Lorca, Federico García

views updated May 21 2018

Federico García Lorca

BORN: 1898, Fuente Vaqueros, Granada, Spain

DIED: 1936, Viznar, Granada, Spain


GENRE: Poetry, drama

The Gypsy Ballads (1928)
Blood Wedding (1933)
Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter, and Other Poems (1935)
Poet in New York (1940)


Federico García Lorca's reputation rests equally on his poetry and his plays. He is widely regarded as Spain's most distinguished twentieth-century writer. García Lorca was a major participant in the flowering of Spanish literature that occurred over the years between World War I and the Spanish Civil War, and he is normally categorized as a leading member of the group of artists known as the Generation of 1927.

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Arabic Roots García Lorca was born and raised in rural Andalusia, the southernmost province of Spain and a region greatly influenced by Arabic and Gypsy culture. The major points in García Lorca's life and career often seem to have coincided with significant events in the historical and political arena. For instance, the year of his birth coincided with the so-called Disaster of 1898, when Spain received a stunning double shock in losing the war against the United States and hence losing also its last remaining colonies: Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. García Lorca spent his first eleven years on the vega (fertile plain) of Granada, to the west of the city, his family dividing its time between two villages, Fuente Vaqueros and Asquerosa. His father, Federico García Rodríguez, was a well-off farmer and landowner; García Lorca's mother, the former Vicenta Lorca Romero—his father's second wife—was a local primary-school teacher. Both parents, but particularly his mother, are thought to have exerted in their different ways a strong influence on García Lorca's character and sensibility. The loss of Cuba in the war meant that Spain's supply of sugar was cut off. The consequent boom in the market for sugar beets, which thrived in the vega's soil, and his father's canny business sense enabled the family to consolidate its financial position, and hence, incidentally, to support García Lorca economically throughout almost the entirety of his life. He attended schools in the nearby town of Almeria and studied law and literature at the University of Granada. After moving to Madrid in 1919, García Lorca continued his studies at the Residencia de Estudiantes, a center for writers, critics, and scholars of cultural liberalism.

The Generation of 1927 While in Madrid, Lorca earned a law degree and came in contact with several emerging literary and artistic figures, many of whom would later comprise the Generation of 1927. The members of this group rejected what they considered to be the sentiment and superficiality of Romanticism and instead advocated hermetic expressionism. García Lorca's closest friend at the Residencia de Estudiantes was Salvador Dalí, whose dramatic surrealist paintings and “quest for joy for the sake of joy” would later inspire García Lorca to write “Ode to Salvador Dalí.” Another prominent figure of this period was poet Juan Ramón Jiménez, whose use of symbolism influenced García Lorca's first volume of poetry, Libro de poemas (1921). This work is a compilation of Gypsy folklore García Lorca heard during his youth in Andalusia. Although considered a conventional account of his childhood experiences, Libro de poemas is recognized for its vivid, accessible language and mythological imagery. After the publication of this volume, García Lorca organized Spain's first cante jondo (deep song) festival. Cante jondo is a traditional form of Andalusian music that, according to drama historian Felicia Hardison Londre, “combines intensely emotional yet stylistically spare poetry on themes of pain, suffering, love, and death with a primitive musical form.” García Lorca's continued involvement in the cante jondo festival, at which Spain's most famous singers and guitarists performed, is reflected in Canciones (1927) and Poema del cante jondo (1931). These collections, which were directly inspired by composer Manuel de Falla, elevated the traditional ballad forms known as siguiriya gitano and solea to new levels of stylization.

The “Gypsy Poet” The years 1924 to 1927 were also a time, after the closure of the Poema del cante jondo/Canciones phase, when García Lorca became engaged in a wide-ranging exploration of very different modes of poetic writing. One vein, or direction, is represented by what turned out to be García Lorca's most successful, most popular, and best-known collection of poetry, Gypsy Ballads (1928). The process of gestation was a fairly lengthy and leisurely one. While a primitive version of “Ballad of Don Pedro on Horse-back” dates back to late 1921, the concept of a series of Gypsy ballads and the composition of several of the poems can be ascribed to the summer of 1924. Others followed in subsequent years, and several appeared in small magazines (1926– 1928) before the collection was completed in 1927 and published in mid-1928.

While not as well known as Gypsy Ballads, Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter, and Other Poems (1935) is also considered a masterpiece. This four-part elegy was occasioned by the mauling death of Spain's most celebrated matador, Ignacio Sanchez Mejias, who was one of García Lorca's closest friends. A celebration of Spanish sound, rhythm, and assonance, Lament evidences García Lorca's unique blend of poetry and drama.

