So ends De Profundis (Tom Clark’s English translation), a short simple poem by Federico del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús García Lorca.
The rest of the poem:
Those hundred lovers
are asleep forever
beneath the dry earth.
long, red-colored roads.
Córdoba, green olive trees
for placing a hundred crosses
to remember them.
I realize that in some ways my timing is off. In the Christian liturgical tradition, Psalm 130, the first De Profundis, came last week, in the fifth week of Lent. And García Lorca did not die this same day one hundred years ago today. He died in 1936, wiki-portedly on August 19, although his body has never been found, and the exact circumstances of his death are unknown.
And life lost another lover yesterday, another leftist García in fact. And reportedly, two thousand years ago, give or take, another outspoken leftist lover of sorts also died today, as observed in some religious traditions, which have a follow-up more optimistic observance still to come.
I bring up García Lorca today because, for my Holy Week, I have been reading his three tragedies, and last night I finished reading the last one.
He wrote The House of Bernarda Alba, audaciously, in that same 1936. It was his last completed play. Every word of the play is a poke in the eye of the dishonest rightwing hatred that was coming to ugly fruition all around him.
In these days, let us be so bold as to follow the example of those who have come before us who have dared to say the inconvenient truths and to stand up for the outcast. That is a far better tribute than going to church today or Sunday, to be followed by a plate of ham.
In his Memoirs, Confieso Que He Vivido, written in the last days of his own leftist life (copyright 1974, Estate of Pablo Neruda; Hardie St. Martin, English translation, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc., 1st Ed. 1977), Pablo Neruda described García Lorca. For Neruda, the start of a war caused by anti-democratic Fascists who would not tolerate a leftist democratic path to economic and social change, which left a million dead Spaniards, began with his friend failing to show up for a professional wrestling match:
For me, it started in the evening of July 19, 1936. A resourceful and pleasant Chilean, Bobby Deglané, was wrestling promoter in Madrid’s huge Circo Price arena. I had expressed my reservations about the seriousness of that “sport” and he convinced me to go to the arena that evening with García Lorca to see how authentic the show really was. I talked García Lorca into it and we agreed to meet there at a certain time. We were going to have great fun watching the truculence of the Masked Troglodyte, the Abyssinian Strangler, and the Sinister Orangutan.
Federico did not show up. He was at that hour already on his way to death. We never saw each other again: he had an appointment with another strangler. And so the Spanish war, which changed my poetry, began for me with a poet’s disappearance.
According to Neruda, who knew about poetry:
What a poet! I have never seen grace and genius, a winged heart and a crystalline waterfall, come together in anyone else as they did in him. Federico García Lorca was the extravagant “duende,” his was a magnetic joyfulness that generated a zest for life in his heart and radiated it like a planet. Openhearted and comical, worldly and provincial, an extraordinary musical talent, a splendid mime, easily alarmed and superstitious, radiant and noble, he was the epitome of Spain through the ages, of her popular tradition. Of Arabic-Andalusian roots, he brightened and perfumed like jasmine the stage set of a Spain that, alas, is gone forever. …
In the theater and in a silence, in a crowd and in a small group, he generated beauty. I have never known anyone else with such magical hands, I never had a brother who loved laughter more. He laughed, sang, played the piano, leaped, invented, he sparkled. Poor friend, he had all the natural gifts, and he was a goldsmith, a drone in the hive of great poetry, but he also wasted his creative talent sometimes.
We don’t, most of us anyway, know how much time we have. But:
Federico had a premonition of his death. Once, shortly after returning from a theatrical tour, he called me up to tell me about a strange incident. He had arrived with the La Barraca troupe at some out-of-the-way village in Castile and camped on the edge of town. Overtired because of the pressures of the trip, Federico could not sleep. He got up at dawn and went out to wander around alone. It was cold, the knife-like cold that Castile reserves for the traveler, the outsider. The mist separated into white masses, giving everything a ghostly dimension.
A huge rusted iron grating. Broken statues and pillars fallen among decaying leaves. He had stopped at the gate of an old estate, the entrance to the immense park of a feudal manor. Its state of abandonment, the hour, and the cold made the solitude even more penetrating. Suddenly Federico felt oppressed as if by something about to come out of the dawn, something about to happen. He sat down on the broken-off capital of a pillar lying toppled there.
A tiny lamb came out to browse in the weeds among the ruins, appearing like an angel of mist, out of nowhere, to turn solitude into something human, dropping like a gentle petal on the solitude of the place. The poet no longer felt alone. Suddenly a herd of swine also came into the area. There were four or five dark animals, half-wild pigs with a savage hunger and hoofs like rocks. Then Federico witnessed a blood-curdling scene: the swine fell on the lamb and, to the great horror of the poet, tore it to pieces and devoured it.
He was “not merely shot; he was assassinated. It would never have crossed anyone’s mind that they would kill him one day. He was the most loved, the most cherished, of all Spanish poets, and he was the closest to being a child, because of his marvelous happy temperament. Who could have believed there were monsters on this earth, in his own Granada, capable of such an inconceivable crime?”
It is good to live long, not hoard the goods, and die a natural death.