The major points in Lorca's life and career often seem to have coincided with significant events in the historical and political arena. For instance, the year of his birth coincided with the so-called Disaster of 1898, when Spain received a stunning double shock in losing the war against the United States and hence losing also its last remaining colonies: Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Lorca spent his first eleven years on the vega (fertile plain) of Granada, to the west of the city, his family dividing its time between two villages, Fuente Vaqueros and Asquerosa. His father, Federico García Rodríguez, was a well-off farmer and landowner; Lorca's mother, the former Vicenta Lorca Romero--his father's second wife--was a local primary-school teacher. Both parents, but particularly his mother, are thought to have exerted in their different ways a strong influence on Lorca's character and sensibility. The War of Independence in Cuba, and its subsequent loss, meant that Spain's "natural" supply of sugar was cut off; a boom in sugar beets, which thrived in the vega's soil, and his father's canny business sense enabled the family to consolidate its financial position, and hence, incidentally, to support Lorca economically throughout almost the entirety of his life.
His childhood, then, was a rural and agricultural one, spent closely in contact with nature: he observed firsthand the different tasks associated with the cycle of the seasons, the lives of the farm animals, the rivers and irrigation channels that made intensive cultivation possible, the dense stands of poplars, and the insects in the grass of the meadows. He was the eldest of four children, with a brother (Francisco) and two sisters (Concha and Isabel), and this family nucleus was surrounded by domestic servants and an extended family of uncles, aunts, and cousins who lived in and around Granada. In this warm, comfortable, but relatively modest environment, Lorca would have acquired the feeling for the dynamics of nature that comes through in so many of his works, and likewise he assimilated the rural speech, customs, beliefs, superstitions, and most of all the traditional lyrics, songs, and music, which figure so frequently and prominently as part of his literary palette. At the same time, Lorca's nascent theatrical imagination received a stimulus from an itinerant puppet show he once witnessed in the village square, and soon he not only had his own cardboard theater but was also improvising texts for performances therein.
Concerned for their children's secondary education, Lorca's family moved into the city of Granada in 1909. Although his career at school was undistinguished, marked by daydreaming, a lack of application, and a greater taste for fun and jokes than hard work, Lorca's artistic sensibility was nevertheless developing throughout his teens. While his family had essentially rustic origins, it was nevertheless cultured, and its members professed a particular enthusiasm for literature. The Spanish classics and a complete set of Victor Hugo's translated works were in the family's library. However, Lorca's first great love was music: lessons with a venerated piano teacher--Antonio Segura Mesa--led to visions of studies at the Paris Conservatory. But family opposition and the death of the aged teacher (in May 1916) meant that a career in music was stalled; Lorca remained an accomplished pianist, both in the classical repertoire and in popular Spanish songs, but his major energies would be redirected elsewhere.
Two years previously, in 1914, with some of the necessary qualifications still pending, he had commenced a preparatory year at the University of Granada. He initially embarked on a joint major in philosophy, letters, and law, but one may assume that, like many middle-class sons in Spain and like the majority of nineteenth-and twentieth-century Spanish writers, Lorca was expected by his father to become a respectable lawyer. Lorca himself had other ideas. Much of his literary juvenilia is preserved but still largely unpublished. In his late teens he tried his hand first at prose and dramas, and then a little later at poetry. These writings are marked by a strong, sometimes overwrought romanticism, influenced stylistically by late-romantic, fin-de-siécle, Spanish-American modernismo, and by the work of Rubén Darío in particular. Lorca was already preoccupied by and tackling the big topics: the existence, nature, and disposition of God; the significance of Christ's life and death; the meaning of life itself; social injustice; the conflicts between the spiritual and the carnal; and the quest for a perfect, ideal, transcendent love. Brought up in a strongly and conventionally Catholic atmosphere, Lorca found himself questioning some of its most fundamental dogmas, and, at the same time, he was becoming aware that he was somehow different to most of those around him. His ill-defined longings, his highly developed sensibility, his consuming interest in philosophy, literature, music, and the other arts, and his precocious awareness of the human condition all combined to lead him to seek the company of fellow spirits. With them he founded the Rinconcillo, a tertulia (loosely organized literary circle) that met in a corner of the Café Alameda, just a stone's throw from his family's house in Granada.
While the courses Lorca took at the university were mainly a tedious chore for him, nevertheless there were a few outstanding and inspiring teachers. One of these was a professor of the theory of literature and the arts, Martín Domínguez Berrueta, whose pedagogical ideas were informed by the liberal Institución Libre de Enseñanza (an independent, reformist secondary school in Madrid) and who consequently believed firmly in the educational value of travel; he organized artistic tours for selected students from the university. The first stirrings of Lorca's literary vocation can be dated to the period immediately before the first trip he took with Berrueta, and the stimulus and encouragement he received from this professor were crucial in converting him from a pianist into a writer. Lorca participated in a total of four excursions, to several different areas of Spain, in the summer and fall of 1916 and spring and summer of 1917. He returned with long, impressionistic prose accounts of his travels, and these formed the basis for his first book, Impresiones y paisajes (1918; translated as Impressions and Landscapes , 1987). This loosely structured travelogue threatens on occasions to turn into an exercise in pure style: aestheticism, synaesthesia, and endless sunsets are among the hallmarks of derivative modernismo, but other pieces testify to his abiding social and theological concerns, focused in meditations on such topics as the rural poverty he had observed on his travels and on the essential unhealthiness, as Lorca saw it, of the monk's way of life.
With a view to furthering and widening Lorca's education, and no doubt also with the expectation of participation in a less provincial literary life, another influential university professor and family friend, Fernando de los Ríos, supplied Lorca in 1919 with introductions to such prominent literary figures as Juan Ramón Jiménez and to the administrators of Madrid's recently moved and expanded Residencia de Estudiantes, a progressive establishment modeled after the Oxford and Cambridge colleges; it was another offshoot of the Institución Libre de Enseñanza. For the next ten years Lorca would divide his time between Madrid and Granada, staying at the "Resi," as he referred to the students' establishment, and struggling periodically to complete his law degree at the provincial university. The summers, invariably spent back home, were productive times for writing: a very high percentage of Lorca's manuscripts, when they are dated at all, are ascribed to those months in Granada, at the seashore in Málaga, or more likely in one or another of the family's houses out on the vega.
His life in Granada, then, rarely implied even the pretense of the exclusive and narrow pursuit of academic study, and this was especially true after composer Manuel de Falla's move to that city temporarily in 1919 and permanently from 1920 on. Lorca's piano teacher Segura and the professors de los Ríos and Berrueta had been important formative influences, and Falla was another equally significant one. Common interests in music, folklore, and Andalusia naturally drew the composer and the poet together and led in time to a variety of collaborations.
Granada also was the scene of a visit, in the summer of 1919, by Gregorio Martinez Sierra, one of the few theatrical impresarios of the time interested in innovation and willing to take chances; impressed by Lorca's youthful compositions that he heard him read during a recital, Sierra asked him to recast and expand one of his poems as a play to be staged at Sierra's Teatro Eslava in Madrid. Such was the genesis of El maleficio de la mariposa (1920; translated as The Butterfly's Evil Spell , 1954), which is peopled exclusively with insects and whose symbolist derivation, particularly from Maurice Maeterlinck, is clear to see. The poem on which it was based is now lost, but "Los encuentros de un caracol aventurero" (The Encounters of an Adventurous Snail) from Libro de poemas (Book of Poems, 1921) falls into much the same genre. The play, completed under pressure and while rehearsals of act 1 were already under way, premiered in the spring of 1920 and was a dismal failure; Lorca reacted bravely, but it was seven years before he ventured again before a paying theater public.
