The Modern Spanish Elegy: Antonio Machado's Lament for Federico Garca Lorca

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Stony Brook University]On: 01 November 2014, At: 17:29Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK

    Symposium: A QuarterlyJournal in Modern LiteraturesPublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/vsym20

    The Modern Spanish Elegy:Antonio Machado's Lament forFederico Garca LorcaBruce W. Wardropperaa Duke UniversityPublished online: 06 Sep 2013.

    To cite this article: Bruce W. Wardropper (1965) The Modern Spanish Elegy: AntonioMachado's Lament for Federico Garca Lorca, Symposium: A Quarterly Journal inModern Literatures, 19:2, 162-170, DOI: 10.1080/00397709.1965.10732856

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  • BRUCE W. WARDROPPER

    THE MODERN SPANISH ELEGY:ANTONIO MACHADO'S LAMENT FOR

    FEDERICO GARCIA LORCA

    ELEGIAC WRITING is, to a large extent, the literature of truancy fromorthodox religious faith. Grief, before it is forced into the conventionalforms of mourning, often causes the bereaved to question the lessonsof the pulpit. Even in ages of faith-the Middle Ages, the Baroque-the elegy surprises by its capacity to verge on the heterodox.' In periodswhen religious beliefs are less strictly supervised, or enforced, by theregulatory agencies of the Church, the elegy sometimes gives a pointedexpression to the divergency between a man's publicly expressed faithand his secret feelings about the mystery of human destiny.

    In the eighteenth century, for example, Spanish poets and intellec-tuals professed to believe not only in Christianity but also in reason.Death obtruded on this comfortable belief. Since man's mortality isa phenomenon completely unexplained by reason, many Neo-Classicpoets shriek and sob uncontrollably in verse written on the occasionof a loved one's death. The mourner's life, which has hitherto seemedmeaningful and comfortable, is suddenly shorn of meaning and com-fort. The eighteenth-century elegy speaks above all of the poet'sfrustration. Why, asks the poem, does man have to die? To the manof reason there can be no answer to this question.

    The horror felt by Neo-Classic man at a question which could neverbe answered is succeeded in the Romantic generation of poets byhonest doubt, by uncertainty about an afterlife. The Romantic poetfeels pity for himself at all times, and so has no need to be jolted intothis state by sudden bereavement. For the sensitive man, the poet,life on earth is hell enough. One might just as well be dead, whateverthe consequences to a possibly immortal soul. Suicide, then, is avalid solution to life's miseries. Zorrilla's poem A Ja memoria de Larra,which he recited at the suicide's burial, illustrates these points. Zor-rilla begins by evoking, as the Baroque elegists had, the macabre ofthe grave: he refers to Figaro's "cadaver sombrfo y macilento / Queen sucio polvo dormira manana." Seeing the emptiness of his life on

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  • BRUCE W. WARDROPPER 163

    earth Lana had chosen the sleep of death which would enable him towake up in another world. Except for the implied endorsement ofsuicide, Zorrilla is here echoing the orthodox view of life and death,as it had beenexpressed, for example, in Calder6n's La vida es .rueitJ :

    Mir6 en el tiempo el porvenir vado,Vado ya de ensueiios y de gloria,Y se entteg6 a ese sueiio sin memoriaQue nos lleva a otto mundo a despertar.

    Larra on earth was a flower, doomed to shrivel and fade away. But thearoma persists after the flower has disappeared:

    Todavla su aroma se percibe,Y ese verde color de la llanura,Ese manto de hierba y de frescura,Hijos son del arroyo creador,

    At this point Zorrilla is harking back to the Renaissance vision of lifeand death. But he quickly returns to the macabre, to the reality ofputrefaction:

    Ese retrato de hielo,Fetidez y cormpci6n....

    Finally, having hinted at past solutions to the elegiac problem ofexpression, he reveals with no vacillation his doubts about the afterlife:

    Poets: si en el no serHay un recuerdo de ayer,Una vida como aqulDetras de ese firmamento ...Consagrame un pensamientoComo el que tengo de ti.

