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Federico García Lorca (1898-1936)


Spanish poet and dramatist, a talented artist and a member of the 'Generation of 1927', a group of writers who advocated avant-gardism in literature. After a period of great creative activity, García Lorca was shot by Falangist soldiers in the opening days of the Spanish Civil war. In both his drama and poetry García Lorca balanced between the traditional and the modern, between mythology and contemporary cultural trends. García Lorca's best-known works include the play Blood Wedding (prod. 1933) and the poem Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter (1935).

"Most of the Madrid critics praised the literary and dramatic merit of Marina Pineda to an extent that surprised me. In general they asserted that it was more than just promising; it was real achievement by a playwright who brought to the theatre a technique aware of the limitations of historical drama and abundance of poetry that flowed naturally and continuously, not only from the characters but also from their surroundings. They found in it an emotional power highlighted as much in the tragic phrases of Marina Pineda as in the sweet and sorrowful worlds of the little nuns when they set out toward the scaffold. This concept of Marina Pineda is the one that satisfies me most, because I sincerely believe that theatre is not and cannot be anything but emotion and poetry - in word, action, gesture." (García Lorca in Playwrights on Playwrighting, ed. by Toby Cole, 1961)

Federico García Lorca was born at Fuente Vaqueros, a village on the banks of the River Genil, some ten miles from Granada and thirty miles from the Mediterranean. His father, Federico García Rodriguez, was a prosperous farmer, who owned hundreds of acres of land in and around Fuente Vaqueros. Vicenta Lorca Romero, García Lorca's mother, had been a schoolteacher before becoming Federico's second wife. Both of his parents loved music; his father played the guitar while his family sang. When Lorca was eleven, the family moved to Granada. In his poems and plays he returned to the speech and customs of the rural society, which he regarded as the true foundation of his work.

García Lorca first read law at the University of Granada, but later entered the University of Madrid. At the same time he also studied music and composed his own piano pieces. In the 1920s García Lorca collaborated with Manuel de Falla, becoming an expert pianist and guitar player. In 1919 he moved to Madrid, where he lived at the Residencia de Estudiantes, the intellectual center of the town.

García Lorca's friends included the writers Juan Ramón Jiménez and Pablo Neruda. With the Catalan painter Salvador Dalí and the film director Louis Buñuel he worked in different productions. Dalí and Lorca had met in 1923. From the beginning, Lorca was fascinated by the young Catalan's personality and looks. Also Dalí had admitted that Lorca impressed him deeply. "The poetic phenomenon in its entirety and 'in the raw' presented itself before me suddenly in flesh ad bone, confused, blood-red, viscous and sublime, quivering with a thousand fires of darkness and of subterranean biology, like all matter endowed with the originality of its own for." (in Secret Life) When Buñuel and Dalí made their famous short film Un Chien Andalou (1928), García Lorca was offended: he thought that the film was about him. Lorca's friendship with Dalí inspired a poem, 'Ode to Salvador Dalí', which was at the same time a defense of modern art and an expression of love and devotion: "But above all I sing a common thought / that joins us in the dark and golden hours. / The light that blinds our eyes is not art. / Rather it is love, friendship, crossed swords."

Before the publication of his first collection, García Lorca was already known as a poet, especially through his recitals of his texts. As a writer García Lorca made his debut with Libro de poemas (1921), a collection of fablelike poems. His first book had been a travelogue, Impresiones y paisajes (1918).

Upon earning a degree in law in 1923, García Lorca turned his back to a university career. From his childhood on, he had been drawn to theatre and music. The crucial moment in his literary career was folk music festival Fiesta de Cante Jondo in 1922, where he found inspiration for his work from the traditions of folk and gypsy music. Poema del cante jondo (1931, Deep Song), written already in 1921, and Primer romancero gitano (1924-1927, The Gypsy Ballads), published in 1928, made García Lorca the poet of Andalusia and its gipsy subculture. In these works he used old ballads and mythology to express his tragic vision of life. Following the oral tradition, he read often his poetry aloud, with great effect. Many poems circulated from hand to hand before they were printed.