Meanwhile, the compositions that make up Lorca's first collection of verse, the simply and generically entitled Libro de poemas , were beginning to fall into place. In late 1920 and early 1921 Lorca's brother, Francisco, assisted him in making a selection out of all his verse written to date. In the end no pieces dated before April 1918 were included, and the chronologically latest is ascribed to December 1920. Lorca hesitated--as he would do repeatedly in later life--over the quality of his compositions and the desirability of fixing them in print, and he delivered the completed manuscript very reluctantly to the person who was to print it, Gabriel García Maroto. As had been the case with Impresiones y paisajes , publication was funded entirely by Lorca's father. The poetry collection was published in July 1921, received a few kind notices, mainly from friends, and then slipped into (unjustified) obscurity.
In fact, although Libro de poemas suffers from many of the flaws of a poet's first collection, it also contains much that is original and worthwhile. Lorca can be seen assimilating influences of his preferred poets: Darío, Jiménez, Antonio Machado, Francisco Villaespesa, Salvador Rueda, and others, but elsewhere Lorca strikes out on new paths, nearly achieving a voice of his own. Likewise, given the essentially miscellaneous nature of the collection, the style is mixed: there are formal, complex, rhetorically structured poems, usually written in correspondingly "high-art" (and therefore long-line) meters, and there are freer, lighter poems, incorporating and emulating traditional folk motifs, written--logically--in more "popular" (and hence short-line) meters. In general the book is very much in the romantic-symbolist tradition. In 1921 Spain already possessed a nascent avant-garde in the form of the ultraísmo movement, but save for a few outlandish metaphors--which probably owe more to Ramón Gómez de la Serna and his greguerías (one-line witticisms)--there is little or no avant-garde writing in Libro de poemas. What there is, though, is a striking inventiveness, coherence, density, and richness often to be found within the relatively conventional image making.
The same romantic-symbolist tradition can be invoked with respect to the themes. Libro de poemas presents a solitary, lovelorn, poetic persona, full of nostalgic yearnings, frustrated or rejected in love, pondering his mortality and the passing of time, often against a backdrop of the countryside or sunset. The religious preoccupations from Lorca's juvenilia are taken up again, if in slightly more muted terms: a cruel or indifferent God is variously represented as deaf, blind, and asleep.
By the time Libro de poemas was in the bookshops, however, Lorca had already turned his back on the kind of writing it exemplified, and he was elaborating a new manner that would absorb him for the next four or five years. In one bound, Lorca seems to have thrown off all traces of the high-art, long-line style of composition and all the poetic rhetoric it entailed; he opted for short, often minimal lines, arranged in loosely structured stanzaic patterns, often employing parallelism, repetition (sometimes with internal variation), exclamations, unanswered questions, and ellipses; the resulting short poems were arranged in thematically grouped sequences he called "suites." The traditional Spanish folk lyric seems to have met the haiku, at that time enjoying a vogue in Spain, and the result, in Lorca's capable hands, was a flexible mode of poetic expression, as seen in "Hacia" (Toward) from Suites (1983):
Por las selvas del amor
no verás gentes.
Tendrás claros manantiales.
En lo verde
hallarás la rosa inmensa
Y dirás: ¡Amor¡ ¡amor!
Sin que tu herida
Through the thickets of love
you will see no people.
You will have clear-running springs.
In the green
you will find the immense rose
And you will say: Love! love!
without your wound
The change in form was inextricably tied to a shift in themes, or, at the very least, the explicitness of presentation of those themes. The metrical delicacy of the compositions is matched by their understated, elliptical, suggestive, and sometimes elusive content, and by a further sophistication in the forging of telling metaphors.
Lorca rarely had a firm idea for a collection of poetry before he had written the majority of the compositions that would eventually go to make it up. In this sense, most of the poems he wrote from 1921 to 1924 were not, on their inception, destined for any particular collection. Later, though, it became increasingly clear that some verses from this period fitted into the category of Suites (as the reconstructed book was called in 1983), and others, a little more songlike, more popular, more independent (and hence less suitelike), corresponded better to the label of Canciones (1927; translated as Songs , 1976). Still others, suites again but with a very specific content, would go to make up Poema del cante jondo (1931; translated as Poem of the Deep Song , 1987).
Suites was, of course, never published as a collection during Lorca's lifetime, and the completed manuscript has been lost. He had planned to publish it, alongside Canciones and Poema del cante jondo, in 1927, but when funds proved insufficient, Canciones was the sole beneficiary. Suites was, in the early 1980s, put together from original drafts among Lorca's papers (held by the Fundación García Lorca), with sequences that bear a strong stylistic resemblance and that are dated to the years in question. Other "suites" are probably lost, and there is no certainty that Lorca would have included all that have survived or presented them in the chronological order in which they appear, but they are more than substantial and representative enough to give a hypothetical idea of what the book would have been like.
Suites represents a major formal break with Libro de poemas , but there are some thematic carryovers; however, on the whole, Suites is a less self-indulgently melancholic book and both a more playful and a darker one than its predecessor. Nature still looms large, and in it the poet, again adopting a lyric "I," laments his broken love--as in "El jardín de las morenas" (The Garden of the Dark Women)--or again confronts the loneliness, stillness, and ultimate emptiness of a night sky. The child and childhood assume a larger role, and the poet mourns not only his lost childhood but also the children he believes he will never have (and, indeed, never had).
Poema del cante jondo, conceived and written almost completely in November 1921, represents a specific subset of these "suites," bringing together sequences dedicated to different forms of cante jondo, that is the pure, traditional, and unadulterated form of flamenco song. The principal sections in the book--each an extended suite--in no way purport to reproduce or imitate the actual lyrics of cante jondo but rather they seek to re-create, poetically, the impression on a hearer of a performance of these songs. The different verse types--siguiriya, soleá, saeta, petenera (all feminine nouns)--are each personified by Lorca with the mysterious figure of a woman who moves through the Andalusian landscape. Meter and most of the other technical features are essentially identical to those of Suites, with perhaps one notable exception: the poetic "I" is suppressed and all the writing is strictly third person. Thematically, the songs are presented as pure and profound expressions of the gypsy--and more generally the Andalusian--ethos. As such, their dwelling on raw emotion, the tension of the moment, enigma, death, and above all pena (pain, grief, sorrow)--the last of which Lorca associated intimately with the experience of Andalusian women--mark them as a channel through which the Andalusian essence finds release and form.
The later sections in the collection are more of a miscellany, and the interpenetration with not only Suites but also Canciones becomes clear. The book ends with two diálogos, "Escena del teniente coronel de la guardia civil" (Episode of the Lieutenant Colonel of the Civil Guard) and "Diálogo del Amargo" (Dialogue of the Bitter One). Composed in 1925, they then belonged to a quite different work, "Diálogos," which did not come to fruition and was never published in full (eight are extant). The two diálogos in Poema del cante jondo were added late in the day as a make-weight when the book was finally prepared for publication in early 1931.
The immediate stimulus for writing Poema del cante jondo was a project conceived by Lorca and others--including Falla--to mount a Cante Jondo Competition in Granada, an event that did indeed take place in June 1922 and is generally deemed to have been a great success. The original plan had been to publish Lorca's poetic collection to coincide with the festival, but he did at least write and deliver a lecture (largely relying on Falla's musicological researches) titled "El cante jondo. Primitivo canto andaluz" (Primitive Andalusian Song) given in February 1922 as part of the buildup to the competition and collected in Prosa (1969).
