Analyzia of Federico García Lorca’s Use of Myth in Poems from the Romancero Gitano

June 22, 2022 by Essay Writer

To sufficiently understand Federico García Lorca’s poetry, the use of the stylistic devices, allusions to the Bible and mythology, it would be advisable to focus on the poet’s early life, his poetic inspirations, his childhood dreams, his youthful passions and the surroundings he grew up in. Federico was born in Fuente Vaqueros, the small Andalusian town near Granada on June 5th, 1898, right in the middle of the Spanish-American War that enormously influenced Spanish national identity. Lorca was a fortunate child coming from a wealthy family. His father possessed many lands in southern Spain, therefore since Federico was a small boy, he had close relationships with house servants, which made him acquire both, knowledge and the affection for peasant life.

Nevertheless, his early and first passions included the music, as it was present in the house thanks to his parents, who also shared the passion for the instruments. Federico’s father Federico García Rodríguez played the guitar, while his mother Vicenta Lorca Romero played professionally the piano. The small boy followed the example of his mother’s passion. As Stainton points out, Federico dreamt to become the pianist in the future, dedicating a lot of his time to play for his friends and the family, the compositions from the popular ones to those classics composed by Beethoven.

His plans, however, did not come into effect. Everything changed once he joined one of the most prestigious and well-known around the world school in Madrid, ‘Residencia de Estudiantes’ in 1920. It was the birthplace of many influential Spanish artists such as Salvador Dalí or Luis Buñuel. It was there, where many intellectuals and scientists like Elbert Einstein, Marie Curie-Sklodowska or Miguel de Unamuno arrived as privileged guests or speakers. The active life and the unique experience in the residency not only influenced Federico’s beliefs but also determined the artist’s sexual orientation developing his close relationship with Salvador Dalí.

During that period, he earned many significant friends at the Residency, as well as outside. One of the most influential characters in his life was Manuel de Falla, 20-years older man who similarly to Lorca was captivated with the local culture of Andalusian gypsies and the Andalusian music. Manuel de Falla was the one who proposed to Lorca attending the festival of cante jondo in Granada. In other words, the ‘deep song’, that refers to the life of Andalusian Gypsies, combined with the traditional flamenco dance, a quintessence of southern Spain.

Lorca’s youthful years were filled with the art, the music, as well as the strong Castilian identity within Spain after losing the Spanish colonies during the American war. In his work, the poet wanted to break with the conviction of Castilia remaining the principal region in the country. Federico wanted to highlight the importance of Andalusian culture mixing it with the surrealism, the myth and the religion. In Romancero gitano published in 1928, he combines these elements and creates, according to Ian Gibson ‘the most widely read, most often recited, most studied and most celebrated book of poems in the whole of Spanish literature’.

Another key thing to remember is the fact that Federico was inspired by the motif used in the past by the English poet, writing in Romanticism, John Keats, to preserve the art. In one of the poems ‘Preciosa y el Aire’ Federico gives his characters the attributes of mythological gods. He personifies the title wind, turning it into ‘fierce Boreas’, the god of the north wind. Moreover, the poem depicts the traditional, ancient Greek theme of a female being pursued by a male character usually depicted nakedly, with beast-face features, with some body parts, especially ears, legs and a tail of a horse, with the aim to seduce or abuse the nymph. The characterization could suggest the allusion to the ancient Satyr. The references that the author uses serve to mark the poem and at the same time transform it from the ’transient and every-day into eternal art.’ By intentionally using ancient and classic motifs and symbols Federico created work that is timeless.

There is a visible to the naked eye the resemblance between ‘Preciosa y el Aire’ and the classic myth of Apollo and Daphne. The Greek god, Apollo, shot by the gold arrow of love fell in love entirely with Daphne, the nymph that he had only just seen. Because of the force of the feeling, Apollo immediately pursued the goddess. As a result of desperation and no possibility to flee, Daphne requested help from her father Peneus, the god of the river. He listened to her despair and decided to rescue the daughter by turning her into the laurel tree, nowadays the symbol of accomplishment. Presently, the evergreen laurel tree is Apollo’s symbol of victory and the reason why winners of competitions are gifted with it. What is more, this is not the only one parallel with the mythology in ‘Preciosa y el Aire’. As mentioned above Lorca was employing the same theme of eternal art as Keats, the author of the Ode on a Grecian Urn. That method ‘highlights both, breadth of Lorca’s culture and the density of his poem.’

In the poem author describes the Grecian Urn as, ‘Sylvan historian, who canst thus express; A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme’. Put differently, the author suggests that the Urn tells the story in a better way than himself. In the poem, the Urn represents 3 separate scenes. The author stands in front of it in the museum and immerses himself into the life that characters from those pictures lead. At the end of the first stanza, the speaker asks: ‘What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?’.

The instruments illustrate that the characters are enjoying the time, that everyone looks content. Interestingly, we find the use of the same instruments ‘pandero’ – a tambourine and ‘gaita’-flute in ‘Preciosa y el Aire’. Likewise, in that instance, the use of music instruments indicates something good. The first two verses of the first stanza describe Preciosa in the act of playing: ‘Su luna de pergamino| Preciosa tocando viene’, which by considering the same shape of the moon and the tambourine leads us to the conclusion that the girl is playing the ‘parchment moon’, in different words, a tambourine. The use of the topic of the moon is frequently present in Lorca’s poetry. Traditionally, it is a representation of the cycle, of the day and the night. However, as Piotrowska highlights, by using the theme 218 times the author refers to the moon’s significance by many different meanings.

