Expansive Poetics – 22 (Lorca – 3)

AG: We might get on to this (Lorca’s “Llanto por la muerte de Ignacio Sanchez Mejias” (“Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias“)), because this is a very amazing piece of rhetoric, depending a lot on repetition. (It’s at the end of the book) “A las cinco de la tarde” (I guess the Spanish would be subject more to intelligence) – tarde“- “A las cinco de la tarde/Eran las cinco en punto de la tarde” – It was exactly five in the afternoon  – “Eran las cinco en punto..” – Right on the point – “…de la tarde/Un nino trajo la blanca sabana..” – “A boy brought the white sheet/at five in the afternoon/A trail of lime ready prepared/at five in the afternoon/The rest was death, and death alone/at five in the afternoon./  The wind carried away the cottonwood/at five in the afternoon/And the oxide scattered crystal and nickel/at five in the afternoon/Now the dove and the leopard wrestle/at five in the afternoon/ And a thigh with a desolate horn/at five in the afternoon/The bass-string struck up/at five in the afternoon/Arsenic bells and smoke/at five in the afternoon/Groups of silence in the corners/at five in the afternoon/And the bull alone with a high heart!” – Well, “And the bull alone [sic]” – because he’s saying, only the bull – because the guy got killed. So only the bull survived, so only the bull had a high heart.

You could exaggerate it out -“And the bull alone”  – That’s what I do, I start singing out special (words) – If, in advance, while reading something, I grasp what the words mean in relation to the other words, and if it has some extra little piece of energy I can throw into it, then I’ll just sing it out and make a special bravura vowel. Because, generally, the audience is asleep, as you are generally, the reader, half-asleep, not quite following, thinking of something else (maybe absorbed, but maybe not absorbed), maybe just staring with the eyeball at the page, listening to the whirr of the fan, or blowing their nose, or distracted by another thought. But if you suddenly say, “And the bull alone with a high heart!”, attention immediately comes back in. So, the function of special, emphatic, high-stress, souped-up, vowelic mouthing musicalities while reading is to wake up the audience and point attention to the significance of a line.
In other words, you’re constantly trying to wake the audience or the reader. You’re constantly trying to wake up the reader over and over again to what’s being said, because generally something interesting is being said. Otherwise you might say, “And the bull alone at five in the afternoon” – why is he saying “the bull alone”? who cares about the bull alone? – meaning, “the bull alone” had a “high heart“! – only the bull, in the entire audience, in the entire bull-ring, had a high heart. So you can punch out the “alone”. If you treat almost every word as if it had some meaning, or if you can find some significance for every syllable, then you can have a complete musical variety of  syllabic chimes, line-to-line. Though the tendency is to (do it) sing-song.  But if you can find at least one word in a line that has a punch, has a tonal punch and you put that through, then you can keep every line alive and you can keep everybody listening.

“When the sweat of snow was coming/at five in the afternoon/when the bull ring was covered in iodine” – That’s great. Iodine for the wounds of the bullfighter. The bull-ring was covered in iodine. It’s just, in itself, an amazing line. That’s where Lorca gets the reality – the practical Spanish realistic naturalism of the writing coincides with Surrealism. The “bull-ring..covered in iodine” is not necessarily a line you’d think of as being a ordin ary descriptive line. It’s a little bit exaggerated. That part of the bull-ring, there was so much blood that they had splashed the iodine all over, the sand was covered with iodine. And “the bull ring was covered in iodine” – so it’s exaggerated, slightly

at five in the afternoon/death laid eggs in the wound/At five in the afternoon/Exactly at five in the afternoon.” – “A las cinco de la tarde/A las cinco de la tarde/ A las cinco en punto de la tarde” – “A coffin on wheels is his bed” – And it gets to be a dead march – dahdah-dah duh-duh-dah – “Un ataud con ruedas es las cama/a las cinco de la tarde/ Huesos y flautas suenan en su oido/a las cinco de la tarde/ El toro ya mugia por su frente/a las cinco de la tarde/ El cuarto se irisaba de agonia/a las cinco de la tarde” – “A coffin on wheels is his bed/at five in the afternoon – So then you begin to get a fugue – two separate rhythms running counter to each other, because, by that time, he has built up a funny primary rhyme – “..coffin on wheels is his bed”
“Bones and flutes resound in his ears/at five in the afternoon/ Now the bull was bellowing through his forehead/at five in the afternoon”  (but, in Spanish, much better – “El toro ya mugia por su frente” – the bull bellowed through his brow) – Yeah?

