Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, book translated

This 2012 music video is called Federico García Lorca, by Leonard Cohen.

By Nicolas Lalaguna:

Tuesday 13th September 2016

NICOLAS LALAGUNA takes a spellbinding journey with Federico Garcia Lorca through Spain

FEDERICO GARCIA LORCA was a poet, a playwright, a musician, a folk music expert and an artist.

To some, he is a symbol of the barbarity of fascism, to others he exemplifies the contradictions of a country barrelling towards civil war. Even today this Renaissance man, born in a small town in Andalusia over a century ago, still manages to court controversy.

And he still remains relevant. In Spain, judge Maria Servini struggles against the silent complicity of institutional amnesia in her attempts to investigate Lorca’s assassination by the fascists in 1936, while at the Young Vic theatre in London Billie Piper takes to the stage wearing an “adapted” mantel of his 1934 tragic heroine Yerma.

But before Lorca became either a conduit for others, or a symbol of a wider struggle, he was a young person growing up in a world that seemed at odds with who he was.

At his core, Lorca was a man whose very existence highlighted the shortcomings of the values, beliefs and perceptions of the society in which he lived. While struggling with this intellectual dissonance, he thankfully found mentors and companions in the hallowed halls of Granada University.

Coming under the tutelage of two combative intellectuals who were erring towards a progressive liberal mindset, Lorca was given the opportunity he needed to blossom.

Sketches of Spain (Impresiones y Paisajes), his first book, catalogues his thoughts on four study trips with one of these professors around Andalusia and north-west and central Spain.

Peter Bush’s translation and Julian Bell’s illustrations are an excellent addition to Lorca’s memorial. Originally published in 1918, the book is a window into the mind that would go on to become one of Spain’s most translated writers and arguably one of its most influential cultural icons.

Written when he was only 18 years old and published when he was 20, this translation gives an English-speaking audience the opportunity to witness the beauty and horror of Lorca’s Spain.

We walk alongside him as he develops the themes which will continue on throughout his work: sex and death, privilege and poverty, the natural and the man-made. Echoing throughout these pages is the underlying struggle between the country’s past and its future, very much seen at the time as a conflict between the sacred and the profane and “the haves and the have-nots.”

With his gentle hand to guide us, we are taken on a journey of growth that is delicately woven into the natural and vibrant cultural tapestry that is Spain at the beginning of the 20th century.

We wander through Avila, San Pedro de Cardena, Santo Domingo de Silos, Burgos and Granada as Lorca describes the architecture, art works, history and people around us. In his informal naivety, he asks us to take a moment off from our unquestioning acceptance and to see the world a little differently.

The rhythmic ballet of Lorca’s language isn’t lost in this translation, if anything it seems to rise up from within it. The wonderment and effusiveness of youth infuses his every word as you try to keep up with him. Sometimes his natural inquisitiveness deconstructs the world around him at such a pace the beauty of the language escapes you.

Sketches of Spain lets you bear witness to the 18-year-old folk musician Lorca discovering the poet inside. In his prologue he tells us that every book is a garden and how “lucky the man who can plant it out and blessed the man who cuts its roses and feeds his soul.” He begs the reader to look beyond the set horizons, to dream and “experience in myriad shades” the garden he is planting out before us.

For many this book will be an ongoing source of wonder and insight into the development of a beautiful mind.

For those who don’t have the opportunity to read Lorca in his own language, trust in Bush’s unpretentious and welcoming translation not to sully the melodic metaphors, along with Bell’s illustrations which act as a visual echo of the world the musician describes.

Sketches of Spain is a welcome addition to any library, doubly so for those who wish to see Spain’s past and all of our future a little differently.

Sketches of Spain by Federico Garcia Lorca is published by Serif, price £10. Nicolas Lalaguna is the author of the recently published novel A Most Uncivil War (Matador Books, £9.99).

3 thoughts on “Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, book translated

  1. Pingback: Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, book translated — Dear Kitty. Some blog | Manolis

  2. Tuesday 14th February 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Arts

    PAUL FOLEY sees a production of a Lorca play from 1936 whose message has a chilling resonance

    The House of Bernarda Alba
    Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

    TOWARDS the end of June 1936, Federico Garcia Lorca gathered his closest friends together in order to read his latest play to them.

    Less than two months later he would be dead, kidnapped and murdered by a gang of fascists.

    As a poet, words were his weapon and in response to the dark clouds of fascism hanging over Europe, Lorca stripped his play The House of Bernarda Alba of any poetic content. This was, as Lorca declared, not literature but “realism, pure realism.”

    In the play the eponymous protagonist, twice widowed, rules her household with a rod of iron — a black widow ensnaring her five daughters in her web of control.

    Although the matriarch at the head of an all-woman household, Bernarda is a devout Catholic, a firm believer in the natural order of patriarchal society. Her house is her father’s house and the men continue to wield power even from the grave. But her daughters are restless and, when the youngest Adela starts to assert her own identity, Bernarda knows her world is about to change. And so it does, with tragic consequences.

    The Royal Exchange have co-produced the play with the excellent Graeae, the theatre company formed in 1980 to provide roles for disabled actors. Even today, disabled actors are often confined to the role of a disabled character. Not so here, where disabled actors take centre stage in a mainstream theatre.

    Director Jenny Sealey skilfully weaves sign language, subtitles and wheelchairs into the very fabric of the action and the excellent cast delivers a powerful and thoughtful production, ably supported by Jo Clifford’s translation.

    A testimony to this is that servants propelling across the stage in wheelchairs, or the spiky exchanges between the sisters through sign language, come across as completely natural. Within minutes, Lorca’s power exerts its influence.

    Central to the play is Bernarda herself and Kathryn Hunter is stunning as the cranky oppressor. Despite her slight frame, dressed in black and wielding her staff — the symbol of her power — she exudes menace.

    As the play hurtles towards its shocking climax, the tension is palpable as Bernarda and her youngest daughter Adela, beautifully played by Hermon Berhane, quarrel entirely in sign language. Breathtaking.

    Given the election of a fascist in the US and the clouds of racism hanging over the world, this is a timely revival of a great play, performed by a wonderful company.

    Runs until February 25, box office:


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