From Lorca: A Dream of Life
He thought of himself as a prodigy. His name, Salvador Dali Domenech, meant that he was destined, he said, to be the “savior” of contemporary painting. Born May I3, I904, exactly nine months and nine days after the death of his two-year-old brother, Salvador, for whom he was named, Dali produced his first oil painting at the age of six. At fourteen he took part in his first official art exhibition, for which he received glowing reviews in the local press and the more lucrative financial encouragement of a rich family friend who bought two of his paintings. At sixteen he wrote his first novel. By the time he moved to Madrid in I922 at age eighteen, Salvador Dali was known in his native Catalunya as an artist of formidable potential.
In Madrid he settled into the Residencia and began taking classes at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts. Although his father expected him to receive a teaching degree from the institution and then become a drawing instructor, Dali had other ideas. Two years earlier he had confided to his diary that he planned to work “like mad” at the Academy for three years and then, “by sacrificing myself and submitting to truth, I will win the prize to study for four years in Rome; and coming back from Rome, I’ll be a genius, and the world will admire me. Perhaps I’ll be despised and misunderstood, but I’ll be a genius, a great genius, I am sure of it.”
At the Residencia, Dali sketched and painted incessantly. Drawings littered the floor of his roomsheets of paper covered with bold images inspired by futurism and fauvism, and above all by cubism, whose clean geometrical lines and objectivity Dali sought to emulate. He revered his compatriot Pablo Picasso.
He said later that during this period of his life freedom mattered less to him than his work, to such an extent that he would have welcomed confinement in a prison cell. But although content to-renounce the world, he did not want the world to renounce him. One of his chief aims in life was to be found fascinating, and he was willing to do almost anything to succeed. To attract attention to himself in high school he had leapt from tall staircases in front of classmates and had feigned affection for a young woman who was in love with him. He enjoyed deluding her. “In a short time I’ve made great advances along the path of farce and deceit,” he wrote in his diary, noting his pleasure at being “a great actor in the even greater comedy that is life, the farcical life of our society.” In truth, Salvador Dali was devoted to one person alone. “I am madly in love with myself,” he said.
Everything Dali did and said-his velvet coats and broad-brimmed hats, his manic pursuit of solitude, his brashly avant-garde work-was calculated to provoke admiration. When Lorca first set eyes on the painter, he had to disguise his amazement at Dali’s attire. The artist, in turn, was captivated by Lorca. He sensed at once that the olive-skinned Andalusian was somehow distinct from others at the Residencia. During their first meeting, Dali later recalled, “the poetic phenomenon in its entirety and `in the raw suddenly appeared before me in flesh and blood.” As their friendship grew, Dali became so smitten by Lorca’s poetic “fires” that he had to work consciously to “extinguish” them with his own prosaic talk so as not to fall under the poet’s sway.
Still, he found Lorca difficult to resist. Soon after their first encounter, the painter cut his hair, clipped his sideburns, and bought a sports suit so that he could better fit into Lorca’s crowd. He gave Lorca one of his paintings and sketched his portrait sitting in a cafe. The two engaged in long discussions about literature, art, and aesthetics, often talking until dawn. At times they disagreed violently. But they always treated each other with sincerity, and Dali came to rely on Lorca’s superior knowledge of such matters as music. Once, at a concert, he inquired, “Should I be liking this?” Yes, Lorca said, and Dali promptly burst into wild applause.
In many ways Lorca’s antithesis, Dali was so shy -despite his flamboyant appearance-as to be “almost mute,” while Lorca was vigorous and outgoing, a font of laughter and music. Whenever Lorca took Dali to a tertulia, the painter refrained from talking. Lorca reproached him for his reserve and devised a scheme for breaking the ice at such gatherings. “I’ll say you’re a great painter and that you’re here working,” he told Dali.
But when silence descended in the midst of the next tertulia, Dali panicked. Before Lorca could say anything, he blurted, “I’m also a very interesting painter.”
On several occasions Lorca took Dali to dinner at the home of Residencia director, Alberto Jimenez Fraud. As usual, Lorca talked and laughed through the evening, while Dali kept to himself. When he did speak, it was with a deep, nervous voice and a heavy Catalan accent He smiled rather than laughed, a furtive smile that exposed a row of tiny, sharp teeth. Jimenez Fraud’s wife, Natalia, thought the artist “nothing more than Lorca’s echo.”
