The Saeta

Antonio Machado

Who will lend me a ladder
to climb the tree
and pull out the nails
from Jesus the Nazarene?
     Popular saeta in Spain

Oh, the saeta, the song
to the Christ of the gypsies,
always with bleeding hands,
always nailed to the cross!
The chant of Andalusia,
where every spring
they ask for ladders
to climb that tree!
Song of my homeland,
where they toss flowers
to Jesus in agony,
the faith of my elders!
Oh, you are not my song!
I cannot and will not sing
to this Jesus nailed to wood,
but to the one who walked on the sea.

Antonio Machado, 1917
translated by Paul Burns and Salvador Ortiz-Carboneres

The saeta is a popular form of flamenco. The name means "arrow" in Spanish. Saetas are traditionally sung from balconies in praise of figures of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and the saints, as they are carried through the streets of Andalusia during Holy Week.

Drawing of Machado by Leandro Oroz (1925)

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