Saturday, 19 August 2017

A Poet of Andalusia 1953

The Sydney Morning Herald 25 Apr 1953  p. 9

A Poet Of Andalusia

WHEN General Franco’s Fascists entered Granada in August, 1936, one of their first misdeeds was the murder of Federico Garcia Lorca, the most acclaimed poet of his generation. They seized him and shot him and burned his works in the Plaza del Carmen. As is usual in the violent clashes of creeds and systems, the most intellectual was the earliest to be exterminated by a gross misconception the assassins considered that this display of zeal would further their cause.

The result of this gesture was, of course, that Lorca was immediately installed among the world's martyrs and his writings elevated to the indisputable status of gospel. But though his martyrdom made him more widely known, his fame by no means rests upon that alone.

Years before he died, his poetry had come to represent, for the bulk of the people, the passion and the tragedy of Spain. Lorca lived a privileged existence. He was born in 1899 and studied law at the universities of Granada and Madrid, where he became a brilliant practitioner in most of the arts. Besides being a poet and a writer and producer of plays, he was an accomplished musician and painter. He described himself as “not merely a playwright, a poet, or a simple student of the rich panorama of man's life, but as an ardent passionate believer in the theatre of social action."

LORCA concerned himself with the most esoteric forms of modern art. At the beginning of his career he was in the Spanish avant-garde, playing with such notions as dadaism. And yet most of his work is closely associated with the life of the common people — particularly of the gypsy-folk of his native Andalusia.

There are several translations of his poems, notably those by Roy Campbell, Stephen Spender and J. L. Gill, and A. L. Lloyd. Mr Lloyd's translation, "Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter, and other Poems," which first appeared in 1937, has just been re-issued by William Heinemann. All but one of these pieces are taken from the original "Romancero Gitano" (Gypsy Ballad-Book), the collection which brought Lorca world-wide recognition.

Although many of this Spanish poet's expressions may be perplexing to the average English reader, his work has achieved a universality of appeal that extends far beyond his popularity in Spain.
Mr Lloyd tells of how he, himself, has discovered such out-of-the way Lorca enthusiasts as a grocer’s daughter in a Moravian village, a miner in Wales, and the manager of a cinema theatre in a distant Norwegian village.

TO those of us who are unfamiliar, personally, with the customs and character of the Spaniard in his habitat and who, furthermore, are obliged to rely upon translations, much of the phraseology of Lorca must remain obscure.

Nevertheless, although most of Lorca's poems are founded on a traditional romantic form, occupying a position akin to the popular ballad, they must not be mistaken for mere folk-songs.

"The language," says Mr. Lloyd, "is of a kind not known before Rimbaud; the nervous sensuality is foreign to the austere pieces of traditional currency. Lorca's ballads are essentially creations of modern art, and often the popular scene appears as if lit with ten-thousand-watt flood-lamps."

In that blinding radiance objects stand out like fragments of flint, throwing fierce angular shadows.

Even the religious romances throb with violence and sensuality. But, as Arturo Barea, one of Lorca’s biographers, points out, "sex, cruelty and death are prominent in the projection of religion in Spain. Nowhere are the images of the martyred saints so blood-spattered and horrifying — particularly the virgin saints. The fusion of the mystical and the carnal, in which often the exaltation is lost and only the cruelly remains, is part of the folklore of Spanish Catholicism.

"In the 'Martyrdom of Saint Eulalia,' the intense and desperate visions evoked by the poet are but formalised types of the fantasias that sear the Spanish imagination from early childhood." Here is a passage:—

Naked, Flora goes
up the little stairs of water.
For the breasts of Eulalia
the Consul demands a platter.
A jet of green veins
bursts from her throat . . .
On the ground, unruly,
Her severed hands writhe,
still crossed in a feeble
decapitated prayer.
And through the red holes
where once were her breasts,
tiny skies are now seen
and rivulets of white milk.
A thousand little trees of blood
cover all her back,
and oppose their moist trunks
to the scalpel of fire.
Yellow centurions, grey-fleshed,
and sleepless in their harness,
reach the sky, clashing
the silver of their armour.
And as a passion of manes and swords
Is shaking in confusion,
The Consul bears on a platter
the smoky breasts of Eulalia.

It should be noted that Salvador Dali, the surrealist painter, exerted a strong influence on Federico.

LORCA was a burly creature, massive of bone and warty of visage.
He was fond of music and magic and laughter. But it was said of him that he could not experience joy unless he could feel the thorn. No bright flower but had its bitter root.

When he was not the poet of the flood-lamp he was the poet of the sun and love. But the sun was always a midday sun, beating down with its terrible glare on the bull-ring and the feverish crowds; and love always went hand in hand with death.

Knives and torment and blood abound in his glittering phrases. No wonder that, on his approach, colleagues shouted: "Here comes Federico. Now we can paint the town red with poetry."

Lorca was shy and unenthusiastic about the publication of his own work. On one occasion he fled to New York to take refuge from his fame, and was appalled. He described America as "a Senegal with machinery."

... the Negroes who empty the spittoons,
the young men who tremble
under the pale terror of
their directors,
the women drowned in mineral oil,
the multitude of the hammer, the violin or the
. . . must shout though their
brains burst on the wall,
... must shout with a voice so
that the cities tremble like
little girls,
and the prisons of oil and
music burst open,
because we want our daily

THE "Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter" is the longest piece in the collection of Mr. Lloyd's translations.

Sanchez Mejias, the matador, was a friend of most of the Spanish poets, and Lorca mourns his death in the ring with a deep personal grief.

Critics regard this lament, which synthesises the poet's own emotions with the nation's feeling of unrest before the Civil War, as the pinnacle of Lorca’s poetic achievement.

The bull does not know you, nor the fig tree,
nor horses, nor the ants in your own house.
The child does not know you, nor the evening,
for you are dead for ever.

The surface of the stone does not know you,
Nor the black satin where you are destroyed.
Your own dumb memory does not know you,
for you are dead for ever.

Autumn will come with its shepherd horns,
its misty grapes and clustered mountains.
But none will want to look you in the eyes,
for you are dead for ever.

There will be many who will be confused and irritated by Lorca's symbolism. To these I commend a passage from an essay by John Lehmann:—

"Each poet writes within the material surroundings of his age, and these surroundings have changed during the last five hundred years at an accelerating pace. Each change presents a field for new symbols, and only new symbols or a new arrangement of ancient symbols can give us the shock of simultaneous recognition and wonder that fully captures our imagination and opens it to the action of art. Without the heritage of the great poets of the past we should indeed be lost in the wilderness, but without the works of the poets of our own time we might even lose sight of that heritage, unable to distinguish where it stood in the landscape of our lives, our civilisation."

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