Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

F. G. Lorca

K. Viswanatham

By K. VISWANATHAM, M.A.
(Reader, Andhra University)

“Those who knew him agree that his personality turned
every thing about him into poetry.”–C. M. BOWRA.

In writing this article it is not a question of competence but a matter of love. The little book of translations made by J. L. Gili and Stephen Spender (The Hogarth Press, 1947) is like Prospero’s isle full of wandering ditties that wait upon some god of poetry. After reading a wonderful little poem like The Faithless Wife, smothering an ejaculation of praise is sin. It is better to praise than to judge; better to read than to praise–the poems of Lorca. My loving enthusiasm may be repetitive but repetition is no lapse in love. ‘Priyo jano nasti punaruktam.’

Lorca was not only a poet but a dramatist and a musician. His charm and personality won him many admirers and he was, before he published his first book, the most talked-of poet in Spain. “Such a reputation is perhaps unique in European Literature. He caught the popular imagination as no Spanish poet for centuries has done.” The Romancero in which his Andalusian sensibility reaches its highest level “were soon recited everywhere; some sung by the common people came to enrich the treasure of traditional poetry.”

Among modern experimenters like Eliot, Pasternak and others none avoids more satisfyingly the vagaries of experiment, the ‘trans-sense’ of the Russian poets, than Lorca and in none modern sensibility is so emotively fused in the loom of thought as in him. In C. Day Lewis, for instance, modern imagery has the effect of appique but in Lorca it illustrates Kant’s dictum that aesthetic symbols are irreplaceable. In Eliot, again, what strikes one is the purity, the brilliance and the selection of his phrase; even the colloquial element in the dramatic portions of the Waste Land is carefully studied and set with the eye of a lapidary

Like captain jewels in a carcanet.

Lorca hardly smells of the lamp; he is as natural as the unlettered gypsy about whom he writes. He does not talk about pylons, pistons, dynamo, etc., etc. He pours old gypsy wine in new bottles and the bottles do not break; they seem intended for that burning tide. And the 20th century winks in his songs

Like beaded bubbles at the brim.

The following features in his poetry leap to the eyes of even a casual reader: (1) the quality of song, (2) the gypsy lust or Moorish sensuality, (3) the inelectability of modern imagery.

The singing quality is a miracle and a sustained miracle. Everything Lorca touches breaks into

Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.

He is the Ariel of song; he sings as the linnets sing. The word ‘spontaneity’ is a vague word of praise till we read his Andalusian poetry. Like “Where the bee sucks, there suck I,” “Foot it featly here and there,” his poems are bird-like and have all the insouciance of ballads, folk-songs, reapers’ songs. Even in print they hum in our hearts

Some natural sorrow, loss or pain
That has been, and may be again.

R. L. Stevenson in an essay, Beggars, speaks of a soldier who found life in literature and of a knife-grinder ‘beside the burn of Kinnaird’ who found literature in life and fancies. Might not some illustrious writer count descent from the beggar-soldier and the needy knife-grinder? Lorca might go to such ancientry. His poems appear “untrained, unsophisticated, surprised (we may say) in the egg.” At the same time they are so boldly charactered as to charm the pantheon of European poetry. This bird-like quality is enhanced by the use of refrain or a particular ‘repeated air’ which burns into us some event as in the Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias or the Little Balade of the Three Rivers.

Some poets can achieve this purity and naturalness by severe exclusions of certain themes as unpoetic or intractable; the Symbolists like Valery did that. But to Lorca the desert heaves into a rose; the stone is vocal with song; the thorn breaks into leaf. As Angel del Rio points out, there is dangerous facility in Lorca but the inexhaustible earthiness saves him from tenuity. The vivid and homely detail is inevitably and impeccably there. Describing the dying bull-fighter he writes:

The air, as if mad, leaves his sunken chest.

Note the deflating ‘sunken’ in that line.

In the gypsy ballads the undying beat of passion is heard. The gypsies are the theme and the fierce surge of their passion is beaten into a quivering blade of song. Lorca merely suggests the brutal, uncontrollable, incestuous love of Amnon for his sister Thamar or the healthy gratification of lust in The Faithless Wife. He does not comment and hence the eroticism is wildly natural; it tilts our blood. The reader thinks of the Song of Songs, or Chin P’ing Mei which constitute the poetry of pornography. There is in Lorca, what Alex Comfort calls, ‘moral nudity’. One cannot easily call to mind a poem in which the stifling atmosphere of lust is so vividly suggested as in Amnon and Thamar. Her ‘turgent breasts’ lure us more temptingly

than those milk paps
That through the window-bars bore at men’s eyes

precisely because Timon comments and Lorca does not. In another poem the wind is the lover and grasps by the waist a beautiful lass who rejects the overtures of lovers to go to Granada or Seville or Cordova–a poem which recalls the story of the hundred daughters of Kusanabha in the Ramayana whose beauty was vexed and chafed by the fierce love of Vayu, the Wind God. In the Faithless Wife her sleeping breasts open to the lover’s touch

Like stalks of hyacinth

and her thighs flee from him

Like startled fish,
Half full of fire,
Half full of cold.

