Selected verse from the poet who "expanded the scope of lyric poetry" (Rafael Campo, The Washington Post).
The work of Federico García Lorca, Spain's greatest modernist poet, has long been admired for its emotional intensity and metaphorical brilliance. The revised Selected Verse, which incorporates changes made to García Lorca's Collected Poems, is an essential addition to any poetry lover's bookshelf. In this bilingual edition, García Lorca's poetic range comes clearly into view, from the playful Suites and stylized evocations of Andalusia to the utter gravity and mystery of the final elegies, confirming his stature as one of the twentieth century's finest poets.
About the Author
Federico García Lorca was born in 1898 in southern Spain. From an early age he was fascinated by Spain's mixed heritage, adapting its folk songs, ballads, lullabies, and flamenco music into poems and plays. By the age of thirty, he had published five books of poems, culminating in 1928 with Gypsy Ballads, which brought him far-reaching fame. In 1929–30 he studied in New York City, where he wrote the poems that were published posthumously as Poet in New York. In 1936, at the outset of the Spanish Civil War, he was shot to death by anti-Republican rebels in Franco's army, and his books were banned and destroyed.
Christopher Maurer is the head of the Department of Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese at the University of Illinois in Chicago.
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FEDERICO GARCÍA LORCA is always — no matter what he is writing about — an elegiac poet. He looks beyond the "here and now" and sees what is present as a symbol of what is absent. No matter where one opens his work, its theme is the impossible: the melancholy conviction that all of us have certain indefinable longings that cannot be satisfied by anything around us. Robert Bly (101) got it exactly right: Lorca is a poet of desire. He is always saying "what he wants, what he desires, what barren women desire, what water desires, what gypsies desire, what a bull desires just before he dies, what brothers and sisters desire." Lorca's powers of metaphor push desire even further, into the world of plants, insects, and inanimate things. In his poems, all of life is driven by some sort of undefined pain or longing. To him, the essence of poetry is mystery. And "mystery" means that language can only point at, and never adequately name, what it is that we want. What Lorca's poetry tells us is that none of us can say what we want, and none of us would be happy if we attained it.
In his poems and plays, one finds different figures of desire: the sexual urge, homoerotic love; longing for marriage or maternity; the yearning for social justice; the drive toward personal fulfillment of one sort or another. Above all, one finds the longing of the poet, through language, to apprehend reality. "The poet," Lorca wrote in 1928, "is in a sad state of 'wanting and not being able.' He hears the flow of great rivers, passing by in silence, with no one else to hear their music. On his brow he feels the coolness of the reeds, swaying in their No Man's Land. He wants to feel the dialogue of the winds that tremble in the moss ... He wants to penetrate the music of the sap running in the dark silence of huge treetrunks ... He wants to press his ear to the sleeping girl and understand the Morse code of her heart ... He wants ... But he cannot" (OC II:16).
In Lorca, poetic activity, metaphor itself, is the figure of desire — the one that encloses all the others. As the poet Michael Heller (33) wrote, apropos of cante jondo, "any trope of language leads always to a beautiful and terrifying indeterminacy." Poetry like Lorca's exists to remind us of the inability of reason and language to fully "capture" reality or experience. What is most memorable in his poetry and theater is that desire is never fully defined, only gestured at, and therefore unable ever to be satisfied. Before desire is defined, it is somehow canceled: by madness, despair, or melancholy, by societal indifference, by the inadequacy of language, or, more neatly, by death. The journey is always interrupted. A poem from Songs, written when Lorca was twenty-three, is emblematic:
Mysterious and fragmentary as any traditional ballad, the poem offers no explanation of why the rider wants to reach Córdoba, why he is certain he will never do so. Córdoba itself seems indefinable and a little arbitrary. It is, simply, the desideratum that creates a poetic field of force. It is, in abstract terms — and Lorca would have been uncomfortable with this abstraction — the unknown, the absent, the impossible, clothed in sound. In any case, desire is defeated, its object recedes beyond the horizon, the rider's brave voice expires in a final sigh of resignation.
