Last reviewed: June 2017
Spanish poet, playwright, and theater director.
June 5, 1898
Fuente Vaqueros, Spain
August 19, 1936
near Alfacar, Spain
Due at least in part to his death at the hands of the Falangists in the early days of the Spanish Civil War but more importantly because of his literary achievements, Federico García Lorca has come to be regarded as one of the most outstanding Spanish poets of the modern period. He was educated at the University of Granada, where he studied law and literature. By 1919 he had settled in Madrid, and by 1927 had become well known as a poet through his Libro de poemas (1921; Book of Poems, partial, 2004) and Canciones (1927; Songs, 1976). In 1929 he spent a year in New York, where he became intrigued by Harlem and the life of African Americans there, an experience that greatly affected some of his later work. Upon returning to Spain, he turned his attention to drama, writing plays and directing a traveling theater. In August 1936, by a road near the town of Alfacar, he was shot by the adherents of Francisco Franco, apparently on the order of the authorities in Granada. So great was the esteem in which García Lorca was held outside his native country that it has been claimed that his murder, more than any other act of Franco’s government, lost it much of the sympathy of the Spanish-speaking world.
The admirers of García Lorca’s poetry have particularly stressed the beauty and the originality of his metaphorical language. The poet himself told of his delight in the spontaneous metaphors of the peasants of his province—metaphors drawn from nature as experienced by the peasant. His writing also expressed his love for Spanish folk songs. The influences of folk speech and folk poetry are evident in his verse, modernized by the poet’s deliberate effort to revivify language by seeking new and startling images. The similes are derived through the physical senses; they are “realistic” yet often strained, as though the poet were pushing language to its limits. This technique is characteristic of much modern verse, but García Lorca’s work differs in the degree to which his images spring from the violence and tragedy in the lives of the Spanish peasants and gitanos (Spanish Romani). There is peasant naïveté (the Archangel Gabriel is described as wearing an embroidered jacket and patent-leather shoes), and yet there is an astonishing preoccupation with blood and horror. In this respect, García Lorca’s verse represents a reaction against the highly intellectual poetry of the previous thirty years. Closeup cutout from Image:Garcialorca madrid lou
Closeup cutout from Image:Garcialorca madrid lou
The plays he wrote contain this same deliberate primitivism. The obvious comparison here is with Irish dramatist and poet John Millington Synge, as both sought to break away from nineteenth century realism and to restore poetic tragedy by returning to the life of the peasant. However interesting it may be, Bodas de sangre (1933; Blood Wedding, 1939) nevertheless falls short of great tragedy because the characters are not sufficiently individualized. Still, the drama contains the same strange yet hauntingly beautiful language as do the poems.