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  • From Lorca’s Blood Wedding: A New Translation
  • Sarah Arvio (bio)

As both a poet and a playwright, Federico García Lorca (1898–1936) seemed to suffer with or inside others. His core aspect may be compassion—also in the sense of “with passion.” Blood Wedding was inspired by an article Lorca had read in a local newspaper: the real-life events unfolded in Almería, site of the famous Alcazaba, not far from the poet’s hometown, Granada. He carried the story around in his mind for months, then sat down and wrote out the play in the space of a few weeks. It was the first of his three rural tragedies; the others are Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba. All three address the subjugation of women by their husbands and families.

Lorca was a homosexual; he was also a humanist, a socialist—and a protofeminist. He understood the dramas of the heart and was deeply critical of the strictures of traditional Spanish society.

I had read the play in translation when I was young; I recalled certain scenes, and wanted to see if I could resurrect their lush beauty. I became enchanted by the poem-songs laced into the dialogue: Lorca is singing, or crying out, a great tragic poem. The play both talks and sings, but even the talking sings. His language has the lushness, variety, and suppleness of a modern Shakespeare.

Lorca wrote with such ease, and with such an immaculate ear, that at first I didn’t notice that he was sometimes writing in form. From the start of his writing life, he experimented with form; over time, he became a master prosodist, flitting back and forth effortlessly between free and formal verse. [End Page 438]

In Blood Wedding, the poem-songs are rendered in a range of different meters. Spanish prosody divides its patterns between arte menor (“lesser art,” in counts of eight syllables or fewer: often jocular, ironic, humorous) and arte mayor (“greater art,” in counts of nine syllables or more: solemn, majestic, profound). The chosen meter is related to mood and meaning. This play presents the full range, from low to high—often slipping from formal to free verse; his unmetered last song in the last act might be likened to a sort of flamenco jazz. My approach in translating the poem-songs has been to reflect or replicate mood and rhythms—in loose accentual patterns—without attempting a syllable count.

It may also be interesting to know, with regard to the musical qualities of Lorca’s poetry, that in his young years the poet had planned to be a composer; he turned to writing later. He was also a pianist, often entertaining friends and family deep into the night. Though he reportedly did not have a fine voice (no voice recording has survived), the passion of his performances enchanted all. He had a huge repertoire, with a special interest in Spanish folk songs and flamenco cante.

I’m offering here Act One, Scene Two, and Act Three, Scene One—two scenes rich in poem-song. In 1.2 the lullaby “of the little boy” is an ominous, dark little song that foretells the anguish and terror of the drama to come. It’s hexasyllabic, and also a spin on a traditional Spanish lullaby. The baby is an emblem of the union that is about to break.

In 3.1, when the Moon’s song rises in the woods, she is speaking in paced, measured octosyllables. The Beggar answers in hendecasyllables, and the Moon replies in alejandrinos. Theirs are voices of malice and omniscience, taking pleasure in the blood tragedy, egging each other on. As Leonardo and the bride flee, they slip in and out of desperate panicked octosyllables. There’s a kind of exaltation in the language that beautifies the tragedy.

As I suggest in my introduction to Poet in Spain: New Translations, (Knopf 2017), Blood Wedding can be read as quaint local color; it might also be read as a modernist masterpiece and an exercise in style. [End Page 439]



Room painted pink, with copper pots and bunches of common flowers. In the center...


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