Washington.
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5 Responses to “Last night as I was sleeping”

  1. lauren johnson says:

    Dear Katie,
    I want to thank you for this translation. I was introduced to this poem through the film Queen of the Sun last year. It turned out that a dear friend of mine who was fighting cancer had also loved this poem. She passed away and I was asked to read it at her memorial. We had the ‘marvelous error’ version and always discussed that. When it came time to bring a copy to the service a couple of weeks ago, I had to scramble on-line to find it again. I fortunately found your translation and that is what I read and that is what I gave to her son and husband as a keepsake. Yours will also be what I will include in my MEd thesis about honeybees. Blessings on your work. Best, Lauren

    • Katie King says:

      Dear Lauren,

      Thank you for your very kind words and for sharing your story. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend and I am deeply honored that you choose my translation to read at her memorial. Good luck with your thesis. I would love to read it when you finish. All the best, Katie

  2. Pingback: Last Night As I Lay Sleeping | Writing and Healing

  3. Dolores says:

    Reblogged this on My Blog and commented:
    I love poetry this is beautiful

  4. Bunny McBride says:

    Beautiful translation, Katie. I especially appreciate “blessed vision!” instead of “marvelous error!” Thanks so much.

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