As the months wore on, Dali shed his inhibitions. Shortly before the end of the spring 1923 term, he took part in a student protest at the Academy of Fine Arts and was expelled from school. Unrepentant, he went home to Catalunya, where he immediately took part in an illegal political demonstration and was sent to jail for a month. In prison, he bragged, “We drank lousy local champagne every evening.”
Hours after returning to Madrid that fall, Lorca read his ballads to a group of friends and admirers who crowded into his Residencia room to welcome him back to the capital. His face darkened by the summer sun, a stray lock of black hair on his forehead, Lorca leaned back on his bed and joyfully declaimed his Gypsy poems. Among his listeners was Rafael Alberti, a twenty-one-year-old painter and poet from the Andalusian city of Cadiz, who thought Lorca looked like a peasant from the south.
That evening Lorca and Alberti dined together and afterward strolled through the Residencia gardens. There, Lorca launched into a second, impromptu recital of his new poems. “Green oh how I love you green,” he intoned dramatically in the darkness. Alberti was struck by his warmth and spontaneity. At one point Lorca turned to Alberti and impulsively asked the handsome young poet to create a painting, one with a likeness of the Virgin beside a stream, and the legend “Apparition of Our Lady of Beautiful Love to the poet Federico Garcia Lorca.” Alberti was flattered. By the time the two parted, well after midnight, a soft rain had begun to fall. “Goodbye, cousin,” Lorca said.
A few days later Alberti returned to the Residencia bearing the painting Lorca had requested, as well as a sonnet, “To Federico Garcia Lorca, Poet of Granada.” Lorca waved his hands effusively and told Alberti, “you’ve got two things going for you as a poet: a great memory and the fact that you’re Andalusian.”
Within a year of meeting Lorca, Alberti admitted to him that he felt like his “younger brother,” and he suggested they stay in close touch with each other by letter. He became a regular visitor at the Residencia-one of dozens of young men pulled irresistibly into Lorca’s orbit.
In Madrid, Lorca continued to work on his ballad series. His new roommate at the Residencia, Jose Antonio Rubio Sacristan, a law student, remembered that one winter night Lorca lay in bed with the covers pulled up to his neck and his fingers poking out from the blankets, scribbling onto a sheet of paper. The window was open-it was thought admirable at the Residencia to endure extremes of cold and heat-but despite the chill, Lorca pushed on, scratching out lines, turning the paper sideways to add stanzas, placing wavy marks beside passages he intended to revise. Occasionally he paused to recite a line of verse to Sacristan, who thought Lorca read with “an ardor capable of melting the snows.” When at last he had completed a draft that satisfied him, Lorca stopped writing.
Drawn from the Old Testament story of Thamar and Amnon, the poem told of a brother who rapes his sister. Because the Gypsies of Andalusia themselves sang the story of Thamar and Amnon, Lorca considered his ballad “Gypsy-Jewish.” But his version of the story owed less to the Bible than to traditional Spanish ballads and to plays by Tirso de Molina and Calder6n. In contrast to the straightforward narrative of the Old Testament, Lorca imbued his “Thamar and Amnon” with powerful erotic imagery, relying on metaphor to convey the story’s darkest truths:
Now he takes her by the hair,
now he tears her underthings.
Warm corals drawing little creeks
across a map of blonde.
The poem’s subject matter betrayed Lorca’s growing fascination with sexual instinct. Among those who later praised the work was Salvador Dali, who told Lorca it was “the best” of his Gypsy ballads. The painter especially admired the poem’s “chunks of incest.”
Dali was back at the Residencia that year. In the wake of his expulsion from Madrid’s Academy of Fine Arts in I923, and his subsequent imprisonment in Catalunya, he had shed his timorous ways and embraced the avant-garde with maniacal zeal. He dared others to dispute his passion for the new.
Lorca and fellow residents rallied to Dali’s cause. They proclaimed anything modern good-automobiles, telephones, airplanes, radio. Luis Bunuel bought a gramophone and a stack of American records. Lorca, Dali, and others spent hours in Bunuel’s room listening to jazz while sipping rum grog, a drink strictly against house rules. They attended films by such new stars as Buster Keaton, and at the Residencia they practiced their own brand of goofball humor.
Late in the afternoon they often spilled into Lorca’s room to drink tea, read, talk, and smoke. Lorca dubbed these improvised gatherings “meetings of the desperation of tea.” The evenings typically lasted until midnight and culminated in a reading from some book. As a rule, Lorca reserved the final passage for himself; when he spotted a line that moved him, he stopped to repeat it. Once, after reading a scene in which a character rolled about on the floor, he and former roommate Pepin Bello suddenly dropped to the floor, laughing, and began to roll around together.