    The noser represents the reality inherited from the rationalist eighteenthcentury. But the poetic imagination-historically informed, andselecting themes at random from the Medieval, Renaissance, andBaroque interpretations of death-tolerates at least the possibility ofmemory and thought beyond the grave. This genuine agnosticism,however unsatisfactory it may be from a philosophical point of view,may well be preferable as a vital posture to the hysteria of a MelendezValdes in the face of death.

    The Romantics revert to the macabre of the Baroque, to a fascina-tion with worms in open tombs. But, after a century of Neo-Classic

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  • 164 Slimmer r,l, SYMPOSIUM

    rationalistic bewilderment, they are incapable of interpreting macabrefacts in the light of a religious faith. They half-believe in God, but intheir own special way, unorthodoxly or eclectically. For many ofthem death symbolizes God's lack of faith in man, the last and greatestbetrayal of man's self-confidence. Espronceda, in his Canto a Teresa,sees death as the expression of the Christian God's spite. Notwith-standing his dreams of self-aggrandizement man is a puny victimof divine malevolence. So the Romantic elegy is the poetry of self-pityraised to the ultimate degree. The poet's only possible response todeath is to blaspheme; or, as Espronceda put it, to spit at heaven,knowing that the spittle will fall back into the spitter's eye.

    Two centuries have passed, during which, among poets, religiousfaith has progressively corroded. Elegists have sought, during thistime, to accommodate traditional elegiac forms and moods to thenew agnosticism. This accommodation proved-for the Neo-Classicand Romantic poets-to be impossible of achievement. They had tosacrifice the one thing man tries desperately to preserve when he isconfronted by death: his dignity as a human being. Formless wailing,the shaking of the fist in blasphemy, acceptance of death as nothingbut a fetid corpse-such answers to the riddle of mortality are notonly unsatisfactory: they repudiate man's humanity. It remained forthe poets of our age to make a dignified riposte-without losing sightof the formal elegiac tradition-to the absurdity, the waste, the nega-tivism of death.

    In twentieth-century Spain, as in most other countries, few poetsinsist on their commitment to orthodox religious belief. But in theirelegies they have adopted a more dignified approach to man's insolubledilemma of death than was possible in the previous two hundredyears. Instead of the moans and shrieks, and the obsession with bonesand worms which characterized the elegy of their predecessors, con-temporary Spanish poets present us with an attempt to salvage fromdeath the meaning of a recently ended life. The old frustration andrage have yielded to a creative attitude towards death. The elegisttoday protests against death, feels anger or regret at the obliterationof a loved one; but, much as Jorge Manrique did in the fifteenth cen-tury, he consoles himself by recreating poetically the life that has beendestroyed. His procedure, however, is much less grounded in ortho-doxy than was Jorge Manrique's. He strives-by using to the fullthe twentieth-century techniques of imprecise symbolism, allusion,juxtaposition, and quotation-to extract from the memory of thatlife something we might call-poetically, if not in the strictest theol-ogy-a soul. By conferring a poetic immortality on that poetic soulhe has found a passable substitute for the spiritual immortality inwhich most poets no longer believe.

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  • BRUCE W. WARDROPPER

    I shall try to illustrate these generalizations by discussing the shortpoem by Antonio Machado on the death of Federico Garda Lorca,EI crimen Jue en Granada.3 This poem is in three sections. or move-ments. The first one. entitled EL CRIMEN.... describes the assassina-tion of the young poet.

    Se le vio, caminando entre fusiles,por una calle larga,salir al campo frio.aun con estrellas, de la madrugada.Mataron a Federicocuando la luz asomaba.El peloton de verdugosno os6 mirarle la cara.Todos cerraron los ojos;rezaron: ini Dios te salva IMuerto cay6 Federico-sangre en la frente y plomo en las entraiias-.. .Que fue en Granada el crimensabed-s-jpobre Granadal-en su Granada....

    The second section. headed EL POETA Y LA MUERTE. isconcemed not with more or less objective facts. or the assassination asseen by an observer. but with the way Lorca faced death. It is as though.by some special empathy existing between poets. the poet Machadois able to enter into the feelings. at that moment. of the poet Lorca.The focus shifts to a close-up of the victim in his hour of crisis.

