Federico García Lorca
Michael Smith,

(Dedalus Books)
A few years before he was murdered by the Spanish Guardia Civil, Federico García Lorca composed twenty-one poems he called the Tamarit poems. Slightly over half were "Gacelas;" the others were "Casidas" --- both poetic styles taken from the Persian.

In their original incarnations, these were strictly formalistic and rather cold. In García Lorca's hands, they became soulful, filled with love and death and innocence and animals. To some of us who care for his poetry, they may represent his highest art in romantic verse with a fine intermix of Dadaism.

Who else but García Lorca would have the temerity to write of

    The golden girl...
    bathing in flames
    and the nightingale wept
    with its wings burnt.

Who else could speak of

    a thousand violins fit in the palm of my hand
    But the weeping is an immense dog,
    the weeping is an immense angel,
    the weeping is an immense violin.

This edition of García-Lorca's Tamarit Poems is especially welcome because it is face-en-face so one can immediately compare the Spanish on the left with the English on the right. Michael Smith, the translator, is sensitive to the rhythms and the objects of the poet's work, and manages to capture the magical unrealism of García Lorca along with his passionate sensuality.

Still, this reviewer had quibbles with his renditions. For instance, the title "Casida de los Ramos" has been rendered as "Casida of the Clusters" when might well have been better to call it the "Casida of the Branches" or even the "Casida of the Boughs." The lines

    El Tamarit tiene un manzano
    con una manzana de sollozos...

have been rendered "The Tamarit has an apple-tree / with an apple of sobs..." The final word gives the unfortunate echo of "sob-sisters." (A "weeping apple" or "apple of sadness" might have been more appropriate.)

In the "Gacela de la Terrible Presencia," the first four lines are "Yo quiero que el agua se quede sin cauce. / Yo quiero que el viento se quede sin valle. / Quiero que la noche se quede sin ojos / y mi corazón sin la flor del oro." This is rendered as,

    I want the stream to lose its banks.
    I want the slopes to cradle the wind.
    I would have the night eyeless
    and my heart yield up its fine gold.

But "cauce" might be better translated as "river bed," "valles" as "valleys" or "vales." In the original, there is no mention of "cradling" the wind.

The first two lines might better be rendered

    I would want the river to be without a bed.
    I would want the wind to be without vales.

(The use of this auxiliary is appropriate; Smith includes "would" in his second couplet.)

"Sin ojos" is rendered by the translator as "eyeless," but "without eyes" is simpler and more in keeping with the spirit of the poem. The word "sin" --- "without" --- has been changed into the not very poetic "yield up" --- and "flor de oro" --- best as "the golden flower" --- has been twisted into "fine gold." Better, we might translate this second couplet as,

    I would want the night to be without eyes
    and my heart without the golden flower.

We include for reference another "Gacela" the original poem, Smith's rendering, and then our own.

The book concludes with a brief but wonderful explication by Emilio García Gómez of the Arabic precedents of the Gacelas and the Casidas. He suggests that García Lorca did not use the forms slavishly, but at the same time was able to deliver the "daring excess of some metaphors:"

    La penumbra con paso de elefante
    empuja las ramas y los troncos.

    [Dusk with elephantine tread
    is pushing the branches and tree-trunks].

García Gómez writes: "the verses iridesce with the polychrome of an Iranian miniature:"

    Mil caballitos persas se dormían
    en la plaza con luna de tu frente.

    [A thousand Persian ponies were dozing
    in the moonlit square of your brow.].

What is most entrancing in this brief essay is the writer's memories of being with García Lorca:

    we met to dine in a good eating place against a background of drunken voices mangling coplas. Leaning on the table --- invisible but present --- a young Granadine girl of fifty years ago was listening to the subtly ironic verses which Lorca was reading.

    In the conversation, charged with literary electricity, the three a's of Granada sounded frequently. And --- speaking, speaking --- behind our image of the present city there emerged --- as in those figures of geometry in which hidden intersections are pointed out with dotted lines --- the idea of another, past Granada, hypothetically purified, where other people were singing in another language to the sound of other guitars.

It is this image of the Granada of the Moors, with their singing, their story-telling, their music, all engraved into the walls that lie at the heart of Granada in the Alhambra, that sumptuous Arabic structure left over from so many centuries before, filled with fountains and water and coolness, with poems gorgeously scribed in its very walls, that entrances the reader and adds magic to the poetry of one of the masters of 20th Century verse.

--- Carlos Amantea

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