Dozens of pranks, jokes, antics, and games evolved. Lorca hosted mass poetry-writing sessions in his room, during which he and his friends invented four-line nonsense poems called “anaglyphs.” “Tea,/ tea,/ hen/ and Teotocopuli,” read one. Someone came up with the idea of a “fart meter”: a wooden box with a hole, a candle, and a piece of string. Lorca and his friends held private tournaments to see who could expel the most wind. According to Rafael Alberti, who sometimes participated in these competitions, “It took a very strong fart to make the flame swell high enough to light the string.”
With Luis Bunuel, Lorca staged innumerable practical jokes. They once coated their faces with rice powder, donned bogus nuns’ habits, and boarded a city tram, where they cast lascivious glances at their neighbors and rubbed obscenely against male passengers. One drunken evening Bunuel inaugurated the “Order of Toledo,” an informal fraternity whose primary purpose was to make inebriated excursions to the city of Toledo, two hours south of Madrid by train. Lorca was among the founding members; Dali, Bello, and Alberti eventually joined the Order. In Toledo, the group’s ritual activities included kissing the ground and climbing the cathedral bell tower, then wrapping themselves in bedsheets and wandering the streets, drunk, all night long.
As perpetrators of the outlandish, Lorca, Bunuel, Dali, and Bello became the nominal leaders of the Residencia avant-garde. Of the four, Bello was often the most ingenious. Bunuel called him a “surrealist at heart”; Lorca compared him to El Greco. Lifting a phrase from his medical studies, Bello coined the term “putrefaction” to refer to anything outmoded, sacred, or anachronistic-anything, in short, that blocked the onset of modernity. He and his friends immediately began using the word as a label for people and things that offended them. Dali told Bello that at heart “putrefaction” meant “EMOTION. And therefore it’s inseparable from human nature.” In Dali’s hierarchy, the pope was “putrefaction”; so was the current Spanish king, the artist Henri Rousseau, and a whole raft of critics, books, paintings, and fashions.
Together with Lorca, Dali began planning a book of putrefactions, to which Lorca was to contribute prose entries and Dali illustrations. The artist turned out a number of sketches for the book-whimsical drawings of buffoons reminiscent of the grotesque caricatures Lorca had begun producing two years earlier in Granada. But Lorca reneged on his end of the bargain and never drafted so much as a prologue. To Dali’s annoyance, the project died. Yet the friendship prospered.
The two men wandered Madrid together. They gazed at paintings by Velazquez and Raphael in the Prado and listened to jazz in cafes. At the Residencia they once leaned out of a bedroom window and waved white handkerchiefs to passersby while shouting “Heeeelp! Lost at sea!” Forever low on cash, they schemed for ways to supplement their allowances from home. According to Lorca, who may have been lying (he “lied a lot and with pleasure,” recalled Pepin Bello), he and Dali once sold a mediocre painting to an unsuspecting couple from South America. The two friends celebrated the deed by hiring a pair of taxis to take them home to the Residencia. As they sat together in the first taxi, puffing on Havana cigars, the second car followed behind, empty. Lorca later explained that the second taxi was a taxi de respeto-a car hired exclusively for the sake of “respect.” The idea, he added, quickly became a fad among rich young men in Madrid.
By the spring of 1925, he and Dali were nearconstant companions. They made several weekend excursions to Toledo, and in March they took a trip to the mountains north of Madrid. Each found in the other a reflection of his own beliefs and ambition and, most of all, talent. There was an element of idolatry to their friendship, of mutual awe, but also, increasingly, of love. They understood each other in ways no one else did or could, and as time wore on, they came to need one another with growing urgency.
That spring Dali invited Lorca to spend Easter week in Catalunya with his family. Lorca begged his parents to let him make the trip. He outlined the various reasons why he had to go: the distinction and wealth of the Dali family, the fact that Dali’s sister, Ana Maria, was “one of those girls who is so beautiful she drives you crazy.” Clearly, he thought that his parents might relent if they detected a love interest. Furthermore, the visit would give him time to work on at least two new plays. “You know how the countryside and its silence give me all the ideas I have.”
His final, and most compelling, justification for the trip was financial. He told his parents that the Barcelona Atheneum had asked him to give a reading during his stay in Catalunya and had agreed to pay his travel expenses. Given both the money and prestige he stood to gain from the event, he would be foolish to refuse. He did not mention the fact that the Atheneum invitation came from one of Dali’s friends, nor that he and Dali had apparently persuaded the friend to issue the offer in order to bolster Lorca’s case with his parents. The scheme worked: Lorca received permission to go to Catalunya.