    Se le vio caminar solo con Ella.sin miedo a su guadafia.- Ya el sol en torre y torre; los martillosen yunque-yunque y yunque de las fraguas.Hablaba Federico.requebrando a la muerte, Ella escuchaba."Porque ayer en mi verso. companera,sonaba el golpe de tus secas palmas,y diste el hielo a mi cantar, y el filoa mi tragedia de tu hoz de plata.te cantare la carne que no tienes,los ojos que te faltan,tus cabellos que el viento sacudla,los rojos labios donde te besaban....Hoy como ayer, gitana, muerte mla,que bien contigo a solas,por estos aires de Granada lmi Granadal"

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  • 166 SII",,,,,,. 19'J SYMPOSIUM

    The final section, which lacks a title, is a kind of epitaph.

    Se Ie vio caminar....Labrad, amigos,

    de piedra y suefio, en el Alhambra,un tumulo al poeta,sobre una fuente donde llore el agua,y etemamente diga:el crimen fue en Granada len su Granadal

    The poem is not perhaps, in the strictest sense of the word, an elegy.It is as much a political protest as a disengaged lament. The word"ime, "el crimen," is pinned not on death itself, as it might have beenin an older elegy, but on some specific men: on Lorca's betrayers,captors, judges, and executioners. The poem is nevertheless elegiacin tone, and especially in sections II and III. If the first movementcontains a protest against a crime committed by an illegal authority forpolitical motives, the remainder of the work consists of reflectionson death, imagines and endorses an attitude towards death, and appealsfor the reader's assent to this view of death. The main point of thepoem, reinforced by its repetition in the title and the refrain, is thatLorca was only incidentally the victim of death, and was essentiallythe victim of man's inhumanity. This much is obvious; I shall notunderline it further. I propose to treat the poem as an elegiac expres-sion (which indeed it is), rather than as a political protest (which italso is).

    Each leiss of the romance begins with the phrase "se Ie vio," but inthe second section the phrase is continued metaphorically, and in thethird it is interrupted. In the first movement these words introducea prosaic, relatively unambiguous, account of Lorca walking to hisexecution. The formula "se Ie vio" implies both the fact that therewere witnesses of the crime and the fact that Machado was not oneof these witnesses. He was, as a matter of historical fact, on the otherside of an impassable battlefront. There he could rely only on hear-sayto discover the circumstances of Lorca's death. But he is consoledby the thought that there were observers who would one day speakout with accusing voices. "Se Ie vio" closes the distance between thepoet who is writing and the poet who has been murdered. The settingMachado imagines, but with a severely disciplined imagination: along street, a cold countryside, stars, the end of night, the first crackof dawn, and a volley of bullets. It is the classical scene against whicha thousand senseless executions have been carried out. Conventionalas is this description, it is tinged with more than the customary pathos.On the one hand, Lorca was innocent; on the other hand, his mur-derers were hypocritical and inhuman. It is this last detail which

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  • BRUCH W. WARDROPPHR 167

    moves the reader particularly. The iring squad cannot look theirvictim in the face, knowing that he is innocent and unafraid. Theyclose their eyes to the horror they are about to commit. But thisguilty closing of the eyes dissolves into the closing of eyes in hypo-critical prayer. They pray not the usual "May God save your soul"but the perverse "May not even God save you now." The assassinationitself is evoked unequivocally: "blood on his brow and lead in hisbowels." And then the refrain leads the reader from this objective-prosaic and political---consideration of facts to the affective, patheticcircumstance of the execution: the long street, the cold countrysidebelong to Granada, the murdered poet's native city. A lamentableGranada it is, since it too is a slave to inhumanity and hypocrisy. It toois an accomplice in this unworthy act of murder.

    The second section, as we have seen, begins with the same reminderof the fact that there were witnesses of the crime: "se Ie vio caminar."But, in keeping with the elegiac tone of this laisse, the witnesses arenow more sensitive to the poetic reality which they are observing.If in the first section they saw him "caminando entre fusiles," escortedby the firing squad, now they see him "solo con Ella," alone but forthe presence of Death.

