Lorca Overview

Federico García Lorca (1898-1936)

 

Overview

- Federico Garcia Lorca, born in Andalusia, is often considered the most important Spanish poet and playwright of the 20th century. He was also a talented musician (a pianist, composer and guitarist) and graphic artist.

- In a lively career that spanned just 19 years, he revitalised the essence of Spanish poetry and theatre. He is credited with helping to inaugurate a second Golden Age of the Spanish theatre in the early 1930s.

- Lorca’s Andalusian origins were fundamental to his artistic personality. He is known above all for his specifically Andalusian works, including the poetry collections Romancero gitano (Gypsy Ballads) and Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías (Lament for a Bullfighter), and, among his plays, for three tragedies: Bodas de sangre (Blood Wedding),Yerma and La casa de Bernarda Alba (The House of Bernarda Alba).

- He became a prominent artistic figure in Spain and spent periods in New York and Cuba (1929/30) and in Argentina (1933/34), where he became friendly with the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

- He had a close and passionate friendship with the painter Salvador Dalì.

- Shortly after the start of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), when Andalusia became the first region to fall to Franco’s Nationalists, Lorca was executed near Granada by a Nationalist firing squad. It is likely that Lorca was condemned for both his homosexuality and his libertarian views. He was among the 30,000 citizens of Granada who died in the conflict.

 

Federico Garcia Lorca said:
“I am totally Spanish, and it would be impossible for me to live outside my geographical limits. But, equally, I have no time for he who is Spanish just because he was born a Spaniard. I am a brother to all men, and vehemently reject the person who sacrifices himself for an abstract, nationalist ideal because he loves his country with a blindfold over his eyes. In truth a good Chinaman is closer to me than a bad Spaniard. I express Spain in my work and feel her in the very marrow of my bones; but before that I am cosmopolitan, and a brother to all. I don’t believe in political frontiers.”

 

“I believe that being from Granada gives me a sympathetic understanding of those who are persecuted – of the Gypsy, the Negro, the Jew, and of the Moor which all Granadinos carry inside them.”

 

Ana María Dalí (Salvador Dalí’s sister) said:

“He [Lorca] had an intelligent expression, bursting with vitality, but neither his figure nor his movements  were immediately attractive. However, the moment he entered his comfort zone… reciting poetry, playing the guitar or the piano or talking about things that really interested him… the whole of his being acquired supple movement and perfect elegance. Mouth and eyes harmonised in such admirable way that no one could remain unmoved by the great attraction emanating from his persona. Words flowed, acute and penetrating, the timbre of his voice, rather dark, acquiring a unique beauty. Everything became transformed around him. Effectively, his presence added beauty to his surroundings, like the swan adorns the lake as he glides through its waters…”

 

Further detail on Lorca’s life and work

Lorca was the son of a wealthy landowner and his schoolteacher wife. After his first years in rural Andalusia, his family moved to Granada when he was 10.

He originally planned to become a musician and composer, but started writing in his late teens. His influences included Shakespeare, Goethe, the Spanish poet Antonio Machado (1875-1939), and the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío (1867-1916), father of Hispanic Modernismo, a late-Romantic movement.

In 1919 Lorca moved to Madrid, where he spent 10 years in a hall of residence also occupied by the filmmaker Luis Buñuel and the artist Salvador Dalí. Lorca also became friendly with poets such as Juan Ramón Jiménez, Rafael Alberti, Jorge Guillén, and Pedro Salinas.

Lorca’s first full-length play was performed in 1920, El maleficio de la mariposa (The Butterfly’s Evil Spell), a symbolist work about a lovesick cockroach. His next full-length play, the historical verse drama Mariana Pineda was first performed in 1927 in a production with decor by Dalí.

In the early 1920s, he experimented with short verse forms inspired by Spanish folk song, Japanese haiku, and contemporary avant-garde poetry.

In 1922 Lorca collaborated with the Andalusian composer Manuel de Falla on a festival of cante jondo (deep song) in Granada, a project which encouraged him to write a series of poems based on songs of the Andalusian Gypsies – Poema del cante jondo (1921–25). These poems signalled Lorca’s emergence as a mature poet. He also wrote the first of a series of puppet plays inspired by Andalusian traditions.

Encouraged by Dalí, Lorca began to experiment with avant-garde concepts. He also became a disciple of the 16th century poet Don Luis de Góngora, known for his densely metaphorical verse.

He also mined the Spanish popular tradition in plays such as La zapatera prodigiosa (The Shoemaker’s Prodigious Wife) and El amor de don Perlimplín con Belisa en su jardín (The Love of Don Perlimplín with Belisa in Their Garden). Both plays treat themes typical of Lorca: identity, art, childhood, and sex; the tricks played by time; the destructive powers of love and death;

In 1928 the publication of his collection of 18 poems Romancero gitano (Gypsy Ballads) attracted considerable attention and it became a bestseller. The poems evoke the sensual world of the Andalusian Gypsy. If their form mimics medieval ballads, they are modern in spirit.

His visit to New York and Cuba in 1929-30 produced Poeta en Nueva York, a collection which shows the diverse influence of such poets as Baudelaire, Poe, Eliot, Crane and Whitman. In Cuba he wrote the play El público (The Audience), a complex expressionist piece that explores homosexual passion. (It was not staged until 1978.)

On his return to Spain, he completed another play Así que pasen cinco años (Once Five Years Pass) and became director of a travelling theatre group, La Barraca, sponsored by the country’s progressive new Republican government.

1933 brought the premiere of his first Andalusian tragedy Bodas de sangre (Blood Wedding), an expressionist piece that draws on Ancient Greece, the Renaissance, and the Baroque. It became his first major theatrical success, inaugurating a brilliant period for Spanish theatre.

In 1933–34 he went to Buenos Aires to oversee productions of his plays and to give lectures. While there, he befriended the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

 

In addition to his work as a playwright, Lorca continued to write poetry:

o   The collection Divan del Tamarit (The Divan at Tamarit), inspired by Arabic verse forms. He saw Moorish culture as central to his identity as an Andalusian poet and this collection was part of a revival of interest in Arab-Andalusian culture in the 1930s;

o   Seis poemas galegos (Six Galician Poems);

o   Sonetos del amor oscuro (Sonnets of Dark Love), an 11-sonnet sequence recalling a failed love affair.

All three collections underscore Lorca’s concern with the interdependence of love and death;

o   Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías (Lament for a Bullfighter) was Lorca’s response when a friend of his, a bullfighter, was gored to death. It is his longest poem and an elegiac masterpiece.

·       In the last two years of his life he worked on several plays:

o    Yerma, the second of his Andalusian tragedies

o    The House of Bernarda Alba, his third tragedy

o    Doña Rosita la soltera (Doña Rosita the Spinster)

o    Los sueños de mi prima Aurelia (The Dreams of My Cousin Aurelia) – which remained unfinished

o    El sueño de la vida (The Dream of Life), his most overtly political play.

·       In 1986 the Spanish government marked the 50th anniversary of Lorca’s death by erecting a monument on the site of his murder.

Yehuda Shapiro