The village of Cadaques lies a hundred miles north of Barcelona, in a rocky cove beside the Mediterranean. Traveling by taxi with Dali from the nearby town of Figueres, Lorca first glimpsed the town from the hills above it and was struck by the purity of what he saw: a crescent of bright white buildings hugging the sea. He later described the setting as “both eternal and actual, but perfect.”
As a boy Dali had spent summers and holidays here with his family. He loved Cadaques. The town’s angular contours and brilliant Mediterranean light filled his canvases in much the same way that the Granadan vega filled Lorca’s poems. Lorca instinctively understood Dali’s attachment to the place, and within days of his arrival he, too, felt as though he were treading on sacred ground when he walked among the olive trees that skirted the tiny village.
More than anything it was the warmth of the welcome he received from the Dali family that made him fall in love with Cadaques. He and Salvador arrived in time for lunch and immediately sat down at the table with Dali’s father, step-mother, and sister. “My friend Federico, whom I’ve told you about,” Dali announced. By dessert Lorca was on such good terms with the family that it seemed to seventeen-yearold Ana Maria Dali “as if we had always known one another.”
To his astonishment, Lorca learned that Dali’s father, Salvador Dali Cusi, a stout, cigar-smoking lawyer, knew a number of his poems by heart. Lorca was even more astonished by Dali’s sister, Ana Maria, whom he pronounced “without doubt, the most beautiful girl I have seen in my life.” Her long, dark hair fell to her shoulders in such a cascade of curls that he was reminded of the angel Gabriel. She had a cherubic face, limpid brown eyes, and a soft, coquettish smile. There was both a girlishness to her and a budding sensuality to which Lorca was not immune. One day, as he watched her nap in the sun, he turned to Dali and exclaimed, “What pretty breasts Ana Maria has!”
Dali grabbed Lorca’s hands. “Well, touch them, man. Touch them!”
Dali himself was entranced by his sister’s beauty and repeatedly asked her to pose for him. Eventually this phase of his career became known by Ana Maria’s presence in his canvases. She spent hours standing patiently beside windows in Cadaques and Figueres, studying the landscape while her brother painted her. They were unusually close-a situation owing to their mother’s death four years earlier, when Dali was seventeen and Ana Maria twelve. At the time they had turned to one another in grief and bewilderment, and now, four years later, at twenty-two and seventeen, they continued to dote on each other. They played infantile games together, as if by doing so they could somehow recreate the childhood they had so abruptly lost to death. Ana Maria had a teddy bear named “Little Bear,” which she dressed in toy clothes and carried with her wherever she went. When she, her brother, and Lorca were together in a room, the bear often sat near them on a chair. Dali sometimes placed a philosophy book between its paws, “so that it can learn.” He and Lorca adopted the bear as a mascot, and long after leaving Cadaques, Lorca sent messages to the animal. “Give plenty of kisses to the little bear,” he once instructed Ana Maria. “Four days ago I found him smoking a cigar.”
In Cadaques, Lorca behaved as childishly as the two Dali siblings. He and Salvador had their photograph taken wearing white beach robes and top hats, and posing rakishly beside a table where Ana Maria stood with a watering can, pretending to sprinkle them. Like a small boy, Lorca frequently taunted his friends. Pouting, he would cry, “You don’t love me! Well, then, I’m going away!” He would then run off and hide until Dali and Ana Maria dutifully began hunting for him, at which point Lorca would reappear, giggling. He drew immense pleasure from these episodes, Ana Maria remembered, “because then he felt loved.”
At the same time he fell prey to sudden and frequent bouts of gloom. His smile would vanish, and a hard, expressionless look would grip his face. Both Ana Maria and her-brother were startled by Lorca’s brusque mood changes and by his apparent obsession with death. At the Residencia, Dali had often heard Lorca refer to his own deathsometimes more than once in a given day. On a number of occasions the painter witnessed a bizarre ritual in which Lorca imagined himself dead. The rite always began late at night, with Lorca calling out to a group of friends, “Hey everyone, this is how I’ll look when I die!” He would then throw himself across the bed, feign rigor mortis, and direct his companions in a boisterous enactment of his funeral procession through the streets of Granada. The performance invariably ended with Lorca’s burial. Afterward he would leap up, laughing, and herd his friends through the door so that he could sleep in peace. Death thus became a familiar presence in his life, an event to be viewed with calm, to be milked for inspiration.