Student: Isn’t that “at five in the afternoon“, the repetition of that, that’s kind of a background..

AG: Yeah

Student: Background music.

AG: I think they call that anaphora. Anaphoric. It’s the anaphoric refrain. Anaphora

Student: Dirge

AG: A-N-A-P-H-O-R-A.  Anaphora. I think that means the repeated refrain. Like “Howl”. The anaphoric trick in “Howl” is “who did this, who did that” – and Christopher Smart is “let.”..”Let the mule rejoice with the coffin, let the grasshopper rejoice with giraffe.” In the Bible –  Ecclesiastes is it? [Ecclesiastes 12:6] – “Or ever the golden bowl be broken, or the silver cord be loose, or the wheel be broken”, somewhere, “or the pitcher be broken at the fountain”. [Editorial note – Allen is misremembering the Biblical quote – from the King James version of the Bible – “Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern”]. That’s anaphoric. Anaphora it is called, I think.

But if you got “at five in the afternoon” as a constant refrain, which goes one way – “a las cinco de la tarde” – “a las cinco de la tarde“, “a las cinco de la tarde” – constantly repeating, and then.. it’s a syncopated thing – “a las cinco de la tarde” – “cinco“, “tarde” and “a las cinco de la tarde“, and then you have the drum-beat of the dead march of “A coffin on wheels is his bed/ a las cinco de la tarde” – “Bones and flutes resound in his ears/a las cinco de la tarde” – and so you’ve got two rhythms running back and forth (and, actually, in pronunciation, you could really swing with that – I don’t know what it would sound like in Spanish really, if a great Spanish speaker were pronouncing it. Does anybody here speak good Spanish, home Spanish, here?, Well, okay..)

[Allen continues reading the poem – making some minor mistakes in his recollection of it] – “Now the bull bellowed through his brow [was bellowing through his brow]/at five in the afternoon/The room was iridiscent with agony/at five in the afternoon/Distant gangrene comes [In the distance, the gangrene now comes]/at five in the afternoon/Lily horn through green groins [Horn of the lily through green groins]/at five in the afternoon/Wound burning like suns [The wounds were burning like suns]/at five in the afternoon/Crowd breaking down windows [And the crowd was breaking down the windows]/at five in the afternoon/At five in the afternoon” – “Ay, que terribles cinco de la tarde!/Eran las cinco en todos los relojes!/Eran las cinco en sombra de la tarde!” – “Five o’clock by all the watches [it was five by all the clocks]/Five in the shadow of the afternoon [it was five in the shade of the afternoon]” – Then the response – “I will not see it!” -“Que no quiero verla!” – “I don’t want to see it!” -” I don’t want to see it!” – See, the rhythm is more..  not “I will not see it!  (it’s very stiff that way), it’s more like “I don’t want to see it!” – Que no quiero verla! Que no quiero verla! Que no quiero verla!” – “Tell the moon to come/because I don’t [do not] want to see the blood/of Ignacio on the sand./ I don’t want to see it [Allen is maintaining his own translation of the phrase, Que no quiero verla! here] – “The moon wide open./Horse of still clouds, and the grey bull-ring of dreams/with willows in the barreras..” [Allen continues reading the poem, in its Spender-Gili translation through to the end of this second section, “La Sangre Derramada” (The Spilled Blood) ..”] – “I don’t want to see it!/No chalice can contain it,/no swallows can drink it, no frost…” – “no hay escarcha de luz que enfrie” (I don’t know what that means) – “no frost of light can cool it?/nor song nor deluge of white lilies,/no glass can cover it with silver./No./ I don’t want to see it” – (Then, section) three“Cuerpo Presente” (The Laid-Out Body) – It’s almost like a sonata, where there’s different movements. He brings it to a height, it repeats a few times, and then goes down again for another largo, at this point, slow.

Student: And you can really see it, (the) dramatic presentation of the first part

AG: Yes

Student: You could see it sung by a chorus

AG: Yes

Student: And then the soloists..

AG: Yes,  It could be expanded marvelously, because it does have that musical fugue back and forth – Yes?

