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Spains foremost writers: Cervantes-keen satirical insight, Garcia Lorca -- poet, play -- wright, mythic hero; Deep Song and Other Prose, by Federico Garcia Lorca. New York: New Directions.

Though Garcia Lorca is better known for his poetry and drama, the qualities of mind and heart that made him a beloved, almost mythic figure in Spain during and after the Civil War come through clearly in this exciting collection of lectures, readings, interviews, and prose writings.

"Deep Song and Other Prose," edited and translated by Christopher Maurer, is the first book to make available in English many of Lorca's highly metaphorical, suggestive, and emotionally charged prose writings. Most of the selections in this new edition were originally presented orally; Lorca preferred the stimulation of an audience to the printed page and delivered a number of beautiful, stirring addresses.

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In August 1936, after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Garcia Lorca was executed before a firing squad in a Falangist purge of socialists, intellectuals , and union leaders in Granada. All of Spain was deeply shocked. He was immediately transformed into a symbol of the Republican political cause. Actually he was never a part of that movement. While not shrugging off political responsibility or ignoring Spain's raging controversies, he had tried to hold himself aloof from history. He wanted to encompass all of the past and to discover the way it could be heard in the present.

After his execution, unavailing attempts were made to solve the mysteries associated with his death. It is still unclear who ordered him killed or precisely why. But, as one critic has noted, had his executioners wished to pierce the heart of Spain, they could not have chosen a better target.

"Deep Song and Other Prose" does not solve the mystery, but it does make clear why Lorca's explicitly cultural statements had political force. In the title piece, a lecture delivered at the Alhambra in 1922, the poet discusses "the marvelous artistic truth in the primitive Andalusian music called 'deep song.'" His arguments have the rhetorical force of political writing apparent in most of his work.

Throughout these works runs a strain of criticism both of the Philistinism he saw threatening Spain's deeper, more resonant historical tradition and of the cruelty the Spanish could display.

The qualities he praises in his essay on "The Poetic Image of Don Luis de Gongora" reveal much about Lorca's own poetic gift. He values, for instance, Gongora's attention to minute detail: ". . . Gongora treats small objects and forms with the same love, the same poetic greatness as he does large ones. An apple is just as intense to him as the ocean, a bee just as surprising as a forest."

Maurer's collection provides a wonderful way to approach this enigmatic figure. Here, Lorca speaks clearly in his own words, though with several different voices and tones. In commenting at one point on why he found some aspects of the modern world hostile to mystery and yet was able to translate others into daring abstract and experimental poetry, Lorca says, ". . . a poet has neither talent nor genius, but . . . sometimes escapes through the looking glass of day -- more quickly than most children."

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