Lorca: Death and Duende

Sunday, 20 March 2016 at 20:02

Lorca: Death and Duende

My trip to Nicaragua has made me realise just how much I’ve missed the language and its culture. I’ve not done much with Spanish since I lived in Spain and Mexico in the late seventies, early eighties, but maybe that’s something to remedy. I have, though, done the odd version. Here’s a poem from my latest collection Pilgrim Tongues.

In his lecture The Theory and Function of the Duende, Lorca quotes Manuel Torres: “All that has dark sounds has duende.” This poem, the third of the four which make up Lorca’s lament for a dead bullfighter friend, seems to exemplify duende and its relationship to death, form and improvisation. The “Lament” combines the traditional elements of elegy with surreal imagery: sudden associative shifts mimic both the transitory nature of life and the mind’s response to grief as it flits from one image to another trying to make sense of loss and the absurdity of death. Lorca’s strange, dreamlike imagery is a challenge. Timid fidelity seems pointless: I introduce Rorschach blots, usherettes, hard shoulders and radio aerials. English typically needs fewer syllables to express an idea than Spanish. I knit quatrains together with rhymes and half-rhymes to echo the repetitive vowel-music inherent in even unrhymed Spanish.  Just once, Lorca breaks his quatrain: a little past the mid-point, a five-line unit rattles the lid of the coffin-like stanza. (Oddly, Dario does exactly the same in “Symphony in Grey Major” … see previous blog). In what I hope is a similar improvisatory duende-summoning spirit, I break the last stanza into two short-lined unequal fragments. 

On The Slab

 after Federico García Lorca    “Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías: 3. Cuerpo Presente”

No curving stream, no frozen cypresses,
this slab’s the brow where all dreams groan
into planets, ribbons caught up in tears and trees.
It’s just a shoulder to bear off time, this stone.

Hard shoulders. You’ve seen how those grey rains
throw up their arms, then pit the running waves
to flee the stalking, outstretched stone?
Nothing soaks through this slab. The blood still runs.

This stone gathers seed and cloud, a Rorschach:
one half at least, the other’s in our mind
with the shadowy wolf and the bones of larks,
and all that’s left of bull-rings is the boundless sand.

No applause, no suit of lights, he’s dead:
just so many kilos cooling on the slab.
His body turns to meat, weird sulphurs,
masked by that dark minotaur’s head. 

All done with now. Rain gargles in his mouth.
The crazed air wheezes from his unlocked
chest, and love, drenched with creaking snows,
warms itself in crags above the flocks.

Silence creeps around us like a stench.
We’re keeping vigil with a once-bright form,
one familiar with nightingales who now melts.
He’s filling up with holes. We stare into a trench.

Who has wrinkled this shroud? Let no one sing,
weep in the corner, tear hair, or frighten off the snake.
Here I need only my own wide-open eyes
to see this forever restless body in stiff repose.

Bring them in, those strong-voiced men:
breakers of horses, tamers of rivers, the skint
but rattling skeletons who dance and sing
with mouths full of sun, skins full of wine and flint.

Bring them all before this stage of stone;
before this corpse with its broken reins.
Let usherettes shine torches down the aisles,
towards the illumination of the Exit sign.

Give me dirge. I want lament. Cry me a river,
with steep banks, vague mists to bear this body off.
Hire wailing women to mourn him gone.
Let him disappear where no bulls snort.

In the moon’s arena, let him lose himself
between the calf’s sad horns; let him sleep
with the fishes, with coral, tuning the white
aerials of smoke into their songless night.

Don’t cover his face.
It’s better that he gets
used to staring up at death;

all that bellowing hot breath.
Let him sleep open-eyed.
Even the sea dies…

Lorca’s original: Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías: 3. Cuerpo Presente

La piedra es una frente donde los sueños gimen 
sin tener agua curva ni cipreses helados, 
La piedra es una espalda para llevar al tiempo 
con árboles de lágrimas y cintas y planetas. 

Yo he visto lluvias grises hacia las olas 
levantando sus tiernos brazos acribillados, 
para no ser cazadas por la piedra tendida 
que desata sus miembros sin empapar la sangre. 

Porque la piedra coge simientes y nublados, 
esqueletos de alondras y lobos de penumbra; 
pero no da sonidos, ni cristales, ni fuego, 
sino plazas y plazas y otras plazas sin muros. 

Ya está sobre la piedra Ignacio el bien nacido. 
Ya se acabó; ¿que pasa? Contemplad su figura: 
la muerte le ha cubierto de pálidos azufres 
y le ha puesto cabeza de oscuro minotauro. 

Ya se acabó. La lluvia penetra por su boca. 
El aire como loco deja su pecho hundido, 
y el Amor, empapado con lágrimas de nieve, 
se calienta en la cumbre de las ganaderías. 

¿Qué dicen? Un silencio con hedores reposa. 
Estamos con un cuerpo presente que se esfuma, 
con una forma clara que tuvo ruiseñores 
y la vemos llenarse de agujeros sin fondo. 

¿Quién arruga el sudario? ¡No es verdad lo que dice! 
Aquí no canta nadie, ni llora en el rincón, 
ni pica las espuelas, ni espanta la serpiente: 
aquí no quiero más que los ojos redondos 
para ver ese cuerpo sin posible descanso. 

Yo quiero ver aquí los hombres de voz dura. 
Los que doman caballos y dominan los ríos: 
los hombres que les suena el esqueleto y cantan 
con una boca llena de sol y pedernales. 

Aquí quiero yo verlos. Delante de la piedra. 
Delante de este cuerpo con las riendas quebradas. 
Yo quiero que me enseñen donde está la salida 
para este capitán atado por la muerte. 

Yo quiero que me enseñen un llanto como un río 
que tenga dulces nieblas y profundas orillas, 
para llevar el cuerpo de Ignacio y que se pierda 
sin escuchar el doble resuello de los toros. 

Que se pierda en la plaza redonda de la luna 
que finge cuando niña doliente res inmóvil; 
que se pierda en la noche sin canto de los peces 
y en la maleza blanca del humo congelado. 

No quiero que le tapen la cara con pañuelos 
para que se acostumbre con la muerte que lleva. 
Vete Ignacio: No sientas el caliente bramido. 
Duerme, vuela, reposa: ¡También se muere el mar!

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