Stereotypes and Industrial Life Provoke Poetic Crisis Despite the fact that García Lorca's work was extremely popular throughout the 1920s, the poet suffered an emotional crisis in 1928, stemming from his belief that he was being stereotyped as a “gypsy poet.” Leaving the Andalusian landscape with which he was so familiar, García Lorca traveled to New York City in 1929, where he came in contact with images directly contrasting those of his homeland. Deeply disturbed by the monotony of industrial life and America's reliance on mechanization, García Lorca began writing verse that was later collected in the posthumous volume Poet in New York (1940), considered to be his most abstract and surrealistic volume due to its themes of chaos and alienation.

Although García Lorca wrote the drama The Spell of the Butterfly in 1920, it was not until he returned to Spain in 1930, shortly after the proclamation of the Spanish Republic, that he composed the majority of his dramatic works. Among his best-known plays are BloodWedding (1933), Yerma (1935), and The House of Bernarda Alba (1945).

Tragic Passion Blood Wedding, which closely resembles a classical Greek tragedy, is the story of a bride who runs off with another man on her wedding day. In contrast to Blood Wedding and the similar follow-up Yerma, which are generally considered expressionistic and abstract, The House of Bernarda Alba is intensely realistic. This work focuses on Bernarda, a tyrannical woman who virtually imprisons her five daughters in her home.

In 1936, an army coup against the government of the Second Spanish Republic resulted in the start of the Spanish Civil War, a three year conflict that resulted in the founding of the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, a nationalist. The political unrest forced García Lorca into hiding, despite the fact he had never aligned himself with any particular political party and referred to himself as a “Catholic, communist, anarchist, liberal, conservative, and monarchist.” Garćýa Lorca was eventually discovered at the home of a friend and arrested by Franco's Nationalists. García Lorca had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was well known as a man of the arts, liberal minded, rumored to be homosexual, a member of a family on intimate terms with socialist leader Fernando de los Ríos, and, therefore, as far as the opposing side was concerned, an enemy beyond a shadow of a doubt. After being detained by the civil government in Granada for several days, García Lorca was executed by a firing squad in an olive grove outside the tiny village of Viznar and buried in an unmarked grave. His murder is often considered a tragically ironic ending for an author who so frequently wrote about death. Scholars maintain, however, that although death is a prevalent theme in his works, Garćýa Lorca is perhaps more strongly esteemed for his abiding humanitarian concerns, deep affection for Andalusian culture and landscapes, and passionate dedication to all art forms.

Works in Literary Context

García Lorca drew upon all elements of Spanish life and culture to create poetry at once traditional, modern, personal, and universal.combining classical verse with folk and Gypsy ballads, García Lorca sought to liberate language from its structural constraints and bring out the musicality inherent in Spanish dialect. While initially influenced by the symbolists, who believed the function of poetry was to evoke and not describe, García Lorca began to experiment with startling imagery, scenic metaphors, and complex rhythms after coming in contact with filmmaker Luis Buñuel, poet Pablo Neruda, and artist Salvador Dalí. García Lorca's dramatic approach to poetry led him to devote the latter part of his life to playwriting. In his drama, like his verse, García Lorca wrote about death, frustrated sexuality, and the relationship between dream and reality. While his poetry and drama continue to be widely studied among literary scholars, García Lorca emphasized that he wrote for and about common people.

New and Traditional Poetic Structures By the time Libro de poemas was in the bookshops, García Lorca had already turned his back on the kind of writing it exemplified, focusing instead on a new manner that would absorb him for the next four or five years. He opted for short, often minimal lines, arranged in loosely structured patterns, often employing parallelism, repetition (sometimes with internal variation), exclamations, unanswered questions, and ellipses; the resulting short poems were arranged in thematically grouped sequences he called suites. By contrast, the eighteen poems of the Gypsy Ballads are all written in the traditional octosyllabic (eight syllables per line) ballad meter, whose origins go back at least as far as the fourteenth century and which had been perpetuated in a continuous oral tradition down to García Lorca's times.


García Lorca's famous contemporaries include:

Luis Buñuel (1900–1983): One of the most influential film directors of the twentieth century, Buñuel was a close friend of García Lorca and surrealist painter Salvador Dalí.

Ricardo García López (1890–1984): Known best by his pseudonym, K-Hito, López was a cartoonist, humorist, magazine publisher, and bullfighting critic closely associated with the Generation of 1927.