Lorca did not get back to Madrid at all during 1922, most likely at his parents' insistence, and this stay in Granada no doubt favored his exposure to the popular and the folkloric. If the debacle of El maleficio de la mariposa was still firmly in his mind, this did not dampen his enthusiasm for exploring the traditional genre of the cristobicas--a kind of Andalusian Punch-and-Judy show, which, like cante jondo, was in danger of disappearing in its original, purer forms, and which he re-created in his own puppet farce, Tragicomedia de don Cristóbal y la señá Rosita (Tragicomedy of Don Cristóbal and Rosita , written in 1921 and 1922, probably first performed in 1931, and translated in 1955). Lorca's plans and projects outstripped their realization, and during this period there was talk of Sierra putting on the play at the Eslava and also of Lorca founding with Falla a touring Andalusian puppet theater. Although neither came about, there were nonetheless further collaborations with the celebrated composer, notably a puppet-based entertainment on the eve of Epiphany 1923 for some children gathered in the living room of the Lorca family home. Lorca's main contribution was his puppet-play adaptation of a folktale, "La niña que riega la albahaca y el príncipe preguntón" (The Girl Who Waters the Basil, and the Inquisitive Prince), whose text was long thought lost but has recently been recovered (though, it is suspected, in a corrupted version). With this success behind them, Lorca and Falla now proposed a more substantial collaboration, on a comic opera to be entitled Lola, la comedianta (Lola, the Comedienne), of which Lorca was to compose the libretto and Falla the music. The work seems to have occupied Lorca, on and off, during 1923 and 1924; unfortunately, the project petered out, but some scenes of Lorca's text have survived and were published in 1981.
The years 1921 to 1924 are also, as has been noted, the essential period of Lorca's composition of Canciones , though the collection probably includes a few pieces from 1925. Canciones differs from Suites in that the poems, with one or two exceptions, stand alone as single compositions, the tone is a good deal more festive and playful, and the indebtedness to--and reinvention of--traditional verse forms is more apparent. The poems are grouped into larger sections, with such characteristic titles as "Amor," "Juegos," or "Canciones de luna" (Love, Games, or Moon-Songs). In some ways, out of Lorca's various collections of poetry, Canciones approaches most closely that aesthetic propounded--or better, analyzed--in José Ortega y Gasset's influential essay La deshumanización del arte (The Dehumanization of Art, 1925). That is to say, in Canciones the poetic "I" is not prominent and there are certainly no overtly lyrical outpourings: emotions, if sensed or detected at all, are well below the surface of the text; the poetry is playful, enigmatic, and elusive; it incorporates ingenious metaphors; and it seems to serve no transcendent purpose or function. Like Libro de poemas, Canciones also participates in the trend of neopopularismo, shared by Alberti in his first three books. Most of the poems in Canciones use short-line, traditional meters, and many of them incorporate and assimilate a variety of other features and motifs from poesía popular. But the collection also has its darker, almost tragic side, more veiled than in Suites: time passes inexorably; indeterminate hopes and longings seem never to be fulfilled--or fulfillable--between the inevitable alternation of night and day, sun and moon; and in the well-known "Canción de jinete" (Rider's Song) the horseman will, of course, never reach his destination, Córdoba. Canciones , then, published after considerable delay in the late spring of 1927 as the first supplement of the Málaga "little magazine" Litoral , might well be thought of as the high-watermark of the first phase in Lorca's poetic output, in which he had indisputably achieved his own voice.
After the anomalous 1922, spent entirely in Granada, Lorca's years fell into a fairly regular kind of rhythm: most of winter, spring, and early summer in Madrid, July to September in Granada and on the vega, then a couple of months back in Madrid before Christmas with his family. While Lorca was most productive from a literary point of view during the summer months in Granada, these were also the years of important friendships being forged in Madrid--in particular at the Residencia de Estudiantes. In 1923 he met Salvador Dalí, in 1924 Guillén and Alberti, and in 1927 Aleixandre and Cernuda. Lorca rapidly became recognized as one of the leading lights in the new poetic generation, in what critics of the day called la joven literatura (the young literature). On visits to Dalí during Holy Week in 1925 and the early summer of 1927, Lorca stayed in Barcelona, Cadaqués, and Figueras, and during the second of these trips he collaborated in the premiere of his play Mariana Pineda on 24 June 1927 in Barcelona.
The years 1924 to 1927 were also a time, after the closure of the Suites/Poema del cante jondo/ Canciones phase, when Lorca became engaged in a wide-ranging exploration of very different modes of poetic writing. One vein or direction is represented by what turned out to be Lorca's most successful, most popular, and best-known collection of poetry, Romancero gitano (first published as Primer romancero gitano , 1928; translated as Gypsy Ballads , 1951). Once more the process of gestation was a fairly lengthy and leisurely one. While a primitive version of "Romance de Don Pedro a caballo" (Ballad of Don Pedro on Horse-back) dates back to late 1921, the concept of a series of Gypsy ballads and the composition of several of the poems can be ascribed to the summer of 1924. Others followed in subsequent years, and several appeared in little magazines (1926-1928) before the collection was completed in 1927 and published in mid 1928.
The eighteen poems--fifteen romances gitanos plus the grouping titled "Tres romances históricos" (Three Historical Ballads)--are all written in the traditional octosyllabic ballad meter, whose origins go back at least as far as the fourteenth century and which had been perpetuated in a continuous oral tradition down to Lorca's times. His earlier collections of poetry, in differing ways, show his interest in and assimilation of that sector of poesía de tipo de tradicional (traditional-type poetry) that is represented by a variety of brief lyrics--canciones, coplas, seguidillas and the like--while Romancero gitano provides ample evidence of Lorca's equal enthusiasm for and absorption of the other major sector, which is constituted by the romance tradition. But Romancero gitano is not a book of imitations or pastiches. Lorca blends a skillful re-creation of traditional ballad meter and stylistic devices with a dazzling poetic language, marked above all by the abundant use of ultramodern images. "Preciosa y el aire" (Preciosa and the Wind) is representative:
Preciosa tira el pandero
y corre sin detenerse.
El viento-hombrón la persigue
con una espada caliente.
Frunce su rumor el mar.
Los olivos palidecen.
Cantan las flantas de umbría
y el liso gong de la nieve.
(Preciosa throws down the tamborine
and runs without stopping.
The wind-man chases her
with a hot sword.
The sea wrinkles its murmur.
The olive trees turn pale.
The flutes of shade
and the smooth gong of the snow sing out.)
There are rather simple, transparent images that employ a manifest Freudian symbolism; refurbished conceits, jarring and provocative, wherein one threadlike connection links two otherwise disparate realities; complex images based on trompe l'oeil effects; and "mood" images, whose internal operations are more difficult to decipher and whose principal purpose may be to create and develop atmosphere rather than a clear and specific "meaning."
Actions in the poems--their plots, so to speak, are basically intended to function as "modern myths." Their protagonists, ostensibly Gypsies, are not presented in a picturesque or anthropological vein, but rather are themselves symbols of that which is quintessentially Andalusian. Whereas Antonio Machado in his Campos de Castilla (1912; translated as The Castilian Camp , 1982) hoped to make the leap from the particular of the Castilian to the universal of humankind, Lorca intended a parallel movement from the Andalusian to the depths of the human soul.
There Lorca found pena, which is more than anything else what his characters and stories demonstrate; this central preoccupation is treated explicitly in "Romance de la pena negra" (Ballad of the Black Pain), whose protagonist, Soledad Montoya, is its very incarnation. Another crucial poem is "Romance del emplazado" (Ballad of the Summoned): if a few exceptional men are called to their death at a preannounced and appointed hour, then there is, Lorca implies, an unknown appointed hour waiting for each individual. The world of Romancero gitano, therefore, links with that of Poema del cante jondo, and can likewise be illuminated by his play Bodas de sangre (1933; translated as Blood Wedding , 1939), by the later version of Lorca's lecture "Arquitectura del cante jondo" (1930), and by his prose text "Romancero gitano. Conferencia-recital" (1935), the last two being included in his Obras completas (Complete Works, volume 3, 1986).