Lorca's own life journey began in 1898 — the year that Spain lost her colonies to the United States — in Fuente Vaqueros, an Andalusian village in the Vega, the green river plain that lies just to the west of Granada. His mother, Vicenta Lorca Romero, had worked briefly as a schoolteacher, and his father, Federico García Rodriguez, was a prosperous landowner, whose fortunes had risen with the boom of the sugar industry. When Federico was eleven, the family (including his younger siblings Francisco, Conchita, and Isabel) established its home in Granada but continued to spend summer vacations in the countryside. Later in life, García Lorca would insist on the importance of his rural upbringing: "I love the land. All my emotions tie me to it. The first memories I have are of the earth. The earth, the countryside, have wrought great things in my life" (DS 132). Both his poems and plays prove him a keen observer of nature and of the speech and customs of rural society. And few poets have ever had such a poignant sense of the beauty of their surroundings. Gerald Brenan (230) has recalled that in the 1920s Granada was
a quiet, sedate, self-contained country town, little troubled, except during the month of April, by tourists, and very different from the busy expanding place it is today. Its charm lay, of course, in its situation — the immense green plain, the snow- covered mountains, the elms and cypresses of the Alhambra hill, the streams of noisy, hurrying water. These made up something one could not expect to find anywhere else. But the city was also attractive for its own sake. Its streets and squares and vistas and public gardens might be too unobtrusive to catch the passing tourist's eye, but they had plenty in the way of character and variety to offer the resident. And then beyond them there was always the flat green countryside, with its great glittering olive trees and its clear racing streams bordered with blue iris and its groves of poplar poles by the river. There was a lyrical quality about the place, an elegance of site and detail, of tint and shape, that evoked Tuscany or Umbria rather than the harsh and tawny lion-skin of Spain.
García Lorca wrote often about the peculiar, somewhat feminine character of Granada: her air, "so beautiful that is almost thought" (DS 54); her crystalline water, which descends from the sierra and "lies down to die" in the reflecting pools of the Alhambra (SG 99); her long and memorable sunsets; her fondness for tiny things; her contemplative way of life (in contrast to Seville, city of Don Juan); and her landlocked situation: the Mediterranean is thirty miles away and, unlike Seville, Granada "has no outlet except her high natural port of stars" (SG 63). Granada was a city of absence and longing, and Lorca's enjoyment of its present beauty was haunted, perhaps intensified, by what he called "historical melancholy": an awareness of vanished peoples, unfulfilled promise and desire. Among his early writings are pages devoted to the sadness — the "carnal Calvary" of monks, nuns, and old maids, but, throughout his life, the image of unfulfilled sexual desire — whether heterosexual or homosexual — is subsumed in something much larger. In 1917 he wrote:
The tragic, awesome thing about the human heart and the incomprehensible, terrifying nature of human desire is that if men achieve the dreams they are yearning for, they feel no happier having possessed them [...] They feel an illusion that is their constant torment, and if, after much suffering, they achieve it, they find only the worst sort of ennui and disgust. This, which is so enormously painful and tragic, occurs both in the spiritual realm and in the physical. And thus the suffering caused by an absent love is useless and frightful. If a man loves intensely ... when he possesses his constant pain his illusion is wiped away little by little, and when the sacrifice is consummated, his tower of desires and yearning comes tumbling down, and he is turned into a man like any other.
Throughout his adolescence in Granada, until 1916 or 1917, it was music, not literature, that seemed best to give expression to desire: "With words one says human things," Lorca writes in an early essay. "With music one expresses what no one knows or can define, but which exists in everyone with greater or lesser force. Music is the art par excellence." As a child, Lorca was fascinated with the theater, but he also received thorough training as a classical pianist, and his first sense of artistic wonder arose from the piano repertoire of Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, and others. In the early 1920s, after he had become a close friend of the composer Manuel de Falla, his repertory grew to include Spanish folk music. Not only did Lorca compose his own piano music, his earliest prose pieces — "Nocturne," "Waltz by Chopin," "Ballade," etc. — are an attempt to turn musical forms to literary use. It has often been noticed that not until the death of his piano teacher — a disciple of Verdi — in 1916, did Lorca take his first steps as a writer.