Felipe Alfau (1902–1999): Although associated with Spanish poets like García Lorca, Alfau wrote in English. His work is seen as a forerunner to postmodernist writers such as Vladimir Nabokov and Thomas Pynchon.

Miguel Hernández (1910–1942): Spanish poet of modest upbringing, Hernández was arrested after the Spanish Civil War, eventually dying of tuberculosis in a jail cell at the age of thirty-two. He wrote extensively while in prison, and even scrawled his last poem on his cell wall as he lay dying: “Goodbye, brothers, comrades, friends: let me take my leave of the sun and the fields.”

Francisco Franco (1892–1975): Leader of the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War, Franco would go on to become the dictator of Spain until his death nearly forty years later.

García Lorca, along with the other members of the Generation of 1927, played an influential role bridging the gap between classical Spanish literary tradition and the European avant-gardes that came after him.

Works in Critical Context

It has been argued that García Lorca's untimely death at the hands of a firing squad, some five weeks after the outbreak of civil war, transformed him into a martyr figure for antifascists from all around Europe. Be this as it may, his enduring and increasing popularity and the richness and profundity of his works show that his status as a modern classic has a sound foundation.

The Gypsy Ballads García Lorca's The Gypsy Ballads (1928) is widely regarded as a masterpiece of Spanish poetry. In this volume, composed of eighteen poems written between 1924 and 1927, García Lorca incorporated images of Gypsy village life with traditional ballad forms to create verse both thematically accessible and lyrically complex. Utilizing such dramatic elements as action, characterization, and dialogue, García Lorca created what Londre described as “symbolist dramas in miniature.” Since its publication, The Gypsy Ballads has been popular in Spanish-speaking countries worldwide due to its focus on common people and its use of idiomatic language. C. M. Bowra explained: “[The Gypsy Ballads] is a book which has a special place in our time because it shows not only that the outlook of a highly civilized poet is in many ways that of the simplest men and women, but that the new devices which have been invented to express a modern sensibility are not restricted to urban and sophisticated subjects.” Although The Gypsy Ballads brought García Lorca widespread acclaim, it also led both readers and critics to categorize him as a “gypsy poet,” a label García Lorca would repudiate throughout his life: “Gypsies are a theme. Nothing more. I would be the same poet if I wrote about sewing needles or hydraulic landscapes. Besides, the gypsy myth makes me sound like an uncultured, uneducated, primitive poet, which …I am not,” he once explained.

Responses to Literature

  1. García Lorca has been called “the poet of the Gypsies.” Citing specific examples from his work, describe the aspects of García Lorca's writing that earned him that label.
  2. Choose one of García Lorca's plays and analyze the themes, beliefs, and customs contained within. What can the play tell you about Spanish culture? What can the play tell you about García Lorca's political beliefs and the political climate of Spain in the 1920s and 1930s?
  3. García Lorca was associated with the symbolist movement. Identify and discuss the symbolist elements of García Lorca's writings.
  4. The chorus in Greek tragedies is echoed in García Lorca's Blood Wedding. Research the ancient Greek chorus and compare it with García Lorca's chorus in the play. Which elements are the same? Which are different?


García Lorca's so-called rural trilogy of plays—Blood Wedding, Yerma, The House of Bernarda Alba—all touched upon death and rebellion against society's restrictions, often featuring women as both protagonists and antagonists, always with tragic results. Similar dramatic works include:

Antigone, (fifth century bce), a play by Sophocles. This work, an ancient Greek tragedy, follows the moral dilemma of a woman who acts against the will of the state, which has declared her deceased brother not be granted a funeral.

A Doll's House (1879), a play by Henrik Ibsen. Highly controversial when first written and performed, this work catapulted Ibsen to international fame (and infamy) on the strength of its sharp criticism of the traditional roles of men and women in the nineteenth century and, in particular, the institution of marriage.

Pygmalion (1913), a play by George Bernard Shaw. Shaw transforms an ancient myth into a modern story about a professor who turns a Cockney flower girl into a proper society lady.

A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), a play by Tennessee Williams. Known for his taut portraits of families in crisis, this work is perhaps Williams's best-known work—a drama of elemental passions in which a vibrant couple is challenged by the arrival and decline of an unstable heroine.



Adams, Mildred. García Lorca: Playwright and Poet. New York: G. Braziller, 1977.

Allen, Rupert C. The Symbolic World of García Lorca. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1972.

Anderson, Andrew A. Lorca's Late Poetry: A Critical Study. Leeds, U.K.: Francis Cairns, 1990.