At the same time as he was working on Romancero gitano, Lorca was also trying his hand at a very different kind of poetry, in which he took up and refurbished several high-art, long-line meters--associated above all with poets from Spain's Golden Age--usually combining these elaborate verse forms with the modern language and image making of the 1920s. This trend in Lorca's work coincided with a broader movement in poetry, which has been termed neoclasicismo or neogongorismo and which in turn has been compared to T. S. Eliot and his contemporaries' interest in the English metaphysical poets. Lorca conceived of his major compositions in this vein as "Odas" (the title of another uncompleted book). A fragment of an ode can be dated to summer 1924, but Lorca started in earnest after his Catalonian visit in 1925 on the "Oda a Salvador Dalí," a eulogy to the young painter, a manifest token of their close friendship, and a poetic exposition of Dalí's (then) essentially cubist aesthetic. Slightly later came the "Oda al Santísimo Sacramento del Altar" (written mainly in 1928 but not finished till fall 1929) and the unfinished "Oda a Sesostris" (1928). The former is a highly heterodox and modernistic meditation on the mystery of the crucified Christ present in the Sacrament--reflecting a brief turning back to Catholicism on Lorca's part; the latter, more difficult to judge because of its fragmentary nature, takes on, in a more hermetic and rather enigmatic style, the topic of homosexuality in ancient times. (These three odes are in Obras completas, volume 1, 1986.)
This survey of the middle years of the 1920s would not be complete without mention of the "Poemas festivos." This title--not Lorca's own--was adopted by Francisco García Lorca (the poet's brother) and subsequently by Marie Laffranque to refer to a body of largely unpublished compositions (in the Fundación García Lorca) that fall into two categories--apocryphal poems and pastiches. Lorca and his friends in Granada invented a fictitious poet, Isidoro Capdepón Fernández, and wrote poems for him in a very out-of-date, late-romantic/modernista style. Sometime in the mid to late 1920s Lorca also wrote a sequence of poems imitating, and to an extent parodying, the styles of his friends and contemporaries Jiménez, Machado, Salinas, Guillén, Alberti, and others, demonstrating a keen sense of his and their established styles.
The years 1927 and 1928 also saw Lorca venturing, with serious intent, into other new fields: drawing and little magazines. For many years he had illustrated letters and odd sheets of paper with his quirky drawings--reminiscent of the work of Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, and Yves Tanguy--done with pencil, India ink, or wax crayons. In 1927, encouraged by his Catalonian friends (especially the art critic Sebastián Gasch), Lorca began to take this pursuit more seriously, and an exhibition of twenty-four drawings was held in Barcelona at the Dalmau gallery. With a briefly strong zeal, Lorca planned a book of drawings; nothing came of this, but he continued drawing occasional pieces until the end of his life. Likewise, since the beginning of the 1920s Lorca had been a regular and subsequently a much-sought-after contributor to the many ephemeral literary magazines that sprang up around Spain, often directed and produced by his friends. But in 1927 Lorca started planning, with a group of younger writers, a Granadine magazine of his own, and his plans bore fruit in the two issues of gallo published in the spring of 1928. However, with Lorca's visits to Madrid and his shoestring budget, a third issue did not appear in the fall, and the magazine folded.
This year 1928 was a turning point and a time of crisis, when many things came to a head. Romancero gitano was a big, popular success, but Lorca suspected--correctly--that most of his readers did not really understand the poems, and he chafed at what he called "mi mito de gitanería" (my Gypsy myth). The magazine gallo had an all-too-ephemeral effect on the public. He worked sporadically on other "Odas" and at the same time embarked on the radically different "Poemas en prosa" (never published in book form).
These were also difficult times in his personal life. As a sensitive, rather delicate, awkward youth, Lorca had had two or three crushes on young Granadine women; these were secret, adolescent passions that were confided to male friends in letters but probably never declared to the objects of his love. If Lorca felt a little different in the provincial city of his youth, the move to Madrid--and specifically the Residencia de Estudiantes--made for an immediate change to a new environment where he was surrounded by many like-minded artists. There a passionate friendship seems to have grown between him and Emilio Prados, though the latter apparently invested the relationship with more importance than Lorca did. Later it was Lorca and Dalí who became an inseparable pair, and during the mid 1920s Lorca was clearly coming to terms with his own unambiguous homosexuality. The precise nature of his relationship with Dalí, at the Resi and on Lorca's two visits to Catalonia, will never be fully illuminated, but there can be no doubt that it was intense. At the same time, in Madrid, Lorca had become friends with a young sculptor at an art school, Emilio Aladrén, and it is conceivable that Dalí's apparent refusal to consummate physically his relationship with Lorca may have precipitated a stormy, physical, and relatively short-lived affair between Lorca and Aladrén, one that caused Lorca to go through the worst "crisis sentimental" of his life, in Granada during the summer of 1928. This difficult situation and the warring emotions it engendered may in turn account for a brief turn back toward religion (even if somewhat heterodox in nature), as evidenced by his "Oda al Santísimo Sacramento" and by the unusual fact that Lorca impulsively walked as a penitent, as a member of a brotherhood, in the 1929 Easter procession in Granada.
Lorca's aesthetics were also changing at this time. Dalí, as he moved closer to the surrealism he was soon to espouse, reacted badly to Romancero gitano , and Lorca himself started to preach a more irrationalist position, even if he still took care to distance himself from the French way of writing. The extent of this change can be gauged by comparing two of his lectures from the second half of the 1920s. "La imagen poética de don Luis de Góngora" (The Poetic Image of Don Luis de Góngora, collected in Prosa) was given in Granada in February 1926 as a kind of warm-up to the 1927 tricentenary commemorations of Góngora's death, events that culminated in a trip to Seville in December 1927 in which Lorca participated. In his talk the major points are the current cult of the image, the role of imagination and objectivity (antilyricism), and the creation of modern conceits following a practice similar to that of the early-seventeenth-century works of Góngora. "Imaginación, inspiración, evasión," delivered in Granada in October 1928 and also collected in Prosa, totally rejects the cold, measured, rational objectivity so praised in the previous lecture; imagination is thrown out, and inspiration and evasion are the keys to a new poetics. Where the image-conceit once took pride of place, Lorca proposes the hecho poético (poetic event), a new kind of image that is less susceptible to rational response or interpretation and relies for its effect much less on the principle of analogy and much more on that of juxtaposition and collage.
The earliest of the "Poemas en prosa" is "Santa Lucía y San Lázaro." Written in the summer of 1927, it contains many ciphered references to Barcelona (where Lorca had just been for an extended stay), and it marks a kind of turning point, looking backward as it does to the aesthetics of Canciones and Romancero gitano (which are in turn broadly analogous in style with the Dalí of his cubist phase), and looking forward to more illogical poetic procedures developed and amplified in the subsequent prose poems. These are "Nadadora sumergida" (Submerged Female Swimmer), "Suicidio en Alejandría" (Suicide in Alexandria), "Degollación de los Inocentes" (Beheading of the Innocents), "Degollación del Bautista" (Beheading of John the Baptist), and "Amantes asesinados por una perdiz" (Lovers Murdered by a Partridge), all of which were almost certainly composed in 1928. They correspond to the new aesthetic of inspiration and evasion: they incorporate references to the modern world; they are written in a disjointed, fragmented manner; principles of logic and progression are abandoned or deliberately subverted; and the images embedded in the prose are indeed difficult, if not impossible, to respond to rationally. In many ways, then, the "Poemas en prosa" mark the closest point in his literary output that Lorca came to surrealism.
The first half of 1929 represented a personal lull for Lorca and an almost complete absence of new work. He had not thrown off the depression of the previous summer, the off-and-on relationship with Aladrén was deteriorating fast, Dalí had transferred his primary friendship to Luis Buñuel--they were working on the film Un Chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog, 1929)--increasing public scrutiny continued to vex Lorca, and he may, in addition, have reached a kind of artistic impasse. Early in that year he received tentative inquiries as to whether he would be interested in giving lectures in America. By the summer his family seems to have concluded that a change of scene was the only thing to pull him out of his slump, and, accompanied by Fernando de los Ríos, who was himself en route to the United States, Lorca embarked on his first trip outside Spain, leading him, via France and England, to New York's Columbia University, where he took a summer course in English language for foreigners.