The moon could also serve as a simple representation of the night. At the end of the first stanza, there is a fragment ‘Mira a la niña tocando una dulce gaita ausende’, that refers to the silent and peaceful time in the forest, where there is no one around and where the gypsy girl plays the flute. Even though we know that the melody is absent, the adjective ‘sweet’ brings the reader a sense of happiness and calmness. The same motif of sweet and silent music is used in Keats’s Ode where he writes that ’Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.’ Put differently, the music that the audience perceives in both poems is the imagined sound of cheerfulness.

As one of the online interpretations of Keats’s poem suggests that the speaker probably prefers the fantasy world to the physical one.[footnoteRef:12] The speaker calls the ‘soft plays’ to carry on playing, however, he is the one who imagines it. The ambiguity of the speaker is evident. He considers himself as the musician and the audience, meaning that, even though he created the poem, he also felt like the participant of events. Similarly, Federico’s fascination with Keats’s poetry could suggest the resemblance to the style and it could suggest the depiction of himself as one of the principal characters, Gypsies. In Lorca’s ‘Preciosa y el aire’ at one point, the personified wind arose and started to pursue the girl. Then, she drops the tambourine and runs without stopping, ‘Preciosa tira el pandero y corre sin detenerse’. When the jeopardy appears, the music ceases, the girl starts to run away to protect herself from the ‘viento verde’. Color green as commonly interpreted refers to the hope, nature, to the new life, to the Spring.

However, Federico’s use of green here points to the phrase viejo verde meaning ‘a dirty old man’. He points out the wind’s brutality and cruelty by describing him as the Satyr with ‘lenguas relucientes’ and ‘con una espada caliente’ that clearly refers to the wind as to the man in the peak of the sexual arousal. That traditional, ancient motif not only magnifies Federico’s knowledge and interest in mythology, but in addition gives the poem the profusion of images, and stylistic devices, making the poem able to influence the broader audience.

In one of the next piece of poetry from Romancero gitano, ‘Romance de la Guardia Civil Española’[footnoteRef:13] the deed of using the myth and symbols is present again. Already, in the first lines of the poem, the author uses a color black, that triggers a sensation of the danger, of something dreadful going to happen. By providing the metaphors like ‘alma de charol’, ‘del plomo las calaveras’ and epithets like ‘caballos negros’ or ‘herraduras son negras’, Federico introduces the surroundings and the atmosphere of fear. He gradually raises the tension. He describes the Guardia Civil as the army that is indifferent, that does not cry, ‘por eso no llora’. The poem represents the entry of Guardia Civil into Andalusian town, Jerez de la Frontera.

The armed men, riding black horses, wearing black cloaks enter the town quietly, giving the impression of the ‘calm before the storm’.’Pasan si quieren pasar‘ indicates the army’s strength and power. The Civil Guard had been always considered as the danger and hazard for Andalusian gypsies, who inhabited a mentioned, Spanish town. The use of ‘black horses’ by Federico brings us the motif of the ancient Satyr, by comparing the army to the horses. As they are coming into the town sitting on the animals, it could significate that their legs are horses’ legs. Similarly, the Satyr is described as the ‘horse-legged’ person. They are after the gypsies, that, according to Andrew Debicki ‘clearly presents the conflict between two worlds, the sphere of threat, danger and peril to the world of nature, the music and magic.’

The difference in those two worlds is presented affecting our sense of vision. The pumpkin, the cherry, the cinnamon, warm color associated with the pleasure, safeness of the household, appear to describe the colors of Jerez de la Frontera during the Christmas Eve. That contrasts with the Civil Guard, that we envisage as color black, the color of death. The horse itself is a symbol of which analysis is not clear. The animal of power, which attributes were used to depict the Satyrs, could symbolize the death. In that instance, the Guardia Civil represents the entry of death into the gypsy town during one of the most important Catholic holidays.

There is ’La Virgen’ and ’San Jose’ that appear in the area, confirming the Catholicism of the Gypsy world. However, the roosters crow announce that the danger is coming. ‘El viento vuelve desnudo‘, the ’naked wind’, the mythic symbol of the god Boreas, like in the previous poem ‘Preciosa y el Aire ‘ appears pursuing the Gypsies. Federico feminizes the town, Jerez de la Frontera. As he uses the apostrophe to personify the town, ’İOh ciudad de los gitanos!’, he compares the town to the Gypsy girl. There is an apparent resemblance between the mythic motif and the poem. Moreover, at the end of the poem, Lorca makes the mention of the moon again. Whilst the Civil guard is escaping the town, the moon goes down. There is almost a morning and the dangerous is gone. ’Juego de luna y la arena’ gives the impression that even though the moon and the Civil Guard are left, if we take into consideration the motif of the moon as a continuous cycle, the fact it disappeared could only just mean it is going to come back, with another night.

Undoubtedly Federico García Lorca’s ‘Romancero Gitano’ is reach in the frequent use of many stylistic devices, mythic deities, Biblical characters, and inspirations of other poets and styles. In his masterpiece, Federico breaks with the standard form, combines diverse methods and mixes styles. His courageous approach to the art, friends he acquired during his life, the childhood he lived through shaped his beliefs and the work he created. He had a relish for creating that original piece of work, that became famous worldwide. Lorca’s effective use of myth, transformes his work into something timeless. By references to the ancient and traditional elements that are common for everyone in every generation, he uses the trick to establish his work as the lasting and ever-changing one. Both presented poems play the big part of ‘Romancero Gitano’ by being akin to the themes from mythology. The complete work is broad of similarities and direct links to the Ancient world, which makes us discover both, the Gypsy, magical world in Andalusia and the ancient, traditional mythic world, highlighting Lorca’s inventive genius.

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