Byrd, Suzanne Wade. García Lorca, La Barraca, and the Spanish National Theater. New York: Abra, 1975.

Cavanaugh, Cecelia J. Lorca's Drawings and Poems: Forming the Eye of the Reader. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1995.

Colecchia, Francesca, ed. García Lorca: A Selectively Annotated Bibliography of Criticism. New York: Garland, 1979.

Gibson, Ian. The Assassination of Federico García Lorca. London: W. H. Allen, 1979.

Galens, David M., ed. “The House of Bernarda Alba.” In Drama for Students. Vol. 4. Detroit: Gale, 1998.

Hacht, Anne Marie, ed. “Gacela of the Dark Death.” In Poetry for Students. Vol. 20. Detroit: Gale, 2004.

LaBlanc, Michael L., ed. “Blood Wedding.” In Drama for Students. Vol. 10. Detroit: Gale, 2001.

Morris, C. Brian. Son of Andalusia: The Lyrical Landscapes of Federico García Lorca. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1997.

Perna, Michael L., ed. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 108: Twentieth-Century Spanish Poets. First Series. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Detroit: Gale, 1991.

Pollin, Alice M., and Philip H. Smith, eds. A Concordance to the Plays and Poems of Federico García Lorca. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1975.

Soufas, C. Christopher. Audience and Authority in the Modernist Theater of Federico García Lorca. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama, 1996.

Federico García Lorca

views updated May 29 2018

Federico García Lorca

The poetry of the Spanish author Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) is marked by brilliance, originality, and dramatic flair. His plays are among the best examples of 20th-century poetic drama.

In the 20th century Federico García Lorca, Miguel de Unamuno, and José Ortega y Gassett are perhaps the Spaniards most widely known in international circles, Lorca for his poetry and the dramatic circumstances of his death, the other two for their philosophical and political ideas. In Spain, Lorca was a member of the Generation of 1927, largely a group of outstanding poets (Jorge Guillén, Pedro Salinas, and Rafael Alberti, among others). Lorca's generation, which followed Unamuno's famous Generation of 1898, dominated Spanish letters during the decade prior to the Spanish Civil War.

Federico García Lorca was born in Fuentevaqueros, a village near Granada, on June 5, 1898. His father, Don Federico García, was a respected and prosperous landowner; his mother was Vicenta Lorca, from whom the poet said he received his intelligence and artistic inclinations. (Thus by Spanish custom he should be called by his patronym, García, but he himself preferred to be called Lorca.) The family moved to Granada in 1909, and Lorca attended the schools there, graduating from secondary school in 1914.

After attending the University of Granada for a time, Lorca went to Madrid in 1919 and entered the famous Residencia de Estudiantes to continue his university work. The Residencia, or living quarters, was a center of liberal activity in generally conservative Spain. Young Lorca was much more in his element in metropolitan Madrid than in provincial Granada, and he soon joined the radical young groups of students, exploring novel ideas and spending much time in the cafés. He stayed in the Residencia (except for summers) until 1928, without ever choosing a course of study.

In the Residencia about 1921 Lorca met the painter Salvador Dali, then also a student, and the two formed a personal and artistic attachment. Dali later emphasized the strong physical presence of Lorca's personality, his dominance, charm, and magnetism. Dali's sister, on the contrary, found Lorca short, swarthy, and somewhat ungainly— almost homely. The attachment to Dali proved to be a crucial personal problem for Lorca, and it was not settled until Lorca left Spain in 1929.

Early Works

Lorca's first publication was Impresiones y paisajes, a description of an Andalusian trip in 1918. In 1920, after meeting Gregorio Martínez Sierra in Madrid, he staged an insignificant dramatic piece. His first poetic publication was Libro de poemas (1921), influenced by Juan Ramón Jiménez, Rubén Darío, and others. During the early 1920s Lorca wrote the poems for his first important book, Canciones, which was published in 1927. Canciones reveals the two strong influences on Lorca's poetic formation: the traditional and the vanguard. Of the traditional he utilized the ballad and other popular forms and the Andalusian themes; of the vanguard (called ultraism in Spain) he developed the tendency toward novel and surprising metaphor and a syntax without normal connecting and relating words.