After finishing Mariana Pineda, García Lorca wrote in 1926 The Shoemaker's Prodigious Wife. Its first performance was in 1930. "In my Shoemaker's Wife I sought to express – within the limits of ordinary farce, and without laying hands on the elements of poetry within my reach – the struggle of reality with fantasy that exists within every human being. (By fantasy I mean everything that is unrealizable.) The shoemaker's wife fights constantly with ideas and real objects because she lives in her own world, in which every idea and object has a mysterious meaning which she herself does not know. She has only lived and had suitors on the other bank of the river, which she cannot and will not ever be able to reach."

In 1927 García Lorca gained fame with his romantic historical play Marina Pineda. Its scenery was constructed by Salavador Dali and the distinguished actress Margarita Xirgu played the heroine. By 1928, with the publication of The Gypsy Ballads, he was the best-known of all Spanish poets, and leading member of the 'Generation of 27', which included Luis Cernuda, Jorge Guillen, Pedro Salinas, Rafael Alberti, and others. In 1929-30 García Lorca lived in the city of New York, on the campus of Columbia University.

Unable to speak English, García Lorca suffered a deep culture shock, the collapse of his personal world, but also witnessed the stock market crash. His suicidal mood was recorded in posthumously published Poeta en Nueva York (1940, Poet in New York), in which he praised Walt Whitman. The poet condemns the frightening, physically and spiritually corrupted city, and escapes to Havana to experience the harmony of a more primitive life. However, in his early letters to home he expressed his enthusiasm about contemporary American plays. And he was fascinated by the music and dance of the Harlem community. He did not get the opportunity to meet Langston Hughes, who was attracted to his poetry. When Hughes visited Spain during the Civil War, Lorca was already dead. He worked for nearly twenty years with Lorca's brother and the poet's mother to translate The Gypsy Ballads into English. However, the version which came out in 1951, is incomplete: only the first fifteen poems are translated.

After a short visit to Cuba, García Lorca was back in Spain by 1931, and continued with theatre productions. He became the head the traveling theatrical company, La Barraca, which brought classical plays and other dramas to the provinces. After the death of his friend, a bullfighter, García Lorca wrote Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter (1935). It has been regarded by most critics as his greatest poem. The work is divided into four sections, whose individual motifs are weaved together. The figure of one man facing his fate, was exemplified by his friend Ignacio Sánchez Mejías. Mejías himself had written a surrealistic play and he was well-known in the literary circles. He was killed while attempting to make a comeback in the bullring. "Now Ignacio the well born lies on the stone. / All is finished. What is happening? Contemplate his face: / death has covered him with pale sulphur / and has placed on him the head of a dark minotaur." (The rituals and codes of a bullfight, a distinct part of the Spanish heritage, were later adapted to Western movies by such directors as Budd Boetticher and Sergio Leone.)

García Lorca's experiments in the theater – he rebelled against the realistic theater of the middle class – involved such puppet plays as Los Títeres de Cachiporra (prod. 1923) and El retablillo de Don Cristóbal (prod. 1935). In 1933 he wrote two surrealistic dramas, El público, an attack on commercial theater and the entire social order, and Así que pasen cinco años, an allegory of lost time. Mariana Pineda (prod. 1927) was García Lorca's only historical drama. Its central character, a Spanish national heroine, was a historical figure – she was executed for embroidering a revolutionary flag. The play portrays her as a martyr to liberty and love: "I am freedom because love wanted it so; / Pedro! the freedom for which you left me. / I am freedom stricken by men / Love, love, love and eternal solitudes." El amor de Don Perlimpín con Belisa en su jardín, written in 1931, was a farce, but it ended in death. "Take me by the hands, my love, / for I come quite badly wounded, / so wounded by love's going. / So wounded. / Dying of love!" The first version of the surrealistic drama El público (The Audience) Lorca finished in 1939. The play remained unpublished until the 1970s – it dealt with homosexual love, a taboo subject on the Spanish stage for many years.