The new and totally different surroundings seem essentially to have been beneficial, for Lorca, staying in a university dormitory, was soon at work again, setting down the first poems of those he would eventually gather together as Poeta en Nueva York (1940). The Spanish professors at Columbia had been alerted to his 25 June arrival, and he immediately got together with them and a small colony of Spaniards living in New York, some of whom he had known in Madrid. He took his English course through July and the first half of August, though without making any significant headway with the language, and when classes ended he headed north, out of the city, to stay first in Eden Mills, Vermont (with Philip Cummings, a young American he had previously met in Spain), then in the Catskills (with Angel del Río and his family), and finally in Newburgh, New York (with Federico de Onís).
Back in New York City and in a new dormitory for the fall and winter of 1929, Lorca, never an assiduous student, slacked off further. He spent a good deal of time with the Spanish professors at Columbia; Spaniards and Latin Americans residing in New York; a small circle of Americans who spoke some Spanish; a variety of American and foreign students, some of whom were living on his dorm corridor; and several Spanish friends whose visits to New York coincided with his stay. Late at night, back in the dorm room, he worked on his poetry; letters home suggest he took a lively interest in both the cinema and theater (particularly the off-Broadway "art" companies, the black reviews, and even the Chinese theater); he explored Harlem (guided by Nella Larsen) and frequented at least one of its nightspots (Small's Paradise); he was introduced to Hart Crane; Lorca directed the choir at the Instituto Hispánico; and he delivered single lectures at Columbia and Vassar College, Poughkeepsie. In October 1929 Lorca was at hand to observe in person the Wall Street crash, the panic that followed, and the immediate aftershocks; he mingled with the crowds, scanned the newspapers, and claimed to have seen a suicide's body on the sidewalk.
Poeta en Nueva York was not published in Lorca's lifetime, though it is certain that plans to do so had reached an advanced stage by the summer of 1936. Between his return to Spain (in the summer of 1930) and the outbreak of civil war, the collection underwent a process of evolution in which different phases can be identified, and Lorca used both public and private partial readings of the book as a way of testing out responses to individual compositions and to different distributions of the poems. Poeta en Nueva York, it seems, was originally to be an urban-centered book, and "Tierra y luna" (Earth and Moon--the usual title for the "second" collection within it) was to be a rural one; later Poeta was to contain the poems that reflected the American experience more directly and contained greater social commentary, while "Tierra y luna" was to be a more abstract and metaphysical collection. At other times the two collections, in Lorca's plan, were fused into one--usually as Poeta en Nueva York though for one period as "Introducción a la muerte" (Introduction to Death)--and it is clear that, as he approached a definitive formulation in the fall of 1935 and spring of 1936, the book was one, articulated into different sections that reflected its diverse orientations: urban, rural, social, philosophical, and so on. Two "first" editions were eventually published posthumously in 1940, a bilingual one in New York and a Spanish one in Mexico. The textual discrepancies between them, not as great as sometimes claimed, can be largely explained by tracing the vicissitudes of the copy text, passed on to the W.W. Norton Company in 1939 and firmly fixed thereafter, but treated in a less reverential fashion by the owner of the original heterogeneous manuscript, José Bergamín, who introduced revisions (some of dubious justification) into the text for the Mexico City edition.
Much has also been made, over the years, of the poet's unhappiness in New York and his rejection of this quintessential metropolis and prototype of the "asphalt jungle," and such a gloss is given further substance by the coincidence of his stay with the Wall Street crash. The letters home, obviously designed for family consumption, depict a very different picture, of Lorca impressed, fascinated, and often stimulated by his new environment, admiring the skyscrapers rather than denigrating them. Other accounts suggest that, while Lorca could always be counted on to serve as the life of the party, he also experienced darker moments. Poeta en Nueva York is divided into ten sections, each with its own title, which chart the poet-persona's passage through the arrival in the big city, getting to know New York, a trip to the countryside, the return, and a final departure for Cuba. As such, the overall shape is transparently autobiographical, but it should be noted that the poems were not written in anything like the order in which they appear in the volume, and many liberties of detail are taken that undermine any presumption of biographical fidelity or historicity.
The poems cover several themes: sharp contrasts are drawn between the innocence of childhood and the "knowledge" of adulthood; New York is depicted as a compendium of materialism, superficiality, rootlessness, soullessness, and hypocritical organized religion; humankind struggles to achieve some kind of authenticity and has great or invincible difficulty in establishing or maintaining any kind of satisfying human relationship; furthermore, humankind is subject to the twin constants of the inexorable passing of time and the inevitability of mortality. The vision could be broadly categorized as pessimistically existentialist: Lorca implies that most humans are alienated or fail to get beneath the surface of things. Partial exceptions to this rule are the blacks of Harlem--who, although oppressed and denatured, retain an atavistic spirituality--and the exemplary figure of Walt Whitman, who was properly in touch with himself and nature.
On the social level, Lorca decries the poverty and exploitation he sees around him, criticizes Wall Street and its materialism and capitalism, rails at the pope and much of organized religion, and even looks forward to the day when, in rather vague terms, a cataclysmic upheaval is envisioned as overtaking the city, followed by the rule of nature returning. In more personal terms, this collection marks the first appearance of poems that seriously address the topic of homosexuality, notably in "Tu infancia en Menton" (Your Childhood in Menton) and "Oda a Walt Whitman" (Ode to Walt Whitman).
Poeta en Nueva York has often been classified as a prime example of Spanish surrealism, but the use of the national epithet immediately suggests that a tacit distinction is being made with regard to the original French surrealism. In fact, this form scarcely took hold in Spain, though stylistic effects commonly associated with surrealism are to be found in the poetry of some Spanish writers of this time (Alberti, Aleixandre, Cernuda). Just as in the Romancero, Lorca's imagistic practice in Poeta is quite varied. Some images work as conventional metaphors, some create a sense of mystery--"las heladas montañas del oso" (the icy mountains of the bear) means Bear Mountain in New York State: "perros marinos" (sea dogs) refers to veteran sailors--but above all hechos poéticos predominate, difficult images that resist easy interpretation. At the same time, the poetic discourse becomes fragmented: free verse is the form most commonly adopted, and where this extends to long, declamatory lines, the influence of Whitman is easy to detect.
Poeta en Nueva York was not the only literary work to which Lorca devoted attention during his U.S. stay. Revisions were made to both La zapatera prodigiosa (1930; translated as The Shoemaker's Prodigious Wife , in From Lorca's Theater , 1941) and Amor de don Perlimplín con Belisa en su jardín (1933; translated as The Love of Don Perlimpliín and Belisa in the Garden , also in From Lorca's Theater). Lorca also penned a silent-film scenario entitled Viaje a la luna (published as a book in 1981; translated as Trip to the Moon , 1963), but it was never produced.
It was with some relief that Lorca left New York in early March 1930, traveling down the coast by train and embarking from Florida for Cuba. There he had been invited by the Institucíon Hispano Cubana to give a lecture series, and again he was received by enthusiasts of his work--Cubans, some of whom he had met in Spain in the 1920s, and Spaniards now living in or visiting Cuba. Lorca immediately fell in love with the island, with its Andalusian flavor mixed with an exotic African element. With increasing celebrity, he presented his lectures, was lionized by the artistic elite, made expeditions into the interior of the island and to Santiago de Cuba, and wrote the poem that closes Poeta en Nueva York, "Son de negros en Cuba" (Song of Blacks in Cuba).
In Cuba, Lorca started work on a truly revolutionary new play, entitled El público (1978; translated as The Public , 1983), the first draft of which he completed back home in Granada in August 1930. Later versions have been lost or destroyed, but the (incomplete?) first draft, published in facsimile in 1976 (in Autógrafos , volume 2), still affords a powerful impression of the play and is a performable script (on which the 1978 production was based). Metatheatrical in conception, its use of allegory and total abandon of verisimilitude suggest fairly close connections with expressionism. The central theatrical metaphor is used to explore Sartrean notions of acting (for others) and being (in and of oneself); the proposition is put forward that the only ultimate truth is death itself; and the action centers on a variety of relationships, mainly between homosexuals, and embodies a plea, reminiscent of the "Oda a Walt Whitman," for a kind of pansexual liberation that would allow everyone to love as their desires dictate.
