by Federico García Lorca

This review is a contribution to the Spanish Word-A-Day written by Christopher Champion from Oxford.

A la mitad del camino
Cortó limones redondos,
Y los fue tirando al agua
Hasta que la puso de oro.

This spectacular image of sunset is possibly my favourite image from the collection Romancero Gitano taken from Prendimento de Antoñito el Camborio en el Camino de Sevilla by Federico García Lorca.

Romancero Gitano is, as a collection, extremely rich. It deals vividly with the lives of gypsies looking particularly, but not exclusively, at conflict, deceit, the internal pressures within gypsy society, rape and death. The Romancero Gitano is a wonderful read. One of the best aspects of Lorca’s collection for me is the depth to which you find yourself engaging with the text. Often the images demand your attention and time, which is not always simple, but that is part of the joy of reading such a collection of poetry, since it is always evolving in front of you as you notice new ideas and images within the poems. It is available in translation, but what I would recommend for anyone who is not confident with the Spanish is to read it in parallel text, since it is the beauty of the language as well as the images and ideas that is wonderful.

The first lines of Romancero Gitano read:

La luna vino a la fragua
con su polisón de nardos.
El niño la mira, mira.
El niño la está mirando.

For those who know nothing of Lorca’s work it is a confusing start: the moon coming to the forge with her bustle of nards? In this case the moon is a worrying presence, since it represents destiny and potentially death, and also the folkloric view that if children stare too much at the moon they will be carried away. What is special about Lorca’s take on this is that he has made the moon a seductive dancer, capturing the Andalusian spirit. This somewhat abstract imagery is central to his work.

The many wonderful metaphors and conceits that you will find throughout Romancero Gitano are nothing new in themselves, after all the poets of the Golden Age were masters such of conceits and intriguing metaphors. Here, I am especially thinking of Góngora who certainly had an influence on Lorca. Indeed, even the title itself leads us to appreciate that Lorca’s work is not without roots: the word romancero goes as far back as the Romancero Viejo, the traditional source of Spanish Ballads. Lorca is clearly very interested in this traditional ballad form, and in some of his poems he uses similar tools, for example the verse form, the use of direct speech or the absence of any linking structure. In effect he is reviving this old form with his own particular style of writing.

One final word on Lorca. There are many films about this very famous poet who died prematurely in the civil war, but one film I would recommend for its insightful look into his life and its emotional power is “Lorca, Muerte de un poeta”.