Federico Garcia Lorca is a giant in poetry, especially in the gay canon. He wrote Sonnets of Dark Love & The Tamarit Diván in the final years of his life, and it shows both in the influences and inspirations he channeled and emulated poetically, but also in the themes he dared to explore.
As Christopher Maurer notes in his introduction to these collections, Lorca grounded his work in these poems in Arabic poetry rather than his traditional Spanish heritage. Maurer suggests that he does so because in Arabic poetry he was able to locate “cultural precedents for homoeroticism” in the ghazals, or what we might call “love poems.” He is able to use the Spanish language, though, much as Arabic could be, in order to elude grammatical gender, something that is possible in the Romance languages but not in languages like English (at least not yet). Lorca suggests same-sex male love, though, in his masculine imagery.
I have never read much Lorca, save for a few poems here and there that have appeared in collections or popped-up on one or another social media feed. It’s no surprise that his work, even Sonnets of Dark Love, has been widely praised by critics and other powerhouse poets, such as Cernuda and Neruda.
One of my favorite poems is the first ghazal, “Of unforseen love.” It begins, “No one understood the perfume / of the dark magnolia of your bell. / No one knew that you martyred / a hummingbird of love between your teeth.” The imagery and metaphor in this first stanza is stunning, and it sets the tone for what the rest of the poem, and indeed the entire collection, will follow.
While some of the poems are surprisingly tender, and others too abstract to perhaps be taken at first reading for as sexually explicit as they are, others are beyond suggestive. In “Of desperate love,” for example (ghazal III), he writes of a lover’s “tongue burned by a rain of salt” and believes that his lover “will come / through murky sewers of darkness.” There is indeed a lot of coming in this particular poem, but no going.
He also simply stuns me with his metaphors. I’m reminded of a discussion thread recently posted by Jericho Brown, describing the jubilant surprise of a well-done metaphor, how it catches one off guard while simultaneously speaking the truest truth. Lorca does this over and over again, as in “Of the dark death,” when he begins by saying, “I want to sleep the sleep of apples.” What a thing to say! So strange, and yet it makes perfect sense.
I will say, all of my favorites from this publication come from the first collection, The Tamarit Divan, but Sonnets of Dark Love is enjoyable, too. I think I learned more from the first, though. Finally, I very much appreciated that this particular edition is bilingual, so one can read the original Spanish on the left, and the translated English on the right. Translations are never perfect, so reading it in the original is an especially wonderful experience, but to be honest, these translations are rather spectacular.