Until 1919, Lorca's intellectual milieu — a rich one, by provincial standards — was the circle of talented adolescents who gathered daily in a nook called El Rinconcillo in the Café Alameda, Granada. In that year, one of his professors at the University of Granada, Don Fernando de los Ríos, a leader of the Spanish Socialist Party, persuaded Federico's parents to allow their twenty-year-old son to enroll in the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid, an educational institution modeled on Oxford and Cambridge and designed to nurture a cultural elite to steer Spain toward liberal ideals. The move to Madrid widened Lorca's horizons, bringing him into contact with intellectual modernity. A lecture society at the "Resi" gave Lorca and the other Residentes the chance to hear a number of foreign scholars, writers, and musicians: Claudel, Valéry, Cendrars, Max Jacob, Marinetti, Madame Curie, H. G. Wells, Le Corbusier, Chesterton, Wanda Landowska, Ravel, Milhaud, Poulenc, etc. In Madrid, Lorca came under the protection of the great Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez and the playwrights Eduardo Marquina and Gregorio Martínez Sierra, and met many of the leading figures of his own cultural generation. Three of his closest friends in the 1920s were the poet Rafael Alberti, the filmmaker Luis Buñuel, and the painter Salvador Dalí, one of the two people (the other was Falla) who had the deepest impact on Lorca's art and thought. The painter invited him to visit his family in Cadaqués during Holy Week 1925 — Lorca's first trip to Catalonia — and two years later Lorca and he collaborated on the Barcelona production of Lorca's historical drama Mariana Pineda. The surviving correspondence between them and Lorca's "Ode to Salvador Dalí" show how passionately and deeply they loved one another, and how their friendship influenced their art, helping draw Lorca first toward an "aesthetic of clarity" and later toward a loosening of rational control, and Dalí toward specific motifs in his work and toward a new respect for literature.
During his years at the Residencia, Lorca worked sporadically on degrees in philosophy and letters and in law. His real passion, of course, lay in poetry, in theater, and in music, and by 1927 he had assembled five of his major books: Book of Poems (written 1918–20), Poem of the Deep Song (mostly 1921), Suites (1921–23), Songs (1921–26), and The Gypsy Ballads (1921–27).
The first of them, Book of Poems, published in 1921, contains verses selected with the help of Federico's brother Francisco from among all that he had written since 1918. Some of these poems concern religious faith, a subject to which Lorca — a great reader of Unamuno — had devoted hundreds of pages of his earliest prose. Others dwell on the poet's longing to be at peace with nature, his loneliness, or his sense of estrangement from his own childhood and from society. In sentimental verses reminiscent of the early Jiménez, Rubén Darío, and minor poets of Hispanic modernismo, he regrets that reason and rhetoric — the rhetoric of literature — have replaced the poetic faith that allows children to commune with nature:
There is an ache in the flesh of my heart,
Poem of the Deep Song, Lorca's second book, was written at a time when he and Falla were organizing Spain's first amateur agon of cante jondo (a type of popular Andalusian music also known as flamenco) in order to save it from commercial adulteration. Here, as in Suites, Lorca is exploring the possibilities of the sequence — the "suite" — of short poems, and the quasi-musical concept of the theme and variations. In these poems, his subject matter is so "typically" Andalusian, so vulnerable to the dangers of "local color," that he tells a friend he "deserves a smile" for his "daring" (EC 136–37). The brevity and intensity of the cante jondo lyrics —
The moon has a ring.
had been a revelation to him. "It is wondrous and strange how in just three or four lines the anonymous popular poet can condense all the highest moments in human life." Those brief poems, he wrote in 1922, were an inspiration to all poets "who to some degree are concerned with pruning and caring for the overluxuriant lyric tree left to us by the Romantics and Post-Romantics (SD 10–11). Lorca was aware that a new era had begun in Spanish poetry: the poets of the Hispanic world had discovered the short poem (cante jondo lyrics, the traditional song, haiku) and, like the English and American Imagists, the central importance of the metaphor. Another discovery, of course, was "traditional" (he called it "popular") art: both Falla and Lorca insisted on thinking that the cante jondo lyrics had been created by the people of the countryside, rather than by the wine-soaked professionals who held forth in bars and taverns or "prostituted" themselves to commercial theater.
