Reading: Gacela of the Dark Death by Lorca

Lorca (1898-1936) was one of the greatest Spanish poets of the twentieth century. I have read another of his poems here before. Today I read some morbid text I stumbled upon on the Internet. This is a 1973 translation by Robert Bly:

Gacela of the Dark Death
I want to sleep the sleep of the apples,
I want to get far away from the busyness of the cemeteries.
I want to sleep the sleep of that child
who longed to cut his heart open far out at sea.

I don’t want them to tell me again how the corpse keeps all its blood,
how the decaying mouth goes on begging for water.
I’d rather not hear about the torture sessions the grass arranges for
nor about how the moon does all its work before dawn
with its snakelike nose.

I want to sleep for half a second,
a second, a minute, a century,
but I want everyone to know that I am still alive,
that I have a golden manger inside my lips,
that I am the little friend of the west wind,
that I am the elephantine shadow of my own tears.

When it’s dawn just throw some sort of cloth over me
because I know dawn will toss fistfuls of ants at me,
and pour a little hard water over my shoes
so that the scorpion claws of the dawn will slip off.

Because I want to sleep the sleep of the apples,
and learn a mournful song that will clean all earth away from me,
because I want to live with that shadowy child
who longed to cut his heart open far out at sea.

It seems to me the poet desires to be forgotten, like the ‘shadowy’ child who goes out far at sea. The cemeteries are too busy and he just can’t stand his own vivid imagination of what happens in and around the grave.

The dead poet is sleeping, or wants us to think he is sleeping and still alive. More down to earth, he wants his words to survive him and “a golden manger inside my lips” is a beautiful metaphor for that. In the Spanish original it is even better:

hay un establo de oro en mis labios;
que soy el pequeño amigo del viento Oeste;
que soy la sombra inmensa de mis lágrimas.

At dawn he wants us to cover him, to suppress the thought that he actually died. The reprise hits us hard. Such a haunting image, the boy who longs to cut his heart out at sea. I see Federico writing this, and sweating, sweating the acerbic sweat of his own words.

Porque quiero dormir el sueño de las manzanas
para aprender un llanto que me limpie de tierra;
porque quiero vivir con aquel niño oscuro
que quería cortarse el corazón en alta mar.

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