Federico Garcia Lorca

Memorial to Federico Gracia Lorca in Alfacar © Michelle Chaplow
Memorial to Federico Gracia Lorca in Alfacar

Federico Garcia Lorca - Poet and Playright (1898 - 1936)

Federico Garcia Lorca is not only Spain's most universal poet, but he is also a universally recognised symbol of Spain - and especially Andalucia - itself. His poems paint a vivid and intrinsically poetic portrait of this fascinating region, with its stark landscapes of olive groves and fig trees, its moonlit nights among whitewashed walls and Moorish towers, its bullfighters and, above all, its gypsies with their free-roaming ways and fierce codes of living and loving.

The fact that Lorca was summarily executed (Alfacar, Granada) at the onset of the Spanish Civil War has to some extent increased his fame, but the reverse side of the coin is that the political implications of the tragedy have eclipsed his worth as one of the 20th century's most brilliant and innovative poets.

Born near Granada in 1898 to a prosperous farming family, Lorca was strongly influenced by his cultivated mother, who taught him to play the piano and sing, two skills which he put to good use later in life. During his student years in Madrid he made friends with Surrealist luminaries such as Salvador Dali and pioneer movie-maker Luis Buñuel, using their often outrageous techniques in his own work, but without compromising his own childlike, ingenuous style, full of lyrical freshness and spontaneity.

He achieved instant celebrity both in Spain and in Latin America, as well as, later and through translation, in France and the United States, with his collection of poetry "The Gypsy Balladeer", in which he drew upon his boyhood contacts with the gypsies of the town of his birth, Fuente Vaqueros, to concoct a bewitching blend of social commentary and dreamlike fantasy. The best known poems from this period are the "Ballad of the Sleepwalker" (famous for the haunting refrain, "Green, green, how I love you green") which tells the tale of a gypsy smuggler who is killed by the police before he can rejoin his mistress, and the "Ballad of the Spanish Civil Guard", in which he recounts, in a mesmerising display of metaphor, a police raid on a gypsy community, with the burning of houses and the murder of the inhabitants. Another Lorca classic is his ode to the death of bullfighter Ignacio Sanchez Mejias, perhaps the most enduringly successful surrealist poem ever written in any language.

Lorca was a man of the theatre and roamed Spain in a truck with a troupe of actors called "La Baraja", staging farces and tragedies in village squares in the backwaters of Andalucia. He created many enemies among Spain's traditional right-wingers with his trilogy of plays dwelling on the plight of women in Andalucía's villages - "Blood Wedding", "Barren" and "The House of Bernarda Alba" - and this controversial stance undoubtedly went against him when political scores were settled later on. An extended stay in New York and Cuba produced a book of surrealistic verse, "Poet in New York", in which Lorca expressed his horror at the harshness and materialism of American life in the 1930's.

When General Franco launched his overthrow of the Republican Government, in 1936, Andalucia was the first region to fall. As each town and village was taken, a witch-hunt of the leading leftists took place followed by mass executions, in the name of the nationalist's "crusade" to rid Spain of the followers of Karl Marx. While not a political man himself, Lorca was inextricably associated with the libertarian movement, and his sister was married to Granada's Republican mayor, putting him high on the Fascist hit list. It is also possible that his thinly disguised homosexuality may have added to the antagonism of the conservative set; in any case, Lorca was one of the 30,000 inhabitants of Granada to pay with their lives for having supported Spain's fledgling democracy and attempt to break the stronghold of the Church and bourgeoisie over the dirt-poor peasantry of Andalucia.

The above text was kindly provided by Lawrence Bohme.   See also Lorca, poet of Granada


Living in Andalucia