Suites — a collection that Lorca never finished and which was not published until 1983, almost half a century after his death — grew from the same structural intuition as Poem of the Deep Song: the poetic sequence. By 1923, when this cycle came to a close, Lorca was becoming a master of brevity and of poetic irony, and had proven — to himself, at least — that he could tackle any subject, from Andalusian folk music to the mysteries of time or of personal identity (e.g., in "Mirror Suite"). In the most ambitious of his suites, "In the Garden of the Lunar Grapefruits," the twenty-five-year-old poet discovers one of the central themes of his work: the elegiac notion of lost possibility. If Book of Poems mourned the loss of what once was — the poet's childhood — the "Lunar Grapefruit" poems commemorate a theme later explored by Borges: what might have been. In the summer of 1923 Lorca explained excitedly to a friend: "My garden is the garden of possibilities, the garden of what is not, but could (and at times should) have been, the garden of theories that passed invisibly by and children who have not been born" (EC 197). It was a first incursion into poetry of the fantastic.
Written somewhat later, Songs is a collection of short lyrical poems thematically related to the Suites (in fact, much material from the unpublished Suites appears to have been "recycled" into Songs). Here Lorca's poetic sequences are much looser. Hoping to show "all the strings of [his] lyre," he divided the collection into sections: "Andalusian Songs," "Songs for Children," "Games," "Three Portraits with Shading," erotic poems, etc. As in his earlier book, quite a few of the "songs" draw on the structural elements of Spanish folk music (e.g., the use of assonant rhyme and parallelistic structures). In his conversations with Manuel de Falla about cante jondo, Lorca had given much thought to how "learned" poetry like his own might best draw on folk poetry. The path he chose, under Falla's guidance and the inspiration of French and Russian composers and the Ballets Russes, was one of suggestive stylization, rather than quotation or pastiche. It was a matter of "suggestion," rather than imitation, or, as Falla put it, "truth without authenticity." "Nothing but the quintessence and this or that trill for its coloristic effect ought to be drawn straight from the people," Lorca wrote in 1922. "We should never want to copy their ineffable modulations; we can do nothing but blur them. Simply because of education" (SD 14).(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Selected Verse"
Copyright © 2004 Christopher Maurer.
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Table of Contents
Introduction, by Christopher Maurer,
de LIBRO DE POEMAS,
from BOOK OF POEMS (translated by Catherine Brown),
de POEMA DEL CANTE JONDO,
from POEM OF THE DEEP SONG (translated by Cola Franzen),
from SUITES (translated by Jerome Rothenberg),
de CANCIONES 1921–1926,
from SONGS 1921–1926 (translated by Alan S. Trueblood),
de PRIMER ROMANCERO GITANO 1924–1927,
from THE GYPSY BALLADS 1924–1927 (translated by Will Kirkland and Christopher Maurer),
de POETA EN NUEVA YORK,
from POET IN NEW YORK (translated by Greg Simon and Steven F. White),
de DIVÁN DEL TAMARIT,
from THE TAMARIT DIVAN (translated by Catherine Brown),
de SEIS POEMAS GALEGOS,
from SIX GALICIAN POEMS (translated by Catherine Brown),
LLANTO POR IGNACIO SÁNCHEZ MEJÍAS,
LAMENT FOR IGNACIO SÁNCHEZ MEJÍAS (translated by Galway Kinnell),
de SONETOS DEL AMOR OSCURO,
from SONNETS OF DARK LOVE (translated by Angela Jaffray),
UNCOLLECTED POEMS (translated by Christopher Maurer, Greg Simon, and Steven F. White),
Notes to the Poems, by Christopher Maurer,
Index of Titles,
Indice de Títulos,
About the Authors,