    Machado, if I may return to my generalization about the twentieth-century elegy, recreates the soul of this dead man. He does this bya series of allusions to Lorca's poetry, in much the same way thatLorca in his own elegy, the L/antopor Ignacio Sanchez Mejias, recreatesthe soulof the dead bullfighter by imitating the Coplas of Jorge Man-rique.4;

    IQue gran torero en la plaza!IQue buen serrano en la sierra IlQue blando con las espigas IIQue duro con las espuelaslIQue tierno con el rodolIQue deslumbrante en la feria IIQue tremendo en las ultimasbanderillas de tiniebla I

    The essence of Sanchez Mejias's soul was his peculiar blend of hardnessin the ring (symbolized in Lorca's elegy by the imagery of stone) andsoftness in his life outside the ring (symbolized by dream and waterimagery). The essence of Lorca's soul, on the other hand, was hispoetry. Consequently, in the second section of EI crimenfue en Granatia,Machado represents that soul, that poetry, by the themes it exploited,and especially by the themes of that classic exploration of death, theRomancero gitano.

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  • 168 SII11I11Ier Z16J SYMPOSIUM

    Death for Lorca is a gipsy woman. She dwells among the Anda-lusian towers and anvils of his poetry. Because she has appeared sooften surrounded by saints and gipsies in the poetic world of hisR011lane-ero gitano, Lorca treats her with an easy and fearless familiarity.He calls her his "compaiiera," his constant companion. Lorca, aswe would say, courts death: "requebrando ala muerte." And he eli-cits from death a sympathetic response: "Ella escuchaba." Deathpays attention to the words of her great admirer. Lorca reminds herof the symbols with which he once created her presence in his poetryand his drama: the clapping of dry palms, the icicles, the silvery bladeofher scythe, her macabre appearance. Just as Don Rodrigo Manrique'sexemplary life and his service of God, King, and Country made himwelcome death when at last she paid her expected visit, so Lorca'spoetic familiarity with death "ayer" make dying "hoy" a natural,foreseen, and even welcome experience. This death is his death,"muerte mia." We are reminded of Ignacio the bullfighter climbingthe tiers of the arena "con toda su muerte a cuestas," with all hisdeath on his back. Even so Lorca greets his own special death.

    Hoy como ayer, gitana, muerte mia,que bien contigo a solaspor estos aires de Granada lmi Granada I

    Antonio Machado's Lorca, at the end of this section, unlike Machadohimself at the end of the other two sections, refers to no "i11le inGranada. Death is all he thinks about, not the circumstances of hisdeath. Machado protests Lorca's death; the poetically recreated Lorcaaccepts it. The poetic achievement of vanquishing death has mergedwith the poet's life. The wall separating the two sectors of Lorca'sexistence has crumbled. The poetry is an adequate preparation for adeath which is unexpected only to the observer, not to its victim.

    The third section of Machado's poem begins once more with therecalling of witnesses: "Se le vio caminar...." But this time the sen-tence is broken off before it is completed. The witnesses are urgednot to bear witness but to fashion a memorial. Lorca's acceptance ofdeath in the second laisse imposes a similar acceptance of his death onthe distant observer, Antonio Machado. One is reconciled to another'sdeath when one erects a tombstone and inscribes a suitable epitaphon it.This, in poetry if not in natural stone, Machado does. SinceLorca, in the second section, has accepted his death by recalling thethl11l1S of his poetry, Machado, in the third, accepts it by recalling its-!)11Ibo/s: "piedra y suefio" and "una fuente donde llore el agua."Water, stone, and dream are, as we have already noted, recurrentimages in Lorca's own great elegy, the LJanto por Ignario Stine-hez

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  • BRUCE W. WARDROPPER 169

    Mejias. So stone, the natural material for a tomb, is blended withdream, the symbol ofa poetic world, and is set near the weeping spring,which is part of the traditional pastoral imagery of lamentation. Andby the Alhambra Machado evokes the exotic quality of Lorca's verse,by which he expressed his sympathy for the underdog and the outcast,whether he were Moor, gipsy, or Harlem Negro. But this symbolism,borrowed from Lorca's poetry, necessarily recalls the never-to-be-forgotten refrain:

    y etemamente diga:el crimen fue en Granada len su Granada I

    Even if Lorca could accept his murder as a natural visit from hiscompanion, death, those who are left must after all dissent. Theycannot connive at a murder, the murder of a great poet, a callouspolitical murder, moreover: murder by the poet's fellow-citizens ofGranada.