[There follows a brief detour, as Allen and student(s) debate matters of translation, with Allen finding it difficult to locate the pertinent line(s)] 

Student: I was going to ask about this Que no quiero verla!. The thing about that in the Spanish is..
AG: Yeah
Student: …you can use the word “will” for the ‘quiero“, which is “I know”,”I will” – this is the way it is, or “I believe”..
AG: Yeah
Student: But.
AG:  “Quiero” –  What’s the infinitive?
Student:   Querer – Q-U-E-R-E-R
AG: Can that….
Student: I believe.. it has more of this “will” property, but I think that this word…
AG: Yo quiero
Student: Yeah
AG: What’s the infinitive of that?
Student: Querer
AG: Yo quiero, Tu quieras
Student: It’s “I want”
AG: “Want”, yes..
Student: But in the reflexive.. it means.. it’s like “te quiero” – “I love you”
AG: Yeah.
Student: Okay.
AG: Yes
Student: So that’s…
AG:  “I want you”,  “I want you”
Student: But that’s not reflexive… It’s more… I know it’s not reflexive – but the word has possibilities here of, really, (a) much more emotional..(thrust)  and I think.. idiomatically, it might come out as “I can’t stand to see it!”.. You know, it’s like.. it’s very emotional, it’s not as much “will”, as it is… there’s a feeling there, so I was just thinking that,
idiomatically, in English, we might say..
AG: Is that…
Student: …”I can’t stand to see it!”
AG “..can’t stand to look”?
Student: But..
AG: How would you say that? Go on..

Student: I was just wondering about the translation, there are two lines which are in fact, really the same,  because.. you know when he dies, they say -No me digais que la vea!
AG   No me digais”..  “donde”?     donde” is.
Student: …and then in the translation (it) says that “I will not see it!” and then, “Do not ask me to see it!
AG: See, but “donde” is.. where is.. which are the lines so I can look at them?
Student: It is the..
AG: Before the part three (section three), Cuerpo Presente“?
Student: It’s the third stanza, more or less…
AG: From the beginning?
Student: From the beginning
AG Okay.
Student: On the second page.
AG: Yeah.
Student: Yeah. It’s on the second page.
AG: Yeah, donde? –  First column?
Student: Yeah, right here.. First part, the second..  it would be the middle stanza of that page.
AG: I’m afraid I can’t.. is it above “La Sangre..” (The Spilled Blood) ?- “La Sangre Derramada” – or somewhere else?
Student:  It’s on the second page,
AG: Second leaf or second page?
Student(s): No..that’s the page.. this one? – it’s the second part? – is it this one over here? – Yeah, on the right-hand side, there.
AG; There, or left of it?
Student: There
AG: Right-hand side if you want,
Student: Yeah
AG) Okay, second leaf.
Student: Yeah
AG: Yeah. “No/ Que no quiero verla!”  First column?
Student: Yeah. And it’s the one that begins with the.. after the “Que no quiero verla!” – “The  moon wide-open”. That’s..
Student Oh..  “moon wide-open”
AG: Now, where?  – Okay, top of the page
Student; Yeah
AG: Top of the second leaf of this poem.. ..right hand side of the page. “Que no quiero verla!”Yes. Now.
Student: Now if you go down this second stanza, the one that begins with “Ignacio goes up the tiers..” (“Por las gradas sube Ignaciol“)
AG: Yeah.
Student: Okay, there you see, in the middle of that stanza, there is a line..
AG: “No me digais que la vea!
Student: …right. And..
AG: He translates..
Student; I don’t understand why the translator changed the translation here..
AG: Yeah, it doesn’t make sense, does it?.How would we say that? – “Don’t tell me to look!”?
Student: Yeah
AG: “Don’t make me look”? No, digais  “No me digais que la vea!”  – digais..”.. [from the verb – decir]  is (you) “say”, isn’t it?
Student: Yes.
AG: “Talk”.
Student: Yes. It could be improvised from the last line.. but it’s a…
AG: Right,  It’s mis-translated.
Student: .. so that,  and also, I was also wondering, this is really crazy maybe, but it was also because the three lines.. and there is…
AG: Same page?
Student: Same page, yes.
AG: “Moon wide open”?
Student: The fourth line.
AG: “y la plaza gris del sueno“?
Student: Um, yes , and I…
AG: Is that what you’re talking about?
Student :that.. yes,
AG: “la plaza gris del sueno.”
Student: I was thinking it could be “of sleep” rather than “of dreams”.
AG: Could be… I liked the English line – “the grey bull ring of dreams” – it’s pretty powerful in English. “plaza” is “Plaza de Toros“, “gris” is grey, “de sueno” would be either “sleep” or “dream” (but, literally, it means “dream”, doesn’t it?)