Blood Wedding, the first part of García Lorca's famous rural trilogy, was performed in 1933. The love triangle, blending drama and poetry, closely resembled a classical Greek tragedy, in which death hovers over the whole play. There is no escape from love, death or fate: "The fault is not mine / The fault belongs to the earth." Yerma, the second part, performed in 1934, portrayed a deadly conflict in a barren marriage. The heroine strangles Juan, her husband, who do not understand her yearning to love and bear children. The House of Bernarda, written just before García Lorca's death in 1936 and published in 1945, depicted a tyrannical mother, Bernarda Alba, and her daughters. The youngest daughter commits suicide over her lover, Pepe el Romano, who is engaged to Angustías, the oldest daughter.

García Lorca's central themes are love, pride, passion and violent death, which also marked his own life. The Spanish Civil was began in 1936 and García Lorca was seen by the right-wing forces as an enemy. The author hid from the soldiers but he was eventually found. An eyewitness has told that he was taken out of a Civil Government building by guards and Falangists belonging to the 'Black Squad'. García Lorca was shot in Granada on August 19/20 of 1936 without trial. The circumstances of his death are still shrouded in mystery. He was buried in a grave that he had been forced top dig for himself. Accroding to some sources, he had to be finished off by a coup de grâce. One of his assassins later boasted, that he shot "two bullets into his arse for being a queer." Most probably, García Lorca wrote under pressure his last words on a note for a member of the 'Black Squad': "Father, please give this man a donation of 1000 pesetas for the Army." Don Federico, his father, carried the note in his wallet for the following years. He died in voluntary exile in New York.

For further reading: García Lorca by E. Honig (1944); Lorca and the Spanish Poetic Tradition by J.B. Trend (1956); The Theatre of García Lorca by R. Lima (1963); Lorca: Poeta maldito by F. Umbral (1968); Lorca and the Spanish Tradition by J.B. Trend (1971); García Lorca: Playwright and Poet by M. Adams (1977); The Assassination of Federico García Lorca by I. Gibson (1979); Lorca's New York Poetry by R.L. Predmore (1980); Federico Carcía Lorca by R. Anderson (1984); Federico García Lorca by F.H. Londré (1984); Federico García Lorca by I. Gibson (1989); Lorca's Late Poetry: A Critical Study by A.A. Anderson (1990); Audience and Authority in the Modernist Theater of Federico García Lorca by C.C. Soufas (1996); Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Vol. 2, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999); Lorca: A Dream of Life by Leslie Stainton (2000)   - Other writer in the Spanish Civil war: Ernest Hemingway, André Malraux, George Orwell, Langston Hughes - In exile during the Civil War: José Ortega y Gasset - Suom.: García Lorcalta on myös suomennettu valikoima Andalusian lauluja.

Selected works:

  • Impresiones y paisajes, 1918
    - Impressions and Landscapes (translated by Lawrence H. Klibbe, 1987)
  • El maleficio de la mariposa, 1920 ("an insect comedy," performed 1920, in Obras completas, 1954)
    - The Butterfly's Evil Spell (in Five Plays, translated by James Graham-Lujan and Richard L. O’Connell, 1963)
  • Libro de poemas, 1921
    - The Selected Poems of Frederico Garcia Lorca (selection, edited by Francisco Garcia Lorca and Donald M. Allen, 1955); Selected Poems: Federico García Lorca (selection, edited by Christopher Mauer, 1995)
    - Andalusian lauluja (valikoima, suom. Matti Rossi, 1967)
  • Canciones, 1927
    - Songs (translated by Philip Cummings, ed. by Daniel Eisenberg, 1976; selection in The Selected Poems of Frederico Garcia Lorca, edited by Francisco Garcia Lorca and Donald M. Allen, 1955; selection in Selected Poems: Federico García Lorca, edited by Christopher Maurer, 1995)
  •  Mariana Pineda 1928 (play, prod. 1927)
    - Mariana Pineda (translations: Robert G. Havard, 1987; Gwynne Edwards, in Lorca Plays Volume Three, 1994)
  • La doncella, el marinero y el estudiante, 1928 [The Virgin, the Sailor, and the Student]
  • El paseo de Buster Keaton, 1928 [Buster Keaton's Promenade]
  • Romancero gitano, 1928
    - Gypsy Ballads (translations: Langston Hughes, 1951; Roy Campbell, 12 ballads in Lorca: An Appreciation of His Poetry, 1952; Rolfe Humphries, in The Gypsy Ballads of Fererico García Lorca, 1963; Michael Hartnett, 1973; Robert G. Havard, in Gypsy Ballads, 1990)
    - Mustalaisromansseja (suom. Kirsi Kunnas, 1976, rev. ed. 1999)
  • El público, 1930 (written)
    - The Audience / The Public and Play Without a Title: Two Posthumous Plays (translated by Carlos Bauer, 1983)
  • La zapatera prodigiosa, 1930 (play, rev. version, prod. 1933, in Obras completas, 1938)
    - The Shoemaker's Prodigious Wife (in Five Plays, 1963; translated by Caridad Svich, in Lorca: Six Major Plays, 2009)
    - Ruusu ja naskali (suom.)
  • Poema del cante jondo, 1931 (written in 1921)
    - Poem of the Deep Song (translated by Ralph Angel, 2006; selection in The Selected Poems of Frederico Garcia Lorca, ed. by Francisco Garcia Lorca and Donald M. Allen, 1955; Carlos Bauer, in Poem of the Deep Song, 1988; selection, in Selected Poems: Federico García Lorca, ed. by Christopher Maurer, 1995)
    - Runoelma cante jondosta (suom. Brita Polttila, 1977)
  • Bodas de sangre, 1933 (play, prod. 1933)
    - Blood Wedding (in III Tragedies, 1947; translations: John Gassner, in Spanish Drama, 1968; Ted Hughes, 1996; John Edmunds, in Four Major Plays, 1999; Brendan Kennelly, 2001; Gwynne Edwards, 2001; Tanya Ronder, 2005; Lillain Groag, 2006; Michael Dewell and Carmen Zapata, in Three Plays: Blood Wedding, Yerma, The House of Bernarda Alba, 1993)
    - Veren häät ja muita näytelmiä (suom. Pentti Saaritsa, 1977)
  • Amor de don Perlimplín con Belisa en su jardín, 1933 (written in 1928, prod. 1933, in Obras completas, 1938)
    - The Love of Don Perlimpín and Belisa in the Garden (translated by James Graham-Lujan and Richard L. O’Connell, in Five Plays, 1963; Richard O'Connell, 1999; Caridad Svich, 2000)
    - Don Perlimplínin ja Belisan puutarharakkaus (suom. Pentti Saaritsa, teoksessa Doña Rosita ja muita näytelmiä, 1978)
  • Oda a Walt Whitman, 1933
    - Ode to Walt Whitman and Other Poems (translated by Carlos Bauer, 1988)
  • Cómo canta una ciudad de noviembre a noviembre, 1933
    - How a City Sings from November to November (translated and edited by Christopher Maurer, 1984)
  • Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías, 1935
    - Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter and Other Poems (translation by A.L. Lloyd, 1937; selection in The Selected Poems of Frederico Garcia Lorca, ed. by Francisco Garcia Lorca and Donald M. Allen, 1955)
  • Doña Rosita la soltera o el lenguaje de las flores, 1935 (play, prod. 1935)
    - Doña Rosita, the Spinster (translated by James Graham-Lujan and Richard L. O’Connell, in Five Plays, 1963; John Edmunds, in Four Major Plays, 1999; Rebecca Morahan, 2004; Auriol Smith, 2004; Gwynne Edwards, 2008; Nilo Cruz, 2009)
    - Doña Rosita eli Kukkien kieli (suom. Pentti Saaritsa, teoksessa Doña Rosita ja muita näytelmiä, 1978)
  • Seis poemas galegos, 1935
    - The Selected Poems of Frederico Garcia Lorca (selection, ed. by Francisco Garcia Lorca and Donald M. Allen, 1955)
  • El Retablillo de Don Cristóbal, 1935 (play, prod. 1935, in Obras completas, 1938) [In the Frame of Don Cristobal]
    - Don Cristóbal (suom. Pentti Saaritsa, teoksessa Veren häät ja muita näytelmiä, 1978)
  • La casa de Bernarda Alba, 1936 (play, prod. 1945)
    - The House of Bernarda Alba (translations: Tom Stoppard, 1973; Emily Mann, 1998; John Edmunds, in Four Major Plays, 1999, Rebecca Morahan, 2003; Caridad Svich, 2007; Rona Munro, 2009) / Bernarda Alba (translations by Richard L. O’Connell and James Graham-Luján, in III Tragedies, 1947; Michael Dewell and Carmen Zapata, in Three Plays: Blood Wedding, Yerma, The House of Bernarda Alba, 1993)
    - Bernarda Alban talo (suom. Pentti Saaritsa, teoksessa Veren häät ja muita näytelmiä, 1977)
  • Primeras canciones, 1936 [First Songs]
    - The Selected Poems of Frederico Garcia Lorca (selection, ed. by Francisco Garcia Lorca and Donald M. Allen, 1955)
  • Yerma, 1937 (play, prod. 1934)
    - Yerma (translations: in III Tragedies, 1947; Michael Dewell and Carmen Zapata, in Three Plays: Blood Wedding, Yerma, The House of Bernarda Alba, 1993; John Edmunds, in Four Major Plays, 1999; Caridad Svich, in Six Major Plays, 2009; Jo Clifford, 2009; Ursula Rani Sarma, 2011)
    - Yerma (suom. Silja Ylitalo, teoksessa Yerma ja kaksi muuta näytelmää, 2012)
  • Obras Completas, 1938-42 (7 vols., edited by Guillermo de Torre)
  • Poems, 1939 (translated by Stephen Spender and J. L. Gili)
  • Poeta en Nueva York, 1940
    - Poet in New York (selection in The Selected Poems of Frederico Garcia Lorca, ed. by Francisco Garcia Lorca and Donald M. Allen, 1955; translations: Rolfe Humphries, in The Poet in New York, and Other Poems, 1940; Ben Belitt, in Poet in New York, 1955; Greg Simon and Steven F. White, in Poet in New York, 1988; Pablo Medina and Mark Statman, in Poet in New York: A Bilingual Edition, 2008)
  • Diván del Tamarit, 1940
    - Divan & Other Writings (translated by Edwin Honig, 1974) / The Tamarit Poems (selection in The Selected Poems of Frederico Garcia Lorca, ed. by Francisco Garcia Lorca and Donald M. Allen, 1955; selection, in Selected Poems: Federico García Lorca, ed. by Christopher Maurer, 1995; translated by Michael Smith, 2002)
  • Selected Poems of Federico García Lorca, 1943 (translated by J. L. Gili and Stephen Spender)
  • Así que pasen cinco años, 1945 (play, prod. 1945, in Obras completas, 1938)
    - If Five Years Pass (translated by Richard O'Connell and James Graham-Lujan, 1941) / Once Five Years Pass and Other Dramatic Works (translated by William Bryant Logan & Angel Gil Orrios, 1989)
    - Kunhan kuluu viisi vuotta (suom. Pentti Saaritsa, teoksessa Doña Rosita ja muita näytelmiä, 1978)
  • Títeres de cachiporra: Tragicomedia de don Cristóbal y la señá Rosita, 1949 (play, prod. 1923)
    - The Billy-Club Puppets (in Five Plays, 1963)
  • Siete poemas y dos dibujos inéditos, 1949 (edited by  Luis Rosales)
  • Federico García Lorca: Some of His Shorter Poems, 1955