In 1928, during his years of intense personal crisis and feverish literary activity, Lorca published his Romancero gitano (Gypsy Ballads), the book which gave him his international reputation. The Gypsy Ballads is concerned with the omnipresence of the sexual instincts, forever threatened by repression but breaking out and often leading to death. Lorca chose the gypsy as a character because the gypsy represents the natural man, whose instincts and vital passions are not repressed by moral and cultural training. Lorca's gypsies are therefore usually in conflict with their society, which seems to be persecuting them. In Spain the Gypsy Ballads was viewed as a daring book, for most of the 18 ballads explore the total range of sexuality, normal and abnormal. The most popular ballad graphically describes a normal sexual experience, but others concern incest, homosexuality, and the sexual awakening in a nun.

In form the Gypsy Ballads comprises traditional ballads, characterized by the swinging rhythms associated with this form. Lorca develops many of them in a dramatic context, with an interplay of character and situation, at times even including himself. Above all, Lorca reveals in this book his extraordinary talent for creating striking and memorable metaphors. Although only a few literary men understood the poet's artistic intent, great numbers of people read the book and memorized the most striking stanzas. This book in fact made Lorca something of a celebrity as well as a recognized poet.

"Poet in New York"

In 1929 Lorca, still suffering from serious emotional problems, arrived in New York and settled in a dormitory at Columbia University. During his year in New York and nearby Vermont, Lorca wrote the powerful Poeta en Nueva York (Poet in New York), a book of poems so revolutionary he did not dare to publish it during his lifetime. Poet in New York has a double theme: the poet's personal struggles with himself and his general struggle with the great city and its masses. On the streets of New York and in rural Vermont, the poet battles with his homosexuality, lonliness, and suicidal tendencies, finally recovering his equilibrium. He depicts the depersonalizing effects of mass living in the city. His resolution of the two themes is contained in two odes. His "Ode to Rome" challenges the Christian Church to reform itself and reach out to the masses; his "Ode to Walt Whitman" is the poet's ringing demand for absolute personal freedom.

Career as a Playwright

During the 1920s Lorca dedicated himself to poetry, but in the 1930s he devoted his energies to the drama. Soon after he returned to Spain in 1930, the Second Republic was created, ushering in a period of intense cultural activity. Lorca himself became one of the directors of La Barraca, a traveling theatrical group responsible for presenting plays (usually of earlier periods) in the provincial towns. At the same time Lorca developed his own plays. While in New York he had written Así que pasen cinco años, a surrealist piece; in 1930 he had a successful premiere of La zapatera prodigiosa, a sparkling play of traditional Andalusian theme.

Lorca's first resounding dramatic success was Bodas de sangre (Blood Wedding), premiered in 1933, a powerful poetic drama in which the vital passions ride roughshod over established social conventions. In 1934 his Yerma, another poetic drama, which explores the thwarting of the maternal instinct, enjoyed a long run in Madrid. In 1935 he saw the premiere of Doña Rosita la soltera, a tender play which traces the fading of a passionate young woman into the barrenness of spinsterhood. Finally in 1936 he wrote La casa de Bernarda Alba (The House of Bernarda Alba), a realistic drama of social protest, not staged until 1945. Of these plays, Bodas de sangre, Yerma, and La casa de Bernarda Alba are still living dramas, staged especially by college theaters.

In the 1930s Lorca's poetic production was diminished but distinguished by high quality. His Diván del Tamarit, written about 1931 but not published until 1936, presents the poet's desperate state of loneliness because of a lost love. His long poem Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías (Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter), carefully orchestrated in four sections, describes the bullfighter killed in the ring as a modern existential hero. His last poems, Sonetos del amor oscuro, were published only partially, because of their overt homosexual theme.

In 1936, at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, Lorca went home to Granada. He was taken into custody by the Nationalist forces controlling the town, perhaps because of his personal connections, perhaps because of his known sympathies for the Republican cause. In the terrible confusion reigning, even his friends in the Falange failed to save him, and he was shot on the morning of Aug. 19, 1936. The complete circumstances surrounding his death remain a mystery.

Further Reading

Lorca's complete works are available in Spanish in a single-volume edition; the most extensive biography about him is also in Spanish. Four studies in English which treat the poet's life and works are Arturo Barea, Lorca: The Poet and His People (trans. 1944), which concentrates on Lorca's Andalusian background; Edwin Honig, García Lorca (1944; rev. ed. 1963), a traditional study which emphasizes Lorca's poetry; Roy Campbell, Lorca: An Appreciation of His Poetry (1952), which contains good translations as well as criticism of the poetry; and Carl W. Cobb, Federico García Lorca (1967), which summarizes Lorca's career, stressing the importance of his homosexuality in relation to the iconoclasm in his work. □

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Federico Garcia Lorca

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Federico Garcia Lorca