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Translated by John Samuel Tieman and Paola de Santiago Haas
The Goring And The Death At five in the afternoon. It was five in the afternoon sharp. A boy brought the white sheet at five in the afternoon. A basket of lime already at hand at five in the afternoon. All the rest was death and just death at five in the afternoon. The wind blew the cotton wool away at five in the afternoon. And the rust seeded crystal and nickel at five in the afternoon. The dove and the leopard in a fight at five in the afternoon. And a thigh with a bare shaft at five in the afternoon. The low tones of a bass began at five in the afternoon. The bells of arsenic and the smoke at five in the afternoon. On the corners groups of silence at five in the afternoon. And the bull alone his heart upright! at five in the afternoon. When the sweat of snow was coming at five in the afternoon, when the bull ring was covered with iodine at five in the afternoon, death laid eggs in the wound at five in the afternoon. At five in the afternoon. At five in the afternoon sharp. A coffin with wheels is the bed at five in the afternoon. Bones and flutes sound in his ear at five in the afternoon. The bull bellowed at the front of the coffin at five in the afternoon. The room was iridescent with agony at five in the afternoon. From a distance comes the gangrene at five in the afternoon. The shaft of a lily in the green groins at five in the afternoon. The wounds burned like suns at five in the afternoon, and the crowd broke the windows at five in the afternoon. At five in the afternoon. Oh that terrible five in the afternoon! It was five on every clock! It was five in the shadow of the afternoon! *** Bloodshed I don't want to see it! Tell the moon to rise, I don't want to see the blood of Ignacio in the sand. I don't want to see it! The moon wide open, horse of motionless clouds, and the gray plaza of the dream with willows on the barriers. I don't want to see it! For my memory burns. Warn the jasmines with their small whiteness. I don't want to see it! The old world cow who passed her sad tongue over a snout of blood spilled on the sand and the bulls of Guisando, near death and near stone, howling for two centuries tired of stepping on the earth. No. I don't want to see it! Ignacio climbs into the stands with his death slung over his shoulders. He looks for the dawn and the dawn was no more. He searches for his confident profile, and the dream disorients him. He looked for his beautiful body and he found his blood open. Don't tell me to look! I don't want to feel the blood gush every time with less strength; that gush that illuminates the stands and spills over the corduroy and the leather of the thirsty crowd. Who screams at me to see it! Don't tell me to look at it! He didn't close his eyes when he saw the horns close, but the terrible mothers lifted their heads. And through the cattle ranches there was an air of secret voices that cried to celestial bulls, herdsmen of pale mist. There was no prince in Seville who could compare to him, no sword like his sword, no heart so true. Like a river of lions his marvelous strength, and like a torso of marble his prudence engraved. Air of an Andalusian Rome gilded his head where his laughter was a spikenard of salt and intelligence. What a great toreador in the plaza! What a great rustic in the mountain range! How smooth with the sheaves! How hard with the spurs! How tender with the dew! How dazzling in the provincial fair! How tremendous with the last banderillas of darkness. But now he sleeps without end. Now the mosses and the grasses open with sure fingers the flower of his skull. And his blood now comes singing: singing past swamps and prairies, sliding along horns frozen, vacillating soulless in the fog, stumbling with its thousand hooves like a long, dark, sad language in order to form a puddle of agony next to the Guadalquivir of the stars. Oh white wall of Spain! Oh black bull of sorrow! Oh stiff blood of Ignacio! Oh nightingale in his veins! No. I don't want to see it! No chalice can hold it, no swallows can drink it, there is no frost of light that cools it, there is no song nor downpour of lilies, no crystal cup to cover it with silver. No. I don't want to see it! *** The Body Before Us The rock is a forehead where the dreams moan without having curved water nor frozen cypresses. The rock is a shoulder for carrying time with trees of tears and ribbons and planets. I have seen gray rain flowing toward the waves raising their tender riddled arms, so as not to be hunted down by the lying rock that frees its limbs without soaking the blood. Because the rock catches seeds and clouds, skeletons of larks and wolves of the half-light, but gives no sound, no crystals, no fire, save bull rings and bull rings and rings without walls. And now on the stone lies Ignacio the well born. It's over: So what's happening? Consider his figure: death has covered him with pale sulfur and dressed him with head of a dark minotaur. That's that. The rain penetrates his mouth. The insane air leaves his hollow chest. And love, soaked with the tears of snow, warms on the summit of the cattle ranches. What are they saying? A silence with stinking reposes, We are with a body before us that vanishes, with a clear form that had nightingales and we see it filling with fathomless holes. Who crumples the shroud? There's no truth to what it says. Nobody sings here, nor weeps at the corner, nobody digs in his spurs, nor frightens off a snake. Here all I want is a pair of round eyes, in order to see that body that will not rest. I want to see here the men of the hard voice. Those that break horses and break rivers: the men whose skeleton rings and sings with a mouth full of sun and flint. Here I want to see them. In front of the stone. In front of this body with the reins shattered. I want them to show me where there's an exit for this captain tied by death. I want them to teach me a weeping like the river that has sweet mists and steep banks, in order to take the body of Ignacio and lose it without hearing the redoubled panting of the bulls. Let it be lost in the round bullring of the moon, an immobile bull that poses as a grieving girl; let it be lost in the night without the song of the fish and into the white weeds of frozen smoke. I don't want them to hide his face with handkerchiefs so he may get used to the death he carries. Go, Ignacio. Feel no more the hot bellows. Sleep, fly, rest. Even the sea dies. *** Absent Soul Neither the bull nor the fig tree know you, neither the horses nor the ants of your house. Neither the child nor the afternoon know you because you have died forever. The back of the stone does not know you, nor the black satin where you destroy yourself. Your mute memory does not know you because you have died forever. Autumn will come with a conch, a grape of fog and a gathering of mountains, but no one will want to look into your eyes because you have died forever. Because you have died forever, like all the dead of the Earth, like all the dead who are forgotten in a pile of bloodless dogs. No one knows you. No. But I sing to you. I sing for your silhouette and your grace. The memorable ripeness of your insight. Your appetite for death, the taste of death's mouth. The sadness of your valiant joy. It will take a long time to be born, if there is ever born an Andalusian so clear, so rich in adventure. I sing your elegance with words that moan and I recall a sad breeze through the olive trees. ----- -----
Translation copyright 2019 John Samuel Tieman and Paola de Santiago Haas.
