the modern spanish elegy: antonio machado's lament for federico garcía 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

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00397709.1965.10732856

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    http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions

  • 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 imm