Gratifying the appetites of the flesh is no crime. The pornography in Lady Chatterley’s Lover is vulgar beside this candid picture of rampant sexuality. It is sentimentality that is vulgar; sexuality is not. This ‘bawdy’ may shock some. But it is necessary to note what Eric Partridge writes about Shakespeare’s ‘bawdy’ : “In my study of Shakespeare’s sexuality and bawdiness I have come to feel that, from the plays and poems, there emerges something basic, significant and supremely important and most illuminatingly revelatory...To write in fact is to create; and to make love is potentially to create...Moreover, to write of sex and love serves both to satisfy–and perhaps to justify-the intelectual and spiritual need to create and homeopathically to assuage one’s physical desires by that modified form of sublimation which consists in a not ignoble substitution.”

In any discussion of a poet’s imagery it is necessary to lay this imperial fiat: Close thy Bain and open thy Richards.

The Philosophy of Rhetoric is a magistral book and interprets rhetoric not as a bag of tricks but as the constitutive form of language itself. When Lorca writes

The fig-tree rubs the wind
With the sand paper of its branches,
And the mountain, a filching cat,
Bristles its bitter aloes

it is not as if he is dragging by the heels ‘sand paper’ for modernity. More complex effects are achieved by poetry so much so one thinks that ‘mixed metaphor’ listed as a blemish in old rhetoric can be hoisted into excellence by the antiseptic of Propriety, just as Ambiguity classed as a fault is now the very soul of poetry. In the tips of its fingers is the murmur of a sealed rose. It is in the kingdom of poetry as it is with Cleopatra:

for vilest things
Become themselves in her; that the holy priests
Bless her when she is riggish.

Lorca has digested modern sensibility astonishingly. It is as natural to him as leaves to a tree, as word to thought. And the peculiarity is that he interprets gypsy life through modern imagery; the technique is a resounding success. That is the only way of making the poetry of simple people ring true to the modern reader. Necessity and personality are happily blended in the technique. Even when he talks of the ‘hoary’ moon there is newness:

The sickle moon cuts
And the wind goes on, wounded.
(Nocturnal Song of the Andalusian Sailors.)

Lorca’s poems are full of razors, knives, silk, fish, horses, etc., just as the poetry dealing with the Spanish Civil War mentions too frequently frontiers, searchlights, pursuit, etc.

His poetry is called surrealist. An example is the Ode to Walt Whitman in which he is shocked by the rasp of machinery:

When the moon rises
the pulleys will turn to disturb the sky.

It is relevant to contrast this with the faith of Blok in New America, a hymn in praise of machinery as it can create life in the barren steppes. It is said that Lorca might have been influenced by Dali. But the real Lorca is in Yerma who laments her barrenness:

Ah, breasts blind under my dress
Ah, pigeons without eyes of whiteness,

(Merely to note the surprising variety of genius let us place beside that naked anguish what Keats has written in a similar context:

And put it in her bosom where it dries
And freezes utterly unto the bone
Those dainties made to still an infant’s cries.

The word ‘dainties’ makes it pseudo-anguish. The real Lorca is in the magnificent Ode to the Bull-fighter dead “at five in the afternoon”:

Like a river of lions
was his marvellous strength.

He can be rich and complex in imagery as in

Now the moss and the grass
Open with sure fingers
the flower of his skull.

Or he can state the same with a bare, rocky directness:

But now he sleeps without end

as Shakespeare does in ‘Prithee, undo this button’. Whatever the theme or the treatment he remains the care-free singer of gypsy life

My heart of silk
Is full of light,
Of lost bells,
Of lilies and bees.

He was the essence of living poetry. And we regret that such a poet, a dweller of “A no-man’s land mainly inhabited by poets and cowards and angels” (as G. Barker puts it), a matador of the human, should have been gored by the Facist beast. His assassination is a crying symbol of the truth that the opposite of Ash Wednesday is not Physics (as Wordsworth supposed) but a Blenheim Bomber.

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