Federico García Lorca

Federico García Lorca (1898-1936):
"Somnambule Ballad" (1924)

I discovered Lorca around early 1968 not because of his poetry, but a pretty paperback cover. Near the Cornell campus was a corner clothing store that carried paperbacks. They decided to closeout the book section at 50% discount. I saw this New Direction paperback with a sunburst through tree branches. In the middle of this 8-star white radiance was the book's title— The Selected Poems of Federico García Lorca. I opened the book at random and came across this poem "Somnambule Ballad". The lines in the second stanza "Green, how much I want you green. / Great stars of white frost / come with the fish of darkness / that opens the road of dawn." seem to mirror the illustration on the book's cover. I bought it for 68¢ half of the $1.35 cover price. I wrote out the first two stanzas of this poem in my quotation book on nature poems in preparation for a book for my sister's weddding. She wanted a gift of my favorite poems whose themes were illustrated with postage stamps. I must have consulted over a hundred books copying poems in the Cornell stacks as well ordering stamps to fit these poems. However, I never finished this project. Approximately two months before my sister's wedding, I met Anthony Damiani at his American Brahman Bookstore (April 5, 1968). Tony's erudtion overwhelmed me, and I began reading Plato, Plotinus, Pythagoras, Sufi and Zen Masters, Taoist and Hindu Sages, in search for enlightenment. I never went back to my Poetry Book for my sister's wedding present. Instead, I gave her and David, the Wilhelm-Baynes translation of the I Ching and André Maurois' The Art of Being Happily Married (1953). A year later, while browsing at a Tompkins County Library Book Sale, I ran across Miriam Scheraga, wife of my thesis professor Harold A. Scheraga. She had Lorca's paperback in her hand, with the same sunburst cover that I had bought. Miriam asked me, "Peter, do you know anything about Lorca? Is this a good buy?" I told her that Lorca was killed at a young age by Franco's militia at the start of the Spanish Civil War. But he wrote beautiful poetry like the "Green" poem in the book. It was the last day of the Book Sale— Hardcovers for $1. Paperbacks for 25¢. I told Miriam "For a quarter, you can't go wrong." She took my advice and bought the book. Now, I found this Pablo Neruda quote in a new Lorca edition: "What a poet! I have never seen grace and genius, a winged heart and a crystalline waterfall, come together in anyone else as they did in him. Federico García Lorca was the extravagant 'duende,' his was a magnetic joyfulness that generated a zest for life in his heart and radiated it like a planet." (Peter Y. Chou)

Somnambule Ballad

Green, how much I want you green.
Green wind. Green branches.
The ship upon the sea
and the horse in the mountain.
With the shadow on her waist
she dreams on her balcony,
green flesh, hair of green,
and eyes of cold silver.
Green, how much I want you green.
Beneath the gypsy moon,
all things look at her
but she cannot see them.

Green, how much I want you green.
Great stars of white frost
come with the fish of darkness
that opens the road of dawn.
the fig tree rubs the wind
with the sandpaper of its branches,
and the mountain, a filching cat,
bristles its bitter aloes.
But who will come? and from where?
She lingers on her balcony,
green flesh, hair of green,
dreaming of the bitter sea.

—Friend, I want to change
my horse for your house,
my saddle for your mirror,
my knife for your blanket,
Friend, I come bleeding,
from the passes of Cabra.
—If I could, young man,
this pact would be sealed.
But I am no more I,
nor is my house now my house.
—Friend, I want to die
decently in my bed,
Of iron, if it be possible,
with sheets of fine holland.
Do you not see the wound I have
from my breast to my throat?
—Your white shirt bears
three hundred dark roses.
Your pungent blood oozes
around your sash.
But I am no more I,
nor is my house now my house.
—Let me climb at least
up to the high balustrade:
let me come! Let me come!
up to the green balustrades.
Balustrades of the moon
where the water resounds.

Now the two friends go up
towards the high balustrades.
Leaving a trail of blood,
leaving a trail of tears,
Small lanterns of tin
were trembling on the roofs.
A thousand crystal tambourines
were piercing the dawn.

Green, how much I want you green,
green wind, green branches.
The two friends went up.
The long wind was leaving
in the mouth a strange taste
of gall, mint and sweet-basil.
Friend! Where is she, tell me,
where is your bitter girl?
How often she waited for you!
How often did she wait for you,
cool face, black hair,
on this green balcony!

Over the face of the cistern
the gypsy girl swayed.
Green flesh, hair of green,
with eyes of cold silver.
An icicle of the moon
suspends her above the water.
The night became as intimate
as a little square.
Drunken civil guards
were knocking at the door.
Green, how much I want you green,
Green wind. Green branches.
The ship upon the sea.
And the horse on the mountain.

                Stephen Spender and J. L. Gili

— Federico García Lorca (1898-1936),
     "Somnambule Ballad" (1924)
     translated by Stephen Spender and J. L. Gili
     The Selected Poems of Federico García Lorca
     Edited by Francisco García Lorca & Donald M. Allen
     New Directions, New York, 1961, pp. 64-69

Academy of American Poets: Federico García Lorca
     (Biography, Poems, Prose, Web Links)
Lorca's Poem: Casida of the Dark Doves
     ("Through the branches of the laurel / I saw two dark doves")
Federico García Lorca (1898-1936)
     (Biography, Further Reading, Selected Works)
Federico García Lorca
     (Short Biography, Five Lorca Poems)
Wikipedia: Federico García Lorca
     (Biography, Major works, About Lorca, References, Links)

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