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Federico Garcia Lorca's "Ode To Walt Whitman"

Updated on June 3, 2016
Walt Whitman in his mid 30s
Walt Whitman in his mid 30s

Analysis And Summary

Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca used powerful, dramatic imagery, mystical at times, to attract fans and readers from all over the world. However, many loverss of poetry and literature have only a cursory familiarity with his work. Perhaps one of the most accessible ways to connect with Lorca, especially for American readers, is through his poem "Ode To Walt Whitman." It is a piece that Lorca wrote in New York City in the 1930s. Lorca visited the Whitman's "old stomping grounds," but instead of finding the exuberant and electrifying American spirit described in "Leaves of Grass," Lorca is confronted with a poverty-stricken slum-world of ugliness. The poem becomes much a philosophical dialectic between Lorca's bleak view of existence in contrast to the optimism found in Whitman's cosmology.

Lorca recognizes the value and talent of Whitman, naming him as "beautiful, aged, Walt Whitman...," and Lorca honors the importance of dreams and beauty and romance. However, the world itself is nothing of the sort. In fact life is neither "good, nor sacred," even if stretches of romanticizing can show one lover's passion for another. For Lorca, this is a dark world, one where no resurrection exists for the Christ.

Of course, the paradox of great poetry is that ugliness can be transformed into a beautiful work of art, and here, Lorca makes the argument for the agony and pain of existence yet paints this agony and pain in a manner that awakens the reader. The powerful, vital language, especially when read aloud, (and alas even more so if read in the original Spanish), can infiltrate one's lungs like crisp autumn air. It can awaken one's blood like a good run, a work-out, or even a breathing meditation. This is the power of Lorca's poetic affect: it can enter the body as a visceral entity, and in contrast to its dark subject matter, the physical result is a healthy one. Just like Whitman, Lorca is good for the soul, because his poems are him. Whitman said "whoever so touches this book touches a man," and the same is true for Lorca. They are, in a sense, brothers. If Whitman was the golden child, then Lorca is the black sheep. No better introduction exists for American lovers of poetry then a conversation like this one. Reading "Ode To Walt Whitman," is a high art quarrel between two kid brothers that both love and abhor each other.

Federico Garcia Lorca in his mid 30s
Federico Garcia Lorca in his mid 30s

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