El publico therefore represents Lorca's most explicit and extensive treatment of this theme, and as such it invites connection with his own personal life. Although he may have been tolerably comfortable with his homosexuality among a relatively narrow circle of friends in Madrid during the later 1920s, it was not really until his stay in New York and then in Cuba that he began to feel that he could--or should--try to write directly about the topic. If New York provided the example of laxer and more progressive morals, then Cuba, by all reports, seems to have provided the opportunity for Lorca to put a newfound openness into practice.
Reluctantly, he finally returned to Spain in June 1930. After his usual summer in Granada and Málaga, he forsook the Residencia and moved instead into a small attic apartment in Madrid. He was later joined by his brother, Francisco, and he lived there (during his times in the capital) until his family decided to move to Madrid, taking a large apartment in the spring of 1933; Christmases and summers, of course, continued to be spent in Granada at the family's Huerta de San Vicente.
According to his statements in interviews of the time, El publico represented the direction that Lorca wanted his theater to take. Shortly after finishing this play, he commenced work on another, obviously related to it stylistically, Así que pasen cinco años (1978; translated as When Five Years Pass , in From Lorca's Theater) finished a year later in August of 1931. This piece, a meditation on the passing of time and the existential need to jump into the river of life, is avant-garde and experimental in manner, but it takes a step back from the extremes of El publico.
While these radical new works represented one possible way of revitalizing the Spanish stage, which for Lorca and most of his contemporaries languished in bourgeois and commercial doldrums of self-satisfaction, the puppet theater, with its strong links to the common people, represented another. Through the 1920s Lorca revised his Tragicomedia de don Cristóbal , and it seems that in 1931 he wrote, using the same basic characters, what amounts to a second play in the same vein, the Retablillo de don Cristóbal (1934; translated as In the Frame of Don Cristóbal , 1944).
One final avenue open to theatrical reformers was to go back to the glories of the Spanish Golden Age, and this essentially was the mission of La Barraca, an experimental student-theater group set up in 1932, under the auspices of the Unión Federal de Estudiantes Hispanos and with a subvention from the newly elected Republican government, with Lorca as its artistic director. Recalling in some measure the failed plan in the 1920s for a traveling puppet theater, Lorca devoted a great deal of energy to this project for four years. Touring the country in specially adapted trucks, the troupe played a wide range of the "classics" on improvised open-air stages to audiences in villages, towns, and cities around Spain, and during school time performed in theaters in Madrid.
The major historical event of this period had been the advent of the Second Spanish Republic in April 1931. Lorca and his family were closely linked with major politicians in the Republican camp (notably Fernando de los Ríos), and their sympathies lay squarely with the Republican liberals and socialists. One of the articles of faith of the newly inaugurated regime, evolving out of nineteenth-century krausista thinking (based on the ideas of German philosopher Karl Krause) and the Institución Libre de Enseñanza, was the broad and enlightening value of culture and the necessity of the interaction between high art and the people. La Barraca, along with the Misiones Pedagógicas (in which Lorca was not directly involved), represented a desire to put these beliefs into practice.
In the early 1930s there was a clear shift of emphasis in Lorca's career. During the 1920s he became primarily known as a poet--above all with the success of Romancero gitano--though he had never neglected dramatic composition. In the 1930s, quantitatively at least, the theater seems increasingly to have predominated, partly out of his desire to reach a much wider and more diverse audience, but Lorca was far from abandoning the lyric form.
For instance, during trips to Galicia in 1932--two to give lectures sponsored by the Comité de Cooperación Intelectual (government-financed intellectual outreach program) and another as part of a La Barraca tour--Lorca conceived of the idea of writing some poems in gallego (Galician), the literary language par excellence of Spain at the height of the Middle Ages, and also the language of Rosalía de Castro, a nineteenth-century poetess he much admired. Thus were born at least some of the poems eventually published as Seis poemas galegos in 1935 (translated as Six Galician Poems in Ode to Walt Whitman and Other Poems, 1988). There is still some confusion as to the precise process of composition of these six pieces, but it is certain that a young Galician friend, and possibly lover, Ernesto Guerra Da Cal, collaborated at an early stage, providing encouragement and helping with the language, in which Lorca was not actively adept. The poems are fairly slight pieces, a kind of homage to the language and the region; they avoid the regional picturesqueness (costumbrismo) into which others have fallen; instead they evoke the mythic, legendary, syncretic, and superstitious aspects of Galicia, while elsewhere are certain particular pre-occupations of Lorca (the drowned child or youth, the malefic moon).
Lorca's next play, and probably the one most crucial to his career, was Bodas de sangre Loosely inspired by a brief newspaper article of 1928, it was substantially written in the summer of 1932 and premiered in the spring of 1933. In spirit and flavor there are close connections between it and both Romancero gitano and Poema del cante jondo, as the lectures (in Prosa) associated with these collections make clear. Lorca espouses a modern notion of tragedy, the most venerable of the theatrical genres and one to which the Spanish stage had to return, he believed, if a new seriousness and quality was to be injected into Spanish dramatic life. Clearly symbolist in its conception, Bodas de sangre is nevertheless decidedly mainstream in comparison to El publico or Así que pasen cinco años. Lorca almost certainly had decided that he needed to establish himself firmly as a successful dramatist and then dictate, from a position of strength, the staging of his other, much more challenging works. The first two acts of Bodas de sangre , although displaying a strong symbolic charge, are relatively verisimilitudinous, but there is a change of gear in act 3, when allegorical figures and fantasy come to play important roles. The denouement, in which the young men die and the women are condemned to a life of widowhood, reflects the bleak vision of the destiny of those who give free rein to their erotic passion and of those who try to suppress it. Fully Andalusian, but again avoiding costumbrismo, the dark passions and evocative atmosphere, reminiscent of John Millington Synge's Riders to the Sea (1904), made the play Lorca's first true theatrical success, which enabled him, finally, to be financially independent of his parents. Thanks to the warm reception afforded Bodas de sangre, the Argentinian actress Lola Membrives and her impresario husband, Juan Reforzo, determined to give the play its Argentinian debut, and when it turned out to be a great hit, they issued an invitation to Lorca to be present when it was restaged later in 1933.
Lorca's six-month stay in Argentina--October 1933 to March 1934 (with two weeks in Montevideo in February 1934)--constitutes his second, and last, trip abroad, once again to the New World. As in the case of Cuba, Lorca's stay in Buenos Aires provided the opportunity for him to give a series of lectures to packed houses, and again he was taken to the bosom of the literary elite and lionized at the many functions he attended. Membrives took advantage of his stay to schedule runs of some of his other plays, which, with the exception of Mariana Pineda, all proved runaway successes. An Argentinian edition of Romancero gitano sold out in a few days. In Buenos Aires, Lorca made or reinforced certain significant literary friendships, perhaps most notably with Pablo Neruda, and Lorca adapted Lope de Vega's La dama boba (The Foolish Lady, 1613) for another Argentinian actress, Eva Franco. These months, then, saw his consecration abroad as a major, first-rank author, almost a modern classic, at a time when in Spain he was perhaps considered more as an important, up-and-coming, though still young writer.
