Lorca And My Search For Good Spanish-Language Poetry

span poet

I’ve always been saddened by the fact that I don’t like much Spanish-language poetry.  My favorite poems (I tend to have favorite poems not poets) come from all across the Northern Hemisphere, from Japanese haiku to American prose-poems.  I continue searching for personal favorites in the vast field of Spanish-language poetry, largely so as to keep my own meager Spanish-language skills from atrophy.

I did like Neruda okay, but just okay.   I feel a glimmer of hope about Gabriela Mistral, and need to read more from her.

One poet I had given up on was Federico Garcia Lorca, who died a victim of the insanity swirling around during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s.  I have heard praised many times his poetry collection, A Poet In New York.  But upon recently reading that book and finding nothing interesting in it at all, I figured he was just one more Spanish-language poet I could cross off my list.  I won’t give that work a separate blog entry.  Suffice it to say, I remain perplexed at its high praise.  Perhaps, granted long enough life, I will come back to it again, and with new, wiser eyes see the reason for the approbation it received from multiple generations.

However, next on my list was the book, Spanish Poetry, an anthology of Spanish-language poetry edited by Angel Flores (a prolific editor-translator if ever there was one).  The poems in this particular Flores collection are translated by a variety of translators, including Flores himself.

Again, most of the poetry, I didn’t go for.  But guess which poet I liked the best?  Yep.  Federico GarcIa Lorca.  You see– that’s what’s infuriating about my quest to find poetry that I like.  I can’t just read one or two poems from a poet to know whether he or she is worth reading more.  I practically have to read a person’s whole freakin’ ouevre before knowing whether they were worth reading or not to begin with!

Lorca’s poem, La Guitarra, begins:  “The cry of the guitar / begins. / The crystals of dawn are/ breaking.”  What’s not to like about that admixture of aural and visual melancholy and destruction underlaid with a glimmer of hope and beauty?  Additionally, in the original Spanish, there’s a nice, though imperfect bah-BOOM-bah rhythm going on.  The poet goes on to explain to us that it is useless to stop the guitar’s sad sound, for the weeping of the guitar is also “the weeping of wind over the snowfall.”  As it is also the cry of all the mournful on earth “for things distant.”  The guitar also gently weeps for all those unfortunate beings seeking and seeking… something… but never finding, like a “flecha sin blanco,” or an arrow without a target.  The way Lorca ends the poem makes me wonder if he is thinking especially of a guitar of five strings not six, for the last lines read:  “Oh, guitar! / Heart wounded / by five swords.”

 And to think, I had basically written off Lorca!  So easy it would have been to never have come across this beautiful poem.  I suppose this whole neurotic apprehension I have about dying without reading some of the world’s greatest poetry is some kind of transmogrified fear of death.  I feel a similar despondency sometimes when a beautiful woman passes me by and I hear the click of closing door inside my mind, aware that she embodies a series of sublime moments I will never know, a lovely path of possibility and pleasure and excitement and intimacy that I will never explore.  I long to embrace the universe… and must settle for a few warm bosoms.

I also enjoyed from Lorca, Spring Song.  Here he speaks of “divine April” (I wonder which month has been named the most in poetry?).  For him, April is a time “laden with sun and perfumes,” a time when cypress trees become “enormous heads which, with hollow eyes and long green hair, sorrowful and pensive contemplate the horizon.”

Some poems of Lorca’s I like, but I’m not sure exactly why.  Now see here, I’ve made an unpaid profession the last year of learning to name precisely what I like or don’t like about a poem or a novel.  And that’s not an easy thing to do, trust me.  Most of us don’t bother explaining even to ourselves precisely why we like or don’t like a certain movie or painting.  Sure, you could say, “because it was boring”– but then WHY was it boring?  Or you could say, “because it moved along slowly,” but WHY is moving along slowly displeasing?  You get what I mean.  Good criticism ain’t easy.  I’m not saying I’ve succeeded at it myself, but I have tried hard enough at it to know that’s it’s no walk in the park.

One poem I like in this vague way of which I speak is Romance Sonambulo.   Here’s my favorite stanza… “Friend, I want to die/ decently in my bed. / Of steel, if that can be, / on sheets of Holland linen./ Don’t you see the wound I have / from my breast up to my throat?”  Why is it my favorite stanza?  Beats me.  I think contributing factors are the nice detail of the “Holland linen” and mystery of the chest wound– is it really there?  is he speaking of a broken heart?

Lastly, the erotic poem The Faithless Wife is also very good.  My favorite lines here are, “Her thighs slipped from me/ like sudden startled fish, / half bathed in fire, / half bathed in frost.”  However, as lovely at that description is, the next lines come off as comical, and I really wonder how much experience with male-female love-making Lorca had.  The lines read like an example of how NOT to write love poetry:  “That night I rode upon / the best of all highways, / astride a pearly mare / with no bridles and no stirrups.”  Not sure I’d put THAT on a Valentine card.

Oh, I should throw in that in that same Angel Flores’ anthology I liked a poem of San Juan de la Cruz which begins, O Living Flame Of Love…  This one’s also an erotic poem.  Reading it, I was put in mind of John Donne’s more erotic stuff– in both cases I was surprised to find such blatant sex-talk coming from a poet born in the 1500s.  For example, de la Cruz dares write, “Please finish, know me at the source; / break the hymen of our sweet intercourse!”  Ooh la la!…

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