[by Ben Adams]
When I sat down to begin the Delve Seminar on Lorca & Yeats as Poet-Dramatists and their search for duende and mysticism equally in their own right, I was greeted by warm faces and conversational laughter. It was already a welcoming place. We started with introductions and a bit about ourselves- one thing that rang true in all of our stories was a passion to learn and our love for poetry. Some of us were well versed in Lorca and Yeats, ready to explore, others of us were there to absorb everything we possibly could.
We began with a short biography on Lorca, exploring Yeats in the coming weeks. We spoke about Lorca’s family history, his schooling, his influences, and musical career. His melodic undertones, his melodious lyrical style of prose all beginning to come to life through his story and the intelligible sadness felt throughout his life and seen in his work. I sensed in all of us there a compassion for Lorca, a spilling out of our own lives and sadness in conversation through Lorca’s guidance- a shared weight gained through the understanding of his work.
We began with the play entitled Yerma, which translates to “barren” in Spanish, a gilded tragically poetic work set in the Spanish countryside. It tells the story of a woman unable to conceive and her unbearable obsessive pain she experiences because of the pressure of her rural cultural expectancy for a child. We found in this play many similarities to Lorca’s feeling of ineptitude and isolation because of early 20th century Spain’s take on homosexuality. A feeling Lorca unfortunately struggled with his whole life, something we essentially all wish for- acceptance. His entire life marred by tragedy, his work is a vortex of dark language and emotions that left us all with something to say and more than a week’s worth to think about.
I came to Delve to talk about Lorca and his work, I never expected to learn as much about myself, history, human relations and more about the artist as I have already. If the first week is a sign of meetings to come then Delve is already one of the best literary experiences of my life thus far.
We come back to our seminar more familiar with Federico Garcia Lorca’s work but perhaps more unfamiliar with ourselves, influenced by his duende. Jennifer, our guide and Delve muse, gathers her papers and with her gentle voice softly asks if we have any questions or comments from the reading. This becomes the quite spark that ignites the next two hours as we pour over the late history of Lorca’s life, his travels, his friendship with other artists, and touch on his pervasive use of repeating symbolism and his lyrical maturity.
Un Chien Andalou is a surrealist film made by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali in 1929. It is known as one of the best avant garde films of the 1920’s and it’s imagery inspires filmmaking to this day— it was one of the first films to show the pop image of the death’s-head hawk moth (Acherontia atropos). The title translated into English means “An Andalusian Dog.” Lorca being from Andalusia, this title was a comic knife at the poet’s background and perhaps his sexuality. This was probably hurtful given the two wrote letters and poems to each other, often referring to each other as Saint Sebastian; Lorca having written a now celebrated poem An Ode to Salvador Dali in 1926.
Five years previous to the production of this film, Lorca (six years older) met an eighteen-year-old Dali at Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid, Spain. They immediately hit it off as friends, recognizing the inherent genius they both possessed. It became a darker, sadder more complicated relationship of unrequited love, and a competitive relationship developed involving Buñuel; that tumultuously rocky triangle is represented somewhat in this film. We are defensive of Lorca during its showing— and rightfully so, but not letting that take away from our appreciation of it as we chat about the imagery, cultural representations, and the score. Eventually we drop into separate tangents as a group about Lorca’s own musical career and his appearance in multiple Dali paintings; Jennifer bringing us back together with Lorca’s own sketch of Dali along with many others in notes, adding depth to the skill of this wonderful poet.
Their relationship had a massive impact on Lorca’s work, much like his travels, and it was a relationship that continued until his unfortunate death. Lorca had an affinity for the gypsy culture, influenced by music and travel, he very much considered himself a gypsy, using his travels as a way to ruminate his heartbreak and pain— one must picture his life in a state of impermanence. He was one of many accursed poets living in Spain at that time including Miguel Hernandez, the revolution casting a dark shadow of poetes maudits its wake. Lorca blended his sorrows into dark language, rich imagery, and naturalism often in rhythmic flamenco patterning to convey his art and duende to the world, forever changing and influencing modern poetry, and we definitely felt a part of that. I was incredibly happy to see Lorca’s poem, “New Heart” along with many others as a part of Jennifer’s reading for the week and look forward to wrapping up our travels with Lorca with Poet in New York and Sonnets of Dark Love in week three. After that we begin our exploration of Yeats!
Week 3 & 4: The Death of Federico Garcia Lorca
Every journey must end and our journey on Lorca ends with his death- however unfortunate and unjust. Years before his death he became enamoured with exploring the sublime- he was hitting an artistic and philosophical stride that was to be cut short, the artist was coming into his own, climbing towards the heart of his creative best, much of which was to be published posthumously.
In 1932 he traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina and delivered a kind of culmination of his ideas: Play and Theory of the Duende. Combining folk lore, philosophy, art criticism, poetry, and dark emotions to explain a force he felt deep inside and embodied in many forms of art. He writes, “The duende, then, is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought. I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, ‘The duende is not in the throat; the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning this: it is not a question of ability, but of true, living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation.” Anything that is dark, seeded with emotion, or created in spite of death has duende. He evokes creatives across the board from Nietzsche to Bizet to explain the dark thronging of emotion that is the duende.
When you read Play and Theory of the Duende it really puts in perspective the work of Lorca. It creates a deeper meaning in all his work and many others. It is as if you had never really known truly the poet until you read this piece of work. It rearranges a lot of thought on creativity, I remember originally reading it in high school and being blown away— that effect is lasting even to this day. It reminds me much of Yukio Mishima’s The Sun and Steel, and I couldn’t help but think he was heavily influenced by Lorca or how often their lives parallel. It is nearly impossible to be an artist and escape the influence that Lorca has had on the community.
Much of his diabolic innocence (Lorca was ripe with contradictions) and deep sensitivity can be felt in the works just before his death like Yerma, First Songs, and Blood Wedding. Some of his work even focused on his own death as if he knew something would take him away from old age and take him from the impermanent world. Unfortunately the circumstances surrounding his death are very cloudy. Some argue it was his political views, others his sexuality, some even argue he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and could very much have lived to be an old man. We do know this much: on the morning of August 18th 1936, Lorca’s brother-in-law, Manuel Fernández-Montesinos, mayor of Granada where Lorca had fled before the civil war, was shot. That afternoon Lorca himself was arrested and it is presumed he was shot the next day. He was dumped in an unmarked grave near Alfacar and to this day attempts to find his remains have failed.
Some of his greatest and best selling works were published after his death including, Poet In New York and Dark Sonnets. One can only imagine what he could have accomplished if he only escaped death. In some absurd incredibly unfortunate way he left as he came in to the world, without reason, enamoured with death, wondering about the emotion filled blood that pulsed beneath everyones faces into their hearts. He wanted to touch the divine and grasp firm into it in his own way. In his final moments I would like to think he felt the divine touch his heart in a way he so desperately was seeking. A final moment to lose himself in the black mist of duende.
Week 4 of the Delve we had a break to transition to Yeats and ruminate with Lorca. I find it fitting to leave one of his sadder poems but still embodied with a little hope:
I go down the street
Grotesque, without solution
With the sadness of Cyrano
With the rhythm of the clock.