Membrives had hoped to stage Yerma (1934; translated in From Lorca's Theater) during Lorca's stay, and when she was forced by exhaustion to end her season early, it was with that in mind that she and her husband invited Lorca to vacation with them in Montevideo. He may have started work on Yerma as early as 1929, but most progress was made on it in 1933, when two acts were ready. However, Membrives's plan failed. Lorca was drawn into the ever-enthusiastic literary circles of Montevideo, he repeated his Argentinian lectures, and the play was not completed until the summer of 1934. Yerma is the second part of a projected trilogy of rural tragedies and is a little more austere than Bodas de sangre. Lorca still makes use of a chorus of washer-women, of song, and of a ritualistic and pagan final scene around a saint's shrine that is reputed to cure infertility. Yerma is a classic study of frustration and unfulfillment: the title character's life is focused on motherhood, but this is denied her, goading her at the end of the play to strangle her husband in a frenzy of resentment and frustration. Yerma was produced in Madrid at the very end of 1934, under charged political circumstances (two and a half months after the violent suppression of the Asturias uprising); its apparent paganism and impiety were denounced by the Right, but it was rapturously received in literary circles and by the great majority of the public.
The year 1934 had also seen a return by Lorca to lyric composition, an activity seemingly put on hold, with the exception of Seis poemas galegos, since the summer of 1931. Back then, just after the completion of Así que pasen cinco años, Lorca had written some pieces to which he provisionally applied the title of "Poemas para los muertos" (Poems for the Dead). These compositions probably built onto others dating from the New York period, and in particular those assigned to "Tierra y luna," whose slant was more metaphysical. But the collection was likely broken up shortly afterward, with most poems swelling the ranks of the continuing project of "Tierra y luna."
On the ocean liner returning from Buenos Aires to Spain in March 1934, Lorca wrote several new compositions, and it seems that during the later spring and early summer of that year he continued--sporadically--to pen more lyric verse. Meanwhile, in late 1933, Lorca had decided to fuse Poeta en Nueva York and "Tierra y luna" into one collection (for the time being to be called "Introducción a la muerte"), and, in so doing, some of the "Tierra y luna" pieces had been left out. Three of these, all dating back to August 1931, were later added to the poems of 1934, and sometime over the summer of that year Lorca hit on the idea of assembling a new collection, to be entitled Diván del Tamarit (published as a book in 1948; translated in 1974), split into a section each of "Gacelas" and "Casidas," that would pay homage to the Arabic poets of Muslim Spain, particularly those of Granada (diván is an Arabic term for an anthology or collection, and Tamarit is the Arabic-derived name of a district of the vega near the Lorca family's summer home; gacela and casida are two well-established Arab-Andalusian verse forms). The proof that the Diván is a collection conceived largely a posteriori is to be found in the fact that, on the first-draft manuscripts (in the Fundación García Lorca), only a few of the titles originally begin with "Gacela de ..." or "Casida de ..." (also "Kasida de ..."), while elsewhere these denominations are clearly written in later or only appear on later fair copies. The final manuscript was ready in the fall of 1934, and the University of Granada was slated to publish the book. However, several delays, some no doubt for practical reasons (funding?), some perhaps due to nothing more than procrastination, some possibly for political motives, meant that the volume never got beyond the stage of final page proofs before the outbreak of the civil war, and consequently it was not published until 1940, in the New York journal Revista Hispánica Moderna.
Diván del Tamarit is a diverse collection in that some poems recall something of the flavor of Canciones and others the more meditative style of Poeta en Nueva York, but it is nonetheless homogeneous in that all the pieces are situated between the two axes of love and death. Anecdotally, a brief, passionate, and seemingly destructive love affair is fleetingly and rather hazily evoked, almost always in the past. The poems are therefore not concerned with any one particular or lived experience but more with the repercussions of failed or lost love, with meditations on death and death in life, and on the way in which love almost inevitably leads to thoughts of death. The compositions are frequently set in, or suggest the atmosphere of, Granada; its two rivers and the fountains of the Alhambra flow through the collection in a variety of figurative transformations, as in the opening of "Casida primera del herido por el agua" (First Casida of the One Wounded by the Water):
Quiero bajar al pozo,
quiero subir los muros de Granada,
para mirar el corazón pasado
por el punzón oscuro de las aguas.
El niño herido gemía
con una corona de escarcha.
Estanques, aljibes y fuentes
levantaban al aire sus espadas.
(I want to go down the well,
I want to climb the walls of Granada,
to see the heart pierced
by the dark spike of the waters.
The wounded child was moaning
with a crown of frost.
Pools, cisterns and fountains
were raising their swords in the air.)
As for the images themselves, some recall the limpidity of Canciones , but many are quite dense, not quite as irreducible as those commonly occurring in Poeta en Nueva York but certainly more complex and difficult than those in the Romancero , for instance. These Diván compositions are in no sense pastiches, and the Arabic flavor does not really go beyond the titles; in terms of meter and content, there is no evidence of any influence or borrowing, but the overall Arab-Andalusian frame does suggest a lost world--a world of high culture and sexual tolerance--that flourished in Granada before the final reconquest of 1492.
During the summer of 1934, just when the Diván must have been crystalizing (the first clear mention and reading dates from September), Ignacio Sánchez Mejías was fatally gored in the ring at Manzanares. Mejías was a highly cultured man, with strong interests in literature and flamenco folklore, and an old friend of Lorca and many of his contemporaries in the Generation of 1927. Mejías had retired twice from bullfighting but still felt the lure of the ring, and at the age of forty-three he had returned, against all advice, for one last short season of engagements. It was actually during a last-minute substitution appearance that the wounding occurred; gangrene set in, and he was dead within thirty-six hours. A few weeks later Lorca started work on his Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías (1935; translated as Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter , 1937), a long poem articulated in four parts intended first and foremost as an elegy for his bullfighter friend. The work was rapidly prepared and was published the following spring.
Each part is stylistically and metrically differentiated, but they coalesce in their insistent focus on the dead man and in the narrative progression from "La cogida y la muerte" (The Goring and the Death), to "La sangre derramada" (The Spilt Blood--left on the sand of the ring after the removal of Mejías's body), to "Cuerpo presente" (Body Laid Out--lying in state in the funeral chapel before being transported for final burial), to "Alma ausente" (Absent Soul--Mejías dead, buried, and largely forgotten).
In part 1 Lorca narrates the events in discrete images, each followed by the well-known refrain, "a las cinco de la tarde" (at five o'clock in the afternoon). A sense of cosmic conspiracy is evoked, along with the idea that this is the death of no ordinary man. In part 2 the poet-persona cannot bear to contemplate the spilt blood, emblem of Mejías's life force that has flowed from his body. The bullfighter is imagined disoriented in death, and also before, at the moment of facing the bull; this leads to a eulogy in ballad meter that recalls the famous fifteenth-century Coplas en la muerte de su padre (Verses on the Death of His Father) by Jorge Manrique. In part 3 the body has already begun to decompose, and the poet urges the mourners to face up to the inescapable fact of physical death. Finally, in part 4, in a bleak vision it is suggested that Mejias is being rapidly forgotten--save by the poet, who has sung, that is, written, of him for posterity. Lorca's Llanto connects more with the tradition of the planctus (the classical lament) than with the Christian elegy, in which a greater degree of consolation is to be found, naturally based on beliefs in the afterlife. Ultimately Lorca's poem also works on a much higher level of generality: Mejías is presented as a kind of existential hero, a notable, distinguished victim of death, one in a long and never-ending line, and thus the composition becomes a meditation on death, on how to face up to others' deaths and to the consciousness of one's own mortality. In a framework elaborated with mythic and legendary reminiscences (particularly of the bull cults of ancient Iberia), Lorca likens but then opposes Mejías to both Christ and the pagan vegetation gods (Attis, Adonis); in this non-Christian vision Mejías will not resuscitate, and the best that can be hoped for is that his memory will live on through Lorca's poem.
