Federico Garcia Lorca: Spanish Poet Of Loss And The Rising Flame
Federico Garcia Lorca
A Younger Whitman
An Antithesis Of Whitman? A Thesis of Leonard Cohen?
Federico Garcia Lorca, arguably the greatest poet in the history of Spain, was principally concerned about themes of absence, loss, and brooding dirges. More potently, he captured the rising flame of magic that mysteriously flowed through the culture of the gitanos (gypsies) in his native Spanish landscape. Killed by General Franco's dicatorship regime towards the end of the Spanish civil war, Lorca died in his late thirties, his exact place of burial still unknown. The singer and poet Leonard Cohen took Lorca as "perhaps his greatest influence," going so far as to name his own daughter Lorca. It's worth noting Leonard Cohen's fan base and wondering if it's similar spirits the gravitate towards Lorca. As Cohen says, his fans could loosely be categorized as "the broken-hearted.
Regardless, Lorca's magic emanates and vibrates his words, even in translation, drawing the reader into a world of undertones, mysteries, and tragedies that transform visual descriptions into a new dimension. One wonders, looking, and listening, as words strike, often spent few and sparse by the poet, to snap the reader's awareness like a Zen Roshi snapping a complacent practitioner with a stick!
The poet Walt Whitman, known for bombastic optimism, is given fresh perspective from Lorca, in his poem, "Ode To Walt Whitman." A fan of Whitman and a fellow homosexual, Lorca tells the Whitman's corpse to continue to "sleep on the banks of Hudson River," as Lorca, when visiting New York City, finds an urban landscape in shambles. It is not the democratic brotherly vision of Whitman's incantion. Rather, Lorca poignantly disagrees:
"Agony, agony, dream, ferment and dream,
This is life, Walt Whitman - agony, agony
The corpses decompose under the clock of cities."
What Whitman had wanted to do was not accomplished; the dream was turned against itself, both for America's sense of integrity and for the homosexual community that Lorca encountered in the city. He called them "panises or maricas, in contrast to the masculine ethos of Spain's bullfight and visceral virility. "Sleep; nothing remains," Lorca tells Whitman, "A dance of walls agitates the meadows/and America drowns itself in machines and lament." The gays Lorca encountered appeared to be shooting themselves up high on drugs; the American industry and work that Whitman lauded was now run into the ground, spiritually and economically, by machines, pollution, sweat, blood, and ash. The common people of the cities burros ached in the streets; the land vomited up and against an onslaught of sickness. Christ was being crucified with no resurrection, as Lorca notes in other poems.
Of course, this poem, taken from Lorca's collection, Poet In New York, is but one of many of his rich gifts to the world canon. In addition to poetry, his plays have continued to be performed across the world, one of his most popular, Blood Wedding, contains a good introduction to Lorca's rich symbolic system, his world of deaths and moons, blood and song, hypnotic butterflies and horses galloping through midnight fires.
It's an inexhaustible journey, one that has been lifelong for myself. I have always found that reading Lorca aloud, slowly, is always the best affect, as the beat is slightly off, slightly unique, and definitely touching upon a vibration that no doubt still echoes from the deep caverns of the earth today.