Student:  Yeah, it can be both. But it seems.. I was wondering, which one (works)?

AG: I would say “dream”, because you have a very dream-like.. it’s like fantasy or dream what comes up next, that “The cow of the ancient world”, passing her tongue over the “snout of blood”. (“La vaca del viejo mundo/pasaba su triste lengua/sobre un hocico de sangres“) ” Then he “goes up (on) the tiers” with “death on his shoulders”. “He sought for his beautiful body”, he sees “the terrible mothers”, he sees the horns near “the terrible mothers/lifted their head” – so it’s like a nightmare dream, or it’s like a prophetic death dream. So I would buy the dream – “the grey bull-ring of death” – that he must have dreamt.. Basically what’s being said is that he, in all his time as a torero, he must have, at one time or another, have dreamt of this horrible scene, in the “grey bull-ring of dreams”, of the “terrible mothers” lifting their heads.

Student: What is he talking about?

AG: Fates. The Three Fates, maybe? – or just the old black widows of  Spain, sitting there, cackling over graves or something, I don’t know. (Jack) Kerouac has a very similar line describing the funeral of his father.

Student: Yeah?

AG: The terrible nuns – the nuns that go to every funeral in Lowell and sit there (and) gloat over the dead..

Student: The Reverend Mother..

AG: Or The Great Mother, obviously.

Student: The Teeth Mother [the Student is most probably referencing Robert Bly here and his 1970 City Lights volume, “The Teeth Mother Naked At Last”]
Student: It seems that what is happening in the bull-ring, there are mothers in the bull-ring who are actually looking for the dead.. that they.. that they’re pressing forward  and they see…

AG: Yes – I like that – “across the ranches,/…secret voices…/shouting to celestial bulls.”.
It gets really a strange combination. Images drawn from the farm, but ghostly – ghostly, or celestial, prophecies from the farms – “(H)erdsmen of pale mist” – But then it gets very practical – “There was no prince in Seville/who could compare with him/nor sword like his sword” – No prick like his prick – “nor heart so true” – or whatever it was. I wonder what relationship Lorca had with Mejias, the bullfighter. It sounds like Lorca really dug him, totally dug his body.
That river – “Como un rio de leones/su maravillosa fuerza” – in English, (not bad) – “a river of lions” – Now that‘s a really Surrealist line – “a river of lions” – It’s simple and he gets away with it. I mean, it’s coherent there. Most of the time, I wouldn’t imagine a river of lions being a coherent image, but it certainly is here – muscles like a river of lions, I guess, marvellous strength.
What else is good? – The moss – “Now the moss and the grass/open with sure fingers/the flower of his skull” – That’s quite something! – just as a lover might want to feel up the skull, or the sleeping head, feel up the hair of somebody you’re making it with – “Now the moss and the grass/open with sure fingers/the flower of his skull/ faltering soulless in the mist/stumbling over a thousand hoofs”
I also like that in (the) English – “starry Guadalquivir” (that’s a very tremulous, tremorous, quality, just to the sound there – “starry Guadalquivir” – like stars being reflected in the river). Guadalquivir is the river? Is that correct? Anybody know? Guadalquivir is the river, so “starry Guadalquivir” (Guadalquivir de las estrellas”) would be the stars trembling in the river.

Well, should we go on with the rest? Anyone want to try doing the largo section. Anybody got a sonorous basso profundo?

Student: In Spanish?

AG: Can you do Spanish? Yeah, let’s  hear it. See what it sounds like.
Student: Uh, where?

AG: “Cuerpo Presente” (The Laid-Out Body) – where I left off – “La piedra es una frente..” – “Stone is the forehead where dreams grieve” (donde los suenos gimen)

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately two-and-a-half  minutes in and continuing to the approximately fifty-nine minutes in] (also available here)

Edouard Manet (1832-1883) – “The Dead Toreador” (c.1864), oil on canvas (from the collection at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *