Friday, May 17, 2019

The Living Dead

~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~

Love Sleeps in the Poet’s Chest

You’ll never know how I love you
because you sleep in me and are asleep
Weeping I hide you—haunted
by a voice of penetrating steel

Law that shakes the flesh and a star
by now has entered my aching heart
and disturbing words have bitten
the wings of your stern self

People leap in the gardens
looking for your body and my death
on horses of light with green manes

But stay asleep—O my life—
Hear the violins sing my shattered blood
Do you see them watching us?

[Oh hotel bed    oh this sweet bed]

Oh hotel bed    oh this sweet bed
Oh sheet of whitenesses and dew
Hum of your body with my body
Cave of cotton flame and shadow

Oh double lyre that my love branches
around your thighs of fire and cold white nard
Oh tipping raft—oh bright river—
now a branch and now a nightingale

By Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936

from Poet in Spain, translated by Sarah Arvio

Every April (America's 'National Poetry Month' which has spread online to become international) the publisher Knopf posts a poem a day from its distinguished collection, to people who ask to be put on that email list. 

(To sign up for next time, click this link – or you can view all the poems they share, and the publications they'e from, at Knopf's Tumblr.)

The two poems above formed one of their mail-outs this year, with the following note:

While working on Poet in Spain, her translations of the great García Lorca, the poet Sarah Arvio spent time with the original drafts of his famous Dark Love Sonnets, on folded-over sheets of grayish stationery from the Hotel Victoria, in Valencia. Composed for a male lover, the sonnets were, she relates, “rapidly written with a blunt pencil in the same hand . . . in a hotel room; my sense is that he wrote them without a pause, perhaps in one day or one weekend.” She remarks on the stunning perfection of what appear to be first drafts—or, at any rate, the only versions of the poems that have come down to us, given the poet’s murder by Fascist forces very close to the time of their composition, and the subsequent banning of Lorca’s works by Franco’s regime. Though Lorca died in 1936, the sonnet sequence did not reach the reading world until the 1980s; however, it has no equal in conveying an intense passion that is fatefully braided with the mortal necessity of secrecy and the terror of persecution, which, alas, were prescient. Along with the eleven now eternal sonnets, Arvio offers, for the first time in English, a fragment found among the poet’s manuscripts which may have been the opening octet of another—unfinished. Beginning “Oh hotel bed,” it appears here below the haunting “Love Sleeps in the Poet’s Chest.” 

Wikipedia tells us that Lorca was a Spanish poet, playwright and theatre director. Indeed, I remember a friend who once lived in Spain referring to him as a playwright. His plays were evidently still popular there long after his death. I was surprised: she did not seem to be aware of him as a poet, whereas I had thought poetry the sum total of his writing. 

Wikipedia also notes, in passing: 'Although García Lorca's drawings do not often receive attention, he was also a talented artist.' 

He was known as a talented musician, too, before focusing on writing.

His friends included such luminaries as film-maker Luis Bunuel and artist Salvador Dali. He was encouraged by Dali, in 1928, to publicly exhibit his drawings. The Encyclopaedia Britannica tells us that, 'A gifted draughtsman blessed with a startling visual imagination, Lorca produced hundreds of sketches in his lifetime.' 

Of even greater interest to us, the Britannica biography also remarks that he 'in a career that spanned just 19 years, resurrected and revitalized the most basic strains of Spanish poetry and theatre.... In the early 1930s Lorca helped inaugurate a second Golden Age of the Spanish theatre.'

He was a poetic theorist and innovator, who postulated the concept of 'duende' (particularly as exhibited in flamenco dancing) as a kind of wild, instinctive, passionate form of inspiration. It includes sadness and darkness. Wikipedia calls it 'a Spanish term for a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity'.

Britannica also tells us that Lorca 'was executed by a Nationalist firing squad in the first months of the Spanish Civil War.'

Yes, he was killed at the age of 38, evidently for his socialism, in a Spain which was at that time becoming increasingly right-wing. There are theories that he may also have been singled out for his homosexuality, in the era of institutionalised and legally sanctioned homophobia. (Yet this supposed crime gave rise to the beautiful love poems I've shared with you today – thanks to Sarah Arvio and Knopf.)

Sarah Arvio is a noted American poet, essayist and translator, and the recipient of a number of literary awards.

Many books of Lorca's are available at Amazon, in English or Spanish (often both). Sarah Arvio's own books are also available at Amazon, including The Poet in Spain.

Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright).


  1. Such a brilliantly talented poet, Rosemary. What a sad and unjust ending to his short life. His poems are wonderful, his story very sad. Thank you for this feature. I did not know much about him.

  2. That was a really interesting read. I'm going to have to look up more of his works. I love those poems that seem to flow full-fleshed in the moment. The "stunning perfection of what appear to be first drafts" Truly inspired.

  3. A fascinating and edifying read, Rosemary. I agree, his ability to capture passion in words in stunning.

    'People leap in the gardens
    looking for your body and my death
    on horses of light with green manes'

    … Magnificent!

  4. I'm so glad to have sparked your interest, all of you, in this beautiful poet. (Sorry I could not respond to your comments earlier as I was away a few days, and found myself without internet access.)

  5. Excellent article on my favorite male poet.


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