Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Spain and Poetry 4: Federico García Lorca: "Green, How I Want You Green..."

Bodega Sandeman, Jerez de la Frontera

In the bitter green
a hard playing-card light
carves out furious horses
and profiles of riders.

-Federico García Lorca, from 'The Quarrel', translated by Jane Duran and Gloria García Lorca

The day in Granada when I visited Huerta de San Vicente - one of Federico García Lorca's homes , now a museum - it rained pretty hard for much of the day. It was a nuisance, as it is anywhere, and I found out that it made the sidewalks desperately slippery. After my tour of the house, I bought a bilingual edition of Romancero gitano (Gypsy Ballads), and also a postcard with one of Lorca's own pieces of art - a spidery drawing of the Alhambra - and a letter. I'm not sure who the letter was addressed to but it must have been a friend or a family member. When I later tried to read the writing, I saw that the opening lines said: "All day it has rained... Autumn has come." I didn't mind the rain any more, suddenly. It was as though Lorca was waving at me across 80 years or more.

Lorca is an enormous topic and I am really just starting out on that journey, so these are more or less initial thoughts. It does seem as though he has been converging on my life lately, gradually - as these things often happen. A reader of The Stone and the Star in New York, who works at the New York Public Library, very kindly sent me a copy of the wonderful program for the recent Poet In New York exhibition held at the NYPL. I've also been reading various poems more or less inspired by him (more about that to come, I think). Meanwhile, as I prepared to go to Spain, the section on Andalucia in my Lonely Planet guide noted: "It is debatable whether you can truly understand modern Andalucia without at least an inkling of Spain's greatest poet and playwright, Federico García Lorca. Lorca epitomised many of Andalucia's potent hallmarks - passion, ambiguity, exuberance and innovation."

Then I went and saw for myself. I had been to this part of Spain before, of course, but I went with more of an eye to Lorca and poetry this time, and was rewarded. (Although I know the titles of his famous plays, I have not yet engaged with those at all.) Lorca's poetry seems to embody the dichotomies and tensions of Andalucia - beauty and violence, concrete details and fairytale-like images. He moves between the real and the fantastic worlds with ease, evoking the blinding light and extreme darkness of Moorish Spain, Gypsy Spain, pre-Civil War Spain. In the midst of a poem with edges as sharp as stained glass or the blue-stained ceramic tiles of the region, I would find moments of description so true to the spirit of what I had observed or experienced that it took my breath away.

Carriages the Guadalquivir
lays down on its ancient glass
between sheets of flowers
and resonances of dark clouds.
[...] But Córdoba does not tremble
under the confused mystery,
for even if the shadow raises
its architecture of smoke,
a marble foot affirms
its chaste, gaunt radiance.

(from 'San Rafael', translated by Jane Duran and Gloria García Lorca)

If I could write like Lorca and I had that intensity of vision, I would describe Cordoba something very much like that; that's how true to life his words feel to the spirit of the place, despite (or perhaps because of) the fantastic and grotesque lurking in the background of the poems.

On a tour of Huerta de San Vicente, I was part of a group of twelve or fifteen, all of whom were Spanish except me, I think. I found some of it hard to follow, but did my best. Huerta de San Vicente was the García Lorca family's summer home from 1926 to 1936. In those days it was in the countryside outside Granada, although now it feels very close to the centre of the city, and is surrounded by a lovely park dedicated to the poet.

The house had been maintained almost just as it always had been. I was struck by the photograph of Lorca's sister Concha, whose beautiful laughing face was incredibly vivid. There were some of his drawings, and the piano on which Lorca played and composed. It was possible to imagine that he and his family members would soon return, which I found a little hard to take. As well as writing some of his important works in Huerta de San Vicente, Lorca also stayed there shortly before his arrest and murder.

If I were Spanish, I would probably understand a little better what Lorca means to them. Some of the tour group was made up of an enthusiastic collection of ladies in their fifties or thereabouts, who ignored the guide's request not to touch anything, and exclaimed over everything (in the kitchen, when the guide explained a few of the details of the facilities: "How useful! Look at that! My sister has one almost like it! Oh my, was I not supposed to touch that?" etc.) Later, one of the ladies asked: "Do they know which house Federico lived in, in Granada?" (The exact location is lost, if I understood right.) I thought it was telling that he was "Federico", not "Lorca" or "García Lorca" - perhaps this was to differentiate him from his family, but I would have thought it was clear enough. To these visitors, he was Federico.

I will be making my way through the spotlit, bloody and gorgeous landscapes of his poems for some time, I think, especially comparing the originals and the translations, with my so-so Spanish. Meanwhile, I will point you in the direction of the following poems which seem to me especially amazing, or representative, or just so worth reading.

ROMANCE SONAMBULO (Federico García Lorca)

THE GUITAR (Federico García Lorca)

RIDER'S SONG (Federico García Lorca)

All photos © Clarissa Aykroyd, 2013


  1. Hi Clarissa, it's been a while! I don't know much about Lorca, my focus in Spanish literature was mostly novels. But I liked Romance sonambulo - so intense and dramatic!

    Visiting a poet's city and house is a great way to get further insight into his work. I do that every chance I get. Looking forward to read more about your impressions on Spain and Lorca.

    1. Thanks Paula, so nice to see you here again! I agree with you about visiting places associated with writers and pieces of writing. It becomes a more intense and emotional experience.

      Do you recommend any Spanish novels in particular? Even if I have to read them in translation! I studied Spanish for several years, and can get by a bit when I travel in a Spanish speaking country, but I'm quite rusty. I'm pretty sure I read some of Jorge Luis Borges when studying (it really was quite a long time ago, 15 years or more). He is fascinating - his poetry as well.

    2. Borges is amazing. I also really like Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One hundred years of solitute" and "Love in the time of the cholera". Julio Cortazar's short stories are also very impressive. "The continuity of parks" is particularly mind blowing:

      Speaking of Spanish, I was just talking about this with a friend. I find it very difficult, almost impossible, to understand people's accent in Spain. The accents in South America and Mexico are much easier. So if you could follow what the tourists were saying, your Spanish must be pretty good ;)

    3. I can't believe I haven't read Gabriel Garcia Marquez yet, I really must. Thanks for the recommendations!

      I know what you mean about the Spain-Spanish accent. I learned Spanish in school in Canada and pretty much learned the Mexican and Central/South American accents. I guess I've lived in Europe for quite a long time now and I've heard a lot of the Spain accent. I found it almost impossible to understand for a long time. I didn't understand everything, either. ;) But I think it can vary a fair amount in different parts of the country, too.