One of the writers who made the deepest impression on me growing up was not a novelist, but a playwright and poet. At the point in my education when I was actually good enough at Spanish to sometimes think in it, and could read it with some facility, I fell in love with Federico García Lorca. His poems (especially in Spanish) had a rhythm and a power to them that transmitted much more than the words on their own. In this way he reminds me of Dylan Thomas, who frequently sublimated syntax and vocabulary to the pure sound of language.
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.
May fingerprints of blood on gold
streak the heart of eternal Catalunya.
May stars like falconless fists shine on you,
while your painting and your life break into flower
– Federico García Lorca, “Ode to Salvador Dalí”, trans. Christopher Maurer et al.
The piece I learned almost exclusively because of how it felt to say it aloud in Spanish was Lorca’s famous elegy for a bullfighter, “Llanto por [Lament for] Ignacio Sanchez Mejias”. It draws heavily on musical forms–Lorca’s first area of study in the arts. Below is a recording of a gentleman who vaguely resembles Sean Connery reading it aloud; even if you don’t understand Spanish, it really sounds gorgeous. Leave it on in the background while you go look at Facebook for a few minutes, then check back.
I didn’t know anything about Lorca when I fell in love with his writing. (I generally don’t research authors–I figure I learn everything I need to know about them through their writing, unless I’m actually studying them.) But he was an interesting man in interesting times. He wrote in Spain in the first half of the twentieth century. The country was heading towards civil war. He was passionately involved with other men, had an unrequited love for and close friendship with Salvador Dalí, studied in Spain as well as at Columbia, was dedicated to bringing art to the underserved.
He was assassinated when he was only 38 years old.
But his sleep now is unending.
Now mosses and grass
pry open with practiced fingers
the flower of his skull.
And his blood now courses singing,
sings through salt marshes and meadows…
–Federico Garía Lorca, “Lament for the Death of Ignacio Sánchez Mejías”, trans. Alan Trueblood