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Goring And Poetry And Anti-Intellectualism
Federico Garcia Lorca (1898 – 1934) was a playwright and poet, who was born in Andalusia. He was a prominent member of the “Generation of ’27”, an informal group that introduced to Spain surrealism and symbolism. He attained national and international acclaim in his own lifetime. An outspoken socialist, he was brutally assassinated by Franco’s fascists.
Garcia Lorca’s “Weeping for Ignacio Sánchez Mejías” is by far his best known poem in the Spanish speaking world. It is considered by many to be the finest Spanish elegy since “Couplets On The Death Of My Father” by Jorge Manrique (c. 1440 – 1479). Garcia Lorca’s opening line, “At five in the afternoon”, is commonly quoted in Spain. Think of opening lines in English like, “Whose woods these are I think I know.”
Why is Garcia Lorca’s poem not better known in the United States? Undoubted, there is a certain revulsion at bullfighting, which is understandable. There is also the simple fact that the sport really is unknown outside the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America, the occasional Hemingway-esque reference notwithstanding. Indeed, it isn’t even really a sport in the usual sense of relatively matched opponents performing some otherwise meaningless task, like hitting a ball with a stick. No, bullfighting is a kind of theater art with roles and poses and costumes and, in this tragedy, it actually ends in torture and bloodshed and death. The bullfight is, among other things, a codified performance akin to an ancient manhood test. It is a way to quench man’s perennial and atavistic need for blood. In the bullfight, we fulfill two out of the three basic elements of survival: the defeat of a powerful and dangerous beast, and the quest for food. In the corrida, the bull is not seen as an inferior being but as a peer, who has a name, a provenance and a story, and his meat is eaten afterwards with awareness and appreciation
There is also this person, Ignacio Sánchez Mejías (1891 – 1934). This sort of person is truly foreign to our anti-intellectual society. Imagine picking up a play that is comparable to, say, “Death Of A Salesman”, and seeing that it was written by Babe Ruth. Imagine hearing that, in the off-season, Albert Pujols was working on his third symphony. It’s not that we can’t appreciate talent. It’s that Americans are baffled by this sort of person.
Sánchez Mejías was the equivalent of a high school graduate, something unusual in his time and in his country. As a young man, he had great advenures. He stowed away on a freighter bound for New York. He learned the craft of bullfighting in Mexico, in Veracruz and Morelia. He made his debut as a banderillero, the fellow who runs as close to the bull as possible, and stabs barbed sticks in the top of the bull’s shoulders. In this capacity, Sánchez Mejías became famous for his form and daring. To say he was good at this and at being a matador, this is akin to saying he was a great catcher and a great pitcher.
He was tremendously popular. He was sexually attractive to men and women. Many of his lovers were beautiful and famous. And he was a writer. He was a poet, a critic, a novelist, a playwright and an actor. He raced cars. He flew planes. He was a skilled horseman and polo player. He was elegant in his dress. He once led a conference at Columbia University. He is generally on any list of the “Generation of ’27”, whose members included Rafael Alberti, Jorge Guillén, Manuel de Falla, Salvador Dalí and, of course, Garcia Lorca, a generation whose influence reached as far as Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges among others. Sánchez Mejías was a good friend of Garcia Lorca. The matador was 43 when he died in 1934.
The matador now has his own museum in Spain. The Museum-Archive Ignacio Sánchez Mejías opened in mid-January, 2018, in the town of Manzanares, where he suffered that terrible goring. One exhibit displays Garcia-Lorca’s poem, and before the poem are perhaps two dozen clocks, all stopped at 5 PM.
J. S. T.
P. de S. H.
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Thanks, for this biographical and historical background.
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Very thought-provoking commentary, John. This is my favorite of Lorca’s poems. When I compare the life of a fighting bull in Spain to the lives of so many of America’s meat animals–our cattle, force-fattened in filthy, crowded feedlots; our poultry, crammed into tiny cages and never allowed to walk, let alone breathe the open air or see the sun–there can be no doubt which is more humane.
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we need the esthetics and ethics of Lorca. he shook up the sleeping essence of poetry. the Latin imagination is more far passionate than other’s.
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