Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Lament of the Guitar

Picasso's Old Guitarist, 1903-04
Art Institute of Chicago

In “The Guitar” García Lorca evokes the experience in hearing the sound of the guitar as a wail (llanto). This is an allusion to the plaintive wailing heard in flamenco singing. The guitar’s lament is repetitious. Three times Lorca writes, “It is impossible to silence it.” The sound spirals, gaining force so that by dawn, the sound is sufficient to break the wine cups. The Flamenco guitarists and dancers that Lorca knew as friends often played, sang and danced until daybreak.

For what does the guitar wail? “It weeps for/ things far away,” for Andalusia and the “sand of the warm south/asking for white camellias.”

Lorca's plaintive tone suggests the guitar weeping for things lost and opportunities missed. “It weeps arrow without target/evening without morning.” 

Finally, the guitar wails and weeps out of grief for “The first dead bird/upon the branch...”

“Oh, guitar!/ Heart grievously wounded/ by five swords.” The body of a guitar has a heart shape which is wounded by the five fingers of the guitarist. The metaphor may draw on another image familiar to the Spanish and found on the wall of virtually every home in Andalusia: the Sacred Heart of Jesus, wounded by the grief of the world.

About twenty years ago I asked my advanced level Spanish students to read and discuss Lorca's poem. They noted the concrete nature and universality of his metaphors; everyone has seen and/or touched a guitar, heard Flamenco music, felt sorrow, and experienced the loss of childlike innocence that grief brings. This quality characterizes Lorca's work, and indeed, the work of all great poets. People must be able to identify with the experience and the poem must take them back to a time and place when they had a similar experience. Good poetry evokes emotions and recalls moments and impressions.

This week I began to read some of my dream journals. I keep a record of my dreams and have about 16 journals. I also often jot down a poem.  The poem that follows was written near the time when the class discussed Lorca's The Guitarra.

by Alice C. Linsley

The first to die
deserves a tribute:
the first bird dead on the branch
or in the garden
fallen on the shaded path.

My neighbor farms a field
where the crows come to eat his corn.
One was found dead,
his black feathers scattered
by the wind.

Where did the first bird die?
There must have been a first dead bird.
It is the way of life to die
and Life notes the dying sparrow
though blank eyes receive no tribute.

Though familiar with being alone,
I grieve dying alone.
A he and she bird pair
must once have died together.
A shared dying deserves a different tribute.

Other poems by Alice C. Linsley

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