Human concerns – Federico García Lorca (1898-1936)

See on this site - Spanish poet and dramatist, a talented artist and a member of the ‘Generation of 1927′, a group of writers who advocated avant-gardism in literature. Among García Lorca’s best-known plays is Blood Wedding (1933), a story of a bride who runs away with a previous lover, and is subsequently murdered by her husband. After a period of great creative activity, García Lorca was shot by Falangist soldiers in the opening days of the Spanish Civil war. In both his drama and poetry García Lorca balanced between the traditional and the modern, between mythology and contemporary cultural trends.

“Most of the Madrid critics praised the literary and dramatic merit of Marina Pineda to an extent that surprised me. In general they asserted that it was more than just promising; it was real achievement by a playwright who brought to the theatre a technique aware of the limitations of historical drama and abundance of poetry that flowed naturally and continuously, not only from the characters but also from their surroundings. They found in it an emotional power highlighted as much in the tragic phrases of Marina Pineda as in the sweet and sorrowful worlds of the little nuns when they set out toward the scaffold.

This concept of Marina Pineda is the one that satisfies me most, because I sincerely believe that theatre is not and cannot be anything but emotion and poetry – in word, action, gesture.” (García Lorca in Playwrights on Playwrighting, ed. by Toby Cole, 1961)
Federico García Lorca was born at Fuente Vaqueros, a village on the banks of the River Genil, a few miles from Granada. His father, Federico García Rodriguez, was a prosperous farmer. Vicenta Lorca Romero, García Lorca’s mother, had been a schoolteacher before becoming Federico’s second wife. To the Moorish city of Granada, in which García Lorca was raised, the author returned several times in his poetry and drama.

García Lorca first read law at the University of Granada, but later entered the University of Madrid. At the same time he also studied music. In the 1920s García Lorca collaborated with Manuel de Falla, becoming an expert pianist and guitar player. In 1919 he moved to Madrid, where he lived at the Residencia de Estudiantes, the intellectual center of the town. His friends included the writers Juan Ramón Jiménez and Pablo Neruda. With the Catalan painter Salvador Dalí and the film director Louis Buñuel he worked in different productions. Dalí and Lorca had met in 1923. From the beginning, Lorca was fascinated by the young Catalan’s personality and looks. Also Dalí had admitted that Lorca impressed him deeply. “The poetic phenomenon in its entirety and ‘in the raw’ presented itself before me suddenly in flesh ad bone, confused, blood-red, viscous and sublime, quivering with a thousand fires of darkness and of subterranean biology, like all matter endowed with the originality of its own for.” (from Secret Life) When Buñuel and Dalí made their famous short film Un Chien Andalou (1928), García Lorca was offended: he thought that the film was about him. Lorca’s friendship with Dalí inspired a poem, a defense of modern art and at the same time an expression of homosexual love.

Before the publication of his first collection, García Lorca was already known as a poet, especially through his recitals of his texts. As a writer García Lorca made his debut with LIBRO DE POEMAS (1921), a collection of fablelike poems. His first book had been a travelogue, IMPRESIONES AND PAISAJES (1918). In 1923 García Lorca earned a degree in law and turned his back to his university career.

The crucial moment in Lorca’s literary career was folk music festival Fiesta de Cante Jondo in 1922, where he found inspiration for his work from the traditions of folk and gypsy music. POEMA DEL CANTE JONDO (1931, Deep Song), written already in 1921, and PRIMER ROMANCERO GITANO (1924-1927), published in 1928, made García Lorca the poet of Andalusia and its gipsy subculture. In these works he used old ballads and mythology to express his tragic vision of life. In 1926 García Lorca wrote The Shoemaker’s Prodigious Wife, after finishing MARIANA PINEDA. Its first performance was in 1930. “In my Shoemaker’s Wife I sought to express – within the limits of ordinary farce, and without laying hands on the elements of poetry within my reach – the struggle of reality with fantasy that exists within every human being. (By fantasy I mean everything that is unrealizable.) The shoemaker’s wife fights constantly with ideas and real objects because she lives in her own world, in which every idea and object has a mysterious meaning which she herself does not know. She has only lived and had suitors on the other bank of the river, which she cannot and will not ever be able to reach.”

In 1927 García Lorca gained fame with his romantic historical play Marina Pineda, where the scenery was constructed by Salavador Dali and the distinguished actress Margarita Xirgu played the heroine. By 1928, with the publication of PRIMER ROMANCERO GITANO, he was the best-known of all Spanish poets, and leading member of the ‘Generation of 27′, which included Luis Cernuda, Jorge Guillen, Pedro Salinas, Rafael Alberti, and others. In 1929-30 García Lorca lived in the city of New York, on the campus of Columbia University. Unable to speak English, he suffered a deep culture shock. However, in his early letters to home he expressed his enthusiasm about contemporary American plays. His suicidal mood was recorded in posthumously published POETA EN NUEVA YORK (1940, Poet in New York), in which he praised Walt Whitman. The poet condemns the frightening, physically and spiritually corrupted city, and escapes to Havana to experience the harmony of a more primitive life.

After a short visit to Cuba, García Lorca was back in Spain by 1931, and continued with theatre productions. He became the head the traveling theatrical company, La Barraca, which brought classical plays and other dramas to the provinces. After the death of his friend, a bullfighter, García Lorca wrote Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter (1935). It has been regarded by most critics as his greatest poem. The work is divided into four sections, whose individual motifs are weaved together. The figure of one man facing his fate, was exemplified by his friend Ignacio Sánchez Mejías. Mejías himself had written a surrealistic play and he was well-known in the literary circles. He was killed while attempting to make a comeback in the bullring. “Now Ignacio the well born lies on the stone. / All is finished. What is happening? Contemplate his face: / death has covered him with pale sulphur / and has placed on him the head of a dark minotaur.” (The rituals and codes of a bullfight, a distinct part of the Spanish heritage, were later adapted to Western movies by such directors as Budd Boetticher and Sergio Leone.)

García Lorca’s experiments in the theater – he rebelled against the realistic theater of the middle class – involved such puppet plays as TÍTERES DE CACHIPORRA (1949) and EL RETABLILLO DE DON CRISTÓBAL (1938). In 1933 he wrote two surrealistic dramas, EL PÚBLICO, an attack on commercial theater and the entire social order, and ASÍ QUE PASEN CINCO AÑOS, an allegory of lost time. Mariana Pineda (1928) was García Lorca’s only historical drama. Its central character, a Spanish national heroine, was a historical figure – she was executed for embroidering a revolutionary flag. The play portrays her as a martyr to liberty and love: “I am freedom because love wanted it so; / Pedro! the freedom for which you left me. / I am freedom stricken by men / Love, love, love and eternal solitudes.” EL AMOR DE DON PERLIMPÍN CON BELISA EN SU JARDÍN, writtenin1931, was a farce, but it also ended in death. “Take me by the hands, my love, / for I come quite badly wounded, / so wounded by love’s going. / So wounded. / Dying of love!” The first version of the surrealistic drama EL PÚBLICO (The Audience) Lorca finished in 1939, but returned to it again in 1936. The play remained unpublished until the 1970s – it dealt with homosexual love, a taboo subject on the Spanish stage for many years.

Blood Wedding, the first part of García Lorca’s famous rural trilogy, was performed in 1933. The love triangle, blending drama and poetry, closely resembled a classical Greek tragedy, in which death hovers over the whole play. Yerma, the second part, performed in 1934, portrayed a deadly conflict in a barren marriage. The heroine strangles Juan, her husband, who do not understand her yearning to love and bear children. The House of Bernarda, written just before García Lorca’s death in 1936 and published in 1945, depicted a tyrannical mother, Bernarda Alba, and her daughters. The youngest daughter commits suicide over her lover, Pepe el Romano, who is engaged to Angustías, the oldest daughter.

García Lorca’s central themes are love, pride, passion and violent death, which also marked his own life. The Spanish Civil was began in 1936 and García Lorca was seen by the right-wing forces as an enemy. The author hid from the soldiers but he was eventually found. An eyewitness has told that he was taken out of a Civil Government building by guards and Falangists belonging to the ‘Black Squad’. García Lorca was shot in Granada on August 19/20 of 1936 without trial. The circumstances of his death are still shrouded in mystery. He was buried in a grave that he had been forced top dig for himself. Accroding to some sources, he had to be finished off by a coup de grâce. One of his assassins later boasted, that he shot “two bullets into his arse for being a queer”. Most probably, García Lorca wrote under pressure his last words on a note for a member of the ‘Black Squad’: “Father, please give this man a donation of 1000 pesetas for the Army.” Don Federico, his father, carried the note in his wallet for the following years. He died in voluntary exile in New York. (Read more here).

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