    This poem of Antonio Machado's is calculated down to everylast effect. This means that the poet's angry grief is under the strictestcontrol; it has been dominated by the very act of poetic creation. Indefying Lorca's assassins Machado is trying to recapture from themthe man and the artist whom they have sought to obliterate. Poetryhas given life where wicked men have dealt death. By recalling, byrecreating, Lorca's own poetry after his death Machado has infusedhis poem with Lorca's poetic personality. It is scarcely a figure ofspeech to say that Lorca "comes alive" in Machado's poem.

    Now this is precisely what Machado was trying to accomplish.Other poets in other ages-like Shakespeare in the sonnets-hadexpressed their awareness that they were conferring a poetic immortali-ty on their subjects:

    Nor shall death brag thou wanderest in his shadeWhen in eternal lines to time thou growest;So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. 6

    Machado---especially in an elegy written on a possibly greater poetthan he---could not be guilty of such an egregious display of self-satisfaction. What he does is to recreate the poet Lorca by drawingthis man's poetry into his own poetic world. In assimilating Lorca'scosmos of the imagination Machado does more than pay homageto him; he creates him anew. But he does not ape the Divine Creatorin this creation of a man; this new man who exists in Machado'spoetry, as well as in his own, is no mere baby with potentialities whichmayor may not be fulfilled. He springs forth fully-fledged in his

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  • Summer r,6J SYMPOSIUM

    maturity as a poet. This is poetic creativity at its highest. In Machado'swork the elegy has acquired a new impressive status.

    And yet Machado's poem is not the best example of the modernelegy. Although the greatest single poem this century has so far pro-duced in Spanish is Lorca's Llanto por Ignacio Sdnchez Mejias, it isclosely rivalled by Rafael Alberti's long sequence of sonnets, freeverse, and songs de tipo tradicional composed on the death of thesame bullfighter, and published under the tide Verty no verte. In anage when poetry has tended to be scrappy, when poets rarely seemable to sustain their imaginative flight for anything longer than asonnet or a brief romance, the elegy has been seized on as an oppor-tunity to Sf!} more, to expand a poetic intuition to the maximum. It is,I believe, because the millennial tradition of the elegy in Spain issuch a solid one-and is one of which modern poets are very con-scious-that they have been able to construct their masterpieces uponits foundation.

    Duke University

    I. See my article "Pleberio's Lament for Melibea and the Medieval ElegiacTradition," MLN, LXXIX (1964), 14o-l~z.

    a, Cited from Ninelemlh-Cmhtry Spanirh Verse, ed. Jose Sanchez (New York,1949), pp. 10Z-10~.

    ~. The text is cited from Antonio Machado, Obrapoilira (Buenos Aires, 1944),pp. B4-B~

    4. An unsatisfactory, cursory, study of this poem within the tradition of the-English, rather than Spanish--elegy is Calvin Cannon, "Lorea's 'Llanto por IgnacioSanchez Mejias' and the Elegiac Tradition," HR, XXXI (196~), zz9-z~8.

    ~. Shakespeare, "Sonnet 18." The way in which the theme of poetic immortalityis muted in the twentieth-eentury elegy is beautifully illustrated towards the endof Lorea's Llanlo por Ignio Sdnchez Mejias: "No te conoce nadie. No. Pero yo teeanto. / Yo canto para luego tu perfil y tu gracia" (Obra.r ro11lplela.r, ed. Guillermo deTorre [Buenos Aires, 1940], IV, 164). Lorca, unlike Shakespeare, does not pretendthat his "lines" are "eternal"; he sings, and gives life in poetry, "para luego,' foryet a short while longer.

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