With the triumph of Bodas de sangre at home and abroad, of Yerma, and of the Llanto, Lorca became an increasingly well-known and successful figure on the Spanish literary scene. His favorite actress, Margarita Xirgu, invited him to stay in Barcelona through the fall and early winter of 1935 and to participate in her production of various of his plays, including the premiere of his next dramatic work, Doña Rosita la soltera (1935; translated as Doña Rosita, the Spinster , in From Lorca's Theater). Commenced in late 1934 and finished in spring 1935, the play evokes turn-of-the-century Granada, drawing on Lorca's own childhood experiences, and has a deliciously pretentious middle-class ambiance. The action is predicated on the symbol of a rose whose bloom lasts but one day: Rosita is its female incarnation, who constantly has to wait and whose whole life, really, is indefinitely postponed. The denouement leaves her a pale, fading, middle-aged spinster, falling into a faint as the family is forced to move out of their house. The minor-key, nostalgic tone is distinctly Chekhovian, the location recalls Mariana Pineda, and the basic theme resembles that of Así que pasen cinco años. Doña Rosita did not premiere until December, but for nearly four months--September to December--Lorca participated actively in the cultural life of the Catalonian capital and was celebrated wherever he went.
After the completion of Doña Rosita in May 1935, two final plays occupied Lorca's last months: a third experimental and revolutionary piece, of which only act 1 is extant, now known as El sueño de la vida (The Dream of Life, 1989; originally published with El Público as Comedia sin título , 1978; translated as Play Without a Title , 1983), and La casa de Bernarda Alba (1945; translated as The House of Bernarda Alba , in Three Tragedies, 1947). El sueño de la vida returns again to metatheater, almost as an offshoot to El público: the set is a theater, and a rehearsal of A Midsummer Night's Dream is going on offstage. A character known as the Author harangues the audience and gets into an argument; shots ring out; and the theater collapses into turmoil, while a workers' uprising rages outside. Clearly the increasing politicization of the 1930s had had their effect on Lorca, most of all since the brutal repression of the Asturias uprising, and in this unfinished play he sought to combine previous concerns--authenticity, truth, love, and death--with a more explicitly sociopolitical message.
Although La casa de Bernarda Alba was not originally slated to complete the rural trilogy commenced by Bodas de sangre and Yerma , at some point Lorca's plans must have changed, and his intuition was surely right, as La casa bears many links with the two previous plays. Probably started in the summer or fall of 1935, a first draft was finished in June 1936, and he was still working on the text up to a few weeks before his death. A version of the text was rescued, and the play's first performance was given by Xirgu in Buenos Aires in 1945.
More or less simultaneous in composition with El sueño de la vida and La casa de Bernarda Alba were Lorca's last lyric verses, on the face of them very different in style and content from his earlier poems. They are the eleven "Sonetos del amor oscuro" (in volume 1 of the 1986 Obras completas; translated as Sonnets of Love Forbidden 1989), most of which were written in November 1935, the remaining one or two in the months following. The "Sonetos" are mainly first drafts and were never organized by Lorca for publication in book form. The title of the unfinished cycle comes from secondhand sources (though it is taken from a line in one of the poems). The sonnets are all strictly traditional Petrarchan hendecasyllabics, and they all concern a lover and his beloved, their relationship, and particularly the lover's sorrows at the beloved's coldness, fickleness, incommunicativeness, or physical absence. Familiar themes reappear: the inability to attain true communion or achieve lasting solace from the consciousness of time passing and of mortality, and the paradoxical sentiment that feeling hurt, unhappy, or anguished is better than feeling nothing at all--that it protects one from an emotional "living death."
On an autobiographical level the sonnets were inspired by Lorca's relationship with Rafael Rodríguez Rapún, a young engineering student who was secretary of La Barraca from 1933 to 1935. Rapún had traveled all over Spain with Lorca and was a constant companion in Madrid; Lorca went so far as to engage him as his personal secretary. However, in the late fall of 1935 the relationship was going through a difficult period: Lorca had been away from Madrid in Barcelona, and a planned visit by Rapún had been delayed. Nevertheless, despite one possible reading of "amor oscuro" as homosexual love and despite the appearance in one poem of a masculine ending to an adjective describing the beloved, the sonnets are intended much more broadly, as an exploration of love and its sorrows on general terms. It is here that one may find an unsuspected link with La casa de Bernarda Alba and El sueño de la vida: in all three works, in different ways, Lorca depicts the difficulty of love and the problematics of human relationships, most of which seem to be, for much of the time, occasions for dissatisfaction and asperity.
The composition of the "Sonetos" can be related to a renewal of interest in that form, and in love poetry in general, which occurred on the Spanish literary scene in the mid 1930s. The style and imagery of Lorca's poems are not dissimilar to those found in the Diván . However, in one direction, Lorca does follow the lead offered by the sonnet's form by incorporating and elaborating oxymorons and other figurative language derived from the courtly love/Petrarchan tradition, while in another he seems to be striving, on occasion, toward a more transparent, more intense, apparently simpler style already foreshadowed in some of the lines of the "Poema doble del lago Edén" (Double Poem of Lake Eden, in Poeta en Nueva York). The Petrarchan flavor of some of the sonnets is further complicated by the sixteenth-century Spanish mystics' appropriation of courtly love language (itself an appropriation of the terminology of religious worship), language Lorca applies to a profane subject but with a series of sometimes arch literary cross-references to Saint Teresa and, particularly, Saint John of the Cross.
In February 1936 new elections brought to power the Popular Front, a loose alliance of liberal-leftist parties. The months that followed saw an increasing polarization in Spanish politics: it became increasingly difficult to be a moderate, and people aligned themselves either with the socialist-minded Republicans or with the protofascist rightists. Sporadic acts of provocation and violence occurred, and secret military planning went ahead for a coup d'état that, when resistance proved much stronger than expected, would turn into the start of the civil war.
Nobody could be unaware of these events, and since the fall of 1934 Lorca's political sympathies had become increasingly manifest. Xirgu had left Spain to tour in Cuba and then Mexico, from whence she sent telegrams to Lorca urging him to join her there. Lorca was of two minds. He had plenty of literary work on his hands in Madrid, and it seems he was reluctant to leave Rapún behind. Events turned particularly nasty in July 1936, with killings on both sides, and Lorca eventually decided to go down to Granada, as was his wont, to celebrate his and his father's saint's day (18 July) with his family, already installed in the Huerta de San Vicente. He arrived on 14 July, and the Spanish military uprising started in North Africa on the evening of the 17th. On the 20th the Granada garrison rose in support of Franco and the other rebel generals, and that same day they took control of most of the city. A severe political purge followed on the heels of the shift of power: moving to consolidate their position, the military and the rightist politicians oversaw "official" executions, which took place in the city cemetery, while gangs of Falangists and other thugs roamed the city in cars and took "suspects"--or anyone against whom they had a grudge--on one-way rides.
Lorca had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was well known as a man of the arts, liberal minded, rumored to be a homosexual, a member of a family on intimate terms with Fernando de los Ríos, and, therefore, as far as the opposing side was concerned, a "red" beyond a shadow of a doubt. Lorca decided to stay put at the Huerta, but after several threats and searches, he moved on 9 August to a supposedly safe haven, the family house of his young poet friend Luis Rosales, two of whose brothers were prominent Falangists. Lorca's brother-in-law, Manuel Fernández-Montesinos, who had become the socialist mayor of Granada shortly before the uprising, was executed on 16 August. That same day a rightist former member of parliament, Ramón Ruiz Alonso, arrested the poet. Lorca was taken to the civil-government headquarters, under the command of Col. José Valdés Guzmán; probably spent some thirty-six hours there (contradictory evidence exists); and thence, in the early hours of 18 (or possibly 19) August, was transferred to a staging post near Víznar, a village outside Granada, where prisoners were grouped before mass executions in the surrounding valleys and ravines. The best current evidence suggests that Lorca was killed, alongside a teacher and two bull-fighters, just before dawn on the morning of 18 August, and buried in an unmarked mass grave whose general location has today been determined. He was a little over thirty-eight years old.
From: Anderson, Andrew A. "Federico Garcia Lorca." Twentieth-Century Spanish Poets: First Series, edited by Michael L. Perna, Gale, 1991. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 108.