I was going to the gym this evening when snow started falling, the brisk wind causing white-outs out my study window. We are expecting 5 – 8 inches of spring snow by morning. I decided to stay in and write.
I have not attended Christian services in years but each time Holy Week comes around the feelings from years ago return like perfume from the room of the beloved now locked shut forever. The feelings are magnified as I have been reading poems in Spanish by Federico García Lorca and his essays, lectures, letters and journal entries on “duende.” He grew up in a village just outside Granada so his imagination, his poetic self, is freighted with the spirit of Andalusia where Arabic, Jewish and Roman Catholic cultures came together in what scholars laud as a high point in European culture – when much of Western Europe was still in its Dark Ages.
Lorca extolled the artistic impetus of his homeland in his own unique way. His lyric images are grounded in the body and its sense organs. Unlike me he writes in sensual, sensory images. Describing a guitar’s songs, he writes:
- Llora por cosas
- Arena del Sur caliente
- que pide camelias blancas.
- Llora flecha sin blanco,
- la tarde sin mañana,
- y el primer pájara muerto
- sobre la rama.
- ¡Oh guitarra!
- Corazón malherido
- por cinco espadas.
- [The guitar]
- Weeps for faraway things,
- A Southern desert yearning for
- white camellias.
- It weeps an arrow without a target,
- evening without tomorrow,
- and the first dead bird
- on the branch.
- Oh guitar!
- A heart mortally wounded
- by five swords.
(Slightly modified from a translation by Christopher Maurer.)
His poems were verbal paintings, his conceits tiny stories. García Lorca makes what I write look pale as smelly, dead fish. He knew how to paint feelings with words. He wrote poems, played the piano, and drew in a style reminiscent of Picasso‘s. He belonged to that era in Spanish art and literature peopled by the generation of ’27 which included his one-time bosom friend, Dali. Older was Picasso who was born in 1881. I think what this man could have accomplished if the Nationalists didn’t murder him for his liberal, anti-clerical views and, some researchers say, his homosexuality. Picasso and Dali hid out in Paris during the Civil War but García Lorca stayed on in Spain, proclaiming his views in his poems and plays.
If García Lorca (his father’s surname was García, his mother’s Lorca) didn’t write about outright religious content his poems mixed beauty with suffering and death, a combination I associate with Spanish Catholicism. Philippine Catholicism is likewise permeated with this dark version of Christianity. Just witness the focus of Holy Week in the Philippines. Even visita iglesia is about visiting the Santo Intierro in as many churches as one can go to. And the biggest crowds in church come not at Easter but on Good Friday, the men after the Calvario, the women the Madre Dolorosa.
Then again this is the paradoxical mix that is at the heart of my own aestheticism so I am a product, like Federico García Lorca was of his, of the land of my birth and beginnings. It’s the insight I later encountered in Zen and the Japanese theme of wabi-sabi, beauty in the fleeting moment; and the insight of encountering Baudelaire and the French symbolists and their admiration for Edgar Allan Poe’s dark, beautiful poems and tales.
Perhaps only the music of a dead yesterday can bring to life unspeakable beauty.