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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tale of Two Poems

Here is a very nice poem Lorca wrote in 1919. He was born in '98 so he is the age of my college juniors.


¿Qué es lo que guardo en estos
Momentos de tristeza?
¡Ay, quién tala mis bosques
Dorados y floridos!
¿Qué leo en el espejo
De plata conmovida
Que la aurora me ofrece
Sobre el agua del río?
¿Qué gran olmo de idea
Se ha tronchado en mi bosque?
¿Qué lluvia de silencio
Me deja estremecido?
Si a mi amor dejé muerto
En la ribera triste,
¿Qué zarzales me ocultan
Algo recién nacido?

It's nice, but it isn't great. I've bolded the parts I find weaker. The emphasis on sadness (tristeza) is too similar to Juan Ramón Jiménez. There is conventional language like "momentos de silencio" [moments of silence] and the poetically ineffective pleonasm "agua de río." The phrase "gran olmo de idea" [great elm of idea] is not very good. The poem is restating something that was better expressed earlier in the poem. The poem is confessional, autobiographical, placing the poetic "I" in the center. Nothing wrong with that. There is some typical pathetic fallacy.

But look how he is writing just a few years later:

Empieza el llanto
de la guitarra.
Se rompen las copas
de la madrugada.
Empieza el llanto
de la guitarra.
Es inútil callarla.
Es imposible
Llora monótona
como llora el agua,
como llora el viento
sobre la nevada.
Es imposible
Llora por cosas
Arena del Sur caliente
que pide camelias blancas.
Llora flecha sin blanco,
la tarde sin mañana,
y el primer pájaro muerto
sobre la rama.
¡Oh, guitarra!
Corazón malherido
por cinco espadas.

There is no late nineteenth century sadness, simply "weeping" or "sobbing." The poetic fact is there as a fact, rather than being described. There is no need for a poetic "I" anymore, because the emotion just is. Of course, he had to write a bunch of conventional poetry before he even thought about writing something this revolutionary, in which the pathetic fallacy becomes something so radically modernist.

If we want to learn about Lorca's biographical angst, maybe the first poem is more useful, no? Someone is cutting down his wonderful forest, his love has died, and something new for him is born in the brambles. If we want to understand why we revere Lorca as a poet, then the second poem is more useful. Presumably we only care about Lorca in the first place because he was able to transcend the mode of expression of his early work and write something so awe-inspiring.

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