  • Selected Poems, 1955 (edited by Francisco García Lorca and Donald M. Allen)
  • Quimera, 1957 [Chimera]
  • Five Plays, 1963 (translated by James Graham-Lujan and Richard L. O’Connell)
  • Lorca and Jiménez, 1967 (translated by Robert Bly)
  • Tree of Song, 1971 (translated by Alan Brilliant)
  • Obras Completas, 1973 (2 vols., rev. ed., edited by Arturo del Hoyo)
  • Divan and Other Writings, 1974 (translated by Edwin Honig)
  • Lorca/Blackburn: Poems of Federico García Lorca, 1979 (chosen and translated by Paul Blackburn)
  • El Público: Comedia sin título: dos obras teatrales póstumas, 1978 (edited by R. Martínez Nadal)
    - The Public, and Play Without a Title: Two Posthumous Plays (tr. 1983) / The Public (translated by Henry Livings, in Lorca Plays: Three, 1991; Caridad Svich, in Lorca: Six Major Plays, 2006) / Play Without a Title (translated byt Gwynne Edwards, in Lorca Plays Volume Three, 1994)
    -  Yleisö (suom. Silja Ylitalo, teoksessa Yerma ja kaksi muuta näytelmää, 2012); Elämän uni (suom. Silja Ylitalo, teoksessa Yerma ja kaksi muuta näytelmää, 2012)
  • Deep Song and Other Prose, 1980 (translated by Christopher Maurer)
  • The Cricket Sings, 1980 (translated by Will Kirkland)
  • Poesía I, 1980 (edited by Miguel Garcia-Posada)
  • Selected Letters, 1983 (edited and translated by David Gershator)
  • Sonetos del amor oscuro: 1935-1936: inéditos de Federico García Lorca, 1984 (edited by Marta Teresa Casteros)
  • El Público, 1987 (edited by María Clemente Millán)
  • The Rural Trilogy: Blood Wedding = Yerma = and The House of Bernarda Alba, 1987 (translated by Michael Dewell and Carmen)
  • Ode to Walt Whitman and Other Poems, 1988 (translated by Carlos Bauer)
  • The Poetical Works of Federico García Lorca, 1889-91 (2 vols.)
  • Sonnets of Love Forbidden, 1989 (translated by David K. Loughran)
  • Selected Verse, 1995 (translated by Francisco Aragon, et al.)
  • The Poetical Works of Federico García Lorca, 1988-1995 (edited by Christopher Maurer)
  • Poesía inédita de juventud, 1994 (edited by Christian de Paepe)
  • Prosa inédita de juventud (edited by Christopher Maurer)
  • Teatro inédita de juventud, 1994 (edited by Andrés Soria Olmedo) 
  • The Unknown Lorca: Dialogues, Dramatic Projects, Unfinished Plays & a Filmscript, 1996 (edited & translated by John London)
  • Obras Completas, 1996-1997 (4 vols., edited by Miguel García-Posada)
  • A Season in Granada: Uncollected Poems & Prose, 1998 (edited and translated by Christopher Maurer)
  • In Search of Duende, 1998 (prose selections translated by Christopher Maurer; poems translated by Norman di Giovanni, et al.)
  • Four Major Plays, 1999 (translated by John Edmunds)
  • Federico García Lorca: Impossible Theater: Five Plays and Thirteen Poems, 2000 (new translations by Caridad Svich)
  • Antología de la poesía homosexual y cósmica de Federico García Lorca, 2001
  • The Collected Poems: A Bilingual Edition, 2002 (rev ed. of: Collected Poems, 1991; edited by Christopher Mauer, translated by Catherine Brown et al.)
  • Sebastian's Arrows: Letters and Mementos of Salvador Dali and Federico Garcia Lorca, 2004 (edited by Christopher Maurer)
  • Crónica de una amistad: epistolario de Federico García Lorca y Melchor Fernández Almagro 1919-1934, 2006 (2006)
  • Pez, astro y gafas prosa narrativa breve, 2007 (edited by Encarna Alonso Valero)
  • Six Major Plays, 2009 (translated by Caridad Svich)
  • Federico García Lorca, Guillermo de Torre: correspondencia y amistad , 2009 (edited by Carlos García)
  • Geografía postal. Las postales de las familias García Lorca y De Los Ríos, 2010 (selected by Martin Parr)

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