In Cadaques, Lorca once stretched out on the floor in Dali’s studio and closed his eyes in a death pose. Ana Maria took his picture while her brother sketched him. Dali later incorporated Lorca’s lifeless face into his painting Honey Is Sweeter than Blood.
Both men worked during the Easter holiday. Lorca began a new play, The Sacrifice of Iphigenia. Dali painted from sunrise to dusk in his cluttered gray studio. As he worked, the artist sang to himself through closed lips. To Lorca, the sound resembled “a hive of golden bees.” He loved to watch his slender young friend at work.
At night, he and the two Dalis took walks through Cadaques. Ever in search of new details for his paintings, Dali scrutinized the light, clouds, and sea. Lorca talked of the work he had done that day, and later, as moonlight danced across the Mediterranean, recited his poems. His voice mingled with the sound of waves lapping against fishing boats. It was then, recalled Ana Maria, that the poet entered “his element” and became “perfectly elegant.” His husky voice softened into a thing of beauty. “Everything around him was transformed.” Language had purified him.
In Cadaques, as elsewhere, Lorca craved the limelight. In addition to reciting poetry he read his new three-act play about Mariana Pineda to the Dali family one afternoon as they sat around the dining room table. He had finished a draft of the work in January. Ana Maria was so moved by the drama that she wept. Her father let out a triumphant cry and proclaimed Lorca the greatest poet of the century. From that moment on, the plump attorney treated Lorca like a second son.
At the end of Easter week the Dali family returned to their winter home in Figueres, where Dali’s father arranged for Lorca to give a second reading of Mariana Pineda before a group of his friends; they included the editor of one of Barcelona’s.daily newspapers. Lorca was grateful for the chance to read his drama before such a distinguished audience. To his parents he described the crowd as “the cream of the progressive and intellectual set of Figueres.”
In recent months he had made several unsuccessful attempts to find a producer for Mariana Pineda. No one seemed willing to commit to a production of the work, in part because the drama’s political content made it read like a tract against Primo de Rivera’s regressive dictatorship, and censorship was likely. Lorca tried to be optimistic. He vowed to remain a pure artist, despite the current political climate. But he quaintly acknowledged the difficulty of doing so. “It requires as much effort as young ladies need in order to preserve their honor,” he told his parents.
He wanted his play to be judged on its poetic merits, not its political subtext. From the outset he had resolved to treat the saga of Mariana Pineda as a love story, and he fervently defended his use of romantic “cliches and devices” throughout the play. Both the tone and language of Mariana Pineda are romantic, often excessively so, and its drawingroom settings and sentimental plot are conventional. Lorca was unapologetic. “My play is naive, like the soul of Mariana Pineda,” he declared.
But even this most conventional of dramas bears signs of Lorca’s ingenuity. His enduring interest in hybrid genres had led him to subtitle the work “A Popular Ballad in Three Engravings.” The concept allowed Lorca to define a unique visual and aural approach to his otherwise simple story line, and ultimately gave the play its novelty. He sought to endow each of its three acts with the look of a nineteenth-century engraving by painstakingly composing its setting to resemble an old print. He also sought to link the play to the popular musical tradition by framing it with the folk ballad he had learned as a boy. At both the beginning and the end of Mariana Pineda, a chorus of children chants:
Oh, what a sad day in Granada,
when even the stones were made to cry,
for on the scaffold stood Marianita
who would not talk and therefore must die!
In effect, Lorca was forcing his audience to receive the story of Mariana in much the same way he first had, through a child’s eyes and ears. He later said that in writing the drama he had followed his own vision, “a nocturnal, lunar, childlike vision.”
Written in verse, the play recounts the events for which Mariana Pineda had become famous: her involvement in a plot to overthrow the king, her subsequent arrest, her refusal to betray her coconspirators, her conviction and execution. Lorca deliberately altered the historical record, exaggerating his protagonist’s bravery in order to shape a clear-cut tale of heroism and villainy, set among the streets and monuments of his native Granada. As such, the work is another elegy to his hometown. The particular twist he gave to the storyabout which a number of obscure nineteenthcentury poets had also written-was to have Mariana discover in the end that her lover, the dashing young revolutionary who lured her into abetting his cause, had in fact deceived her, so that Mariana’s life and death are but another illustration of the futility of human desire. The heroine’s final words, uttered as she makes her way to the scaffold, confirm this bleak understanding:
I am Freedom itself, wounded by mankind!
Love, love, love, and eternal solitude
Don Salvador Dali Cusi’s friends were astounded by Mariana Pineda and by its talented twenty-sixyear-old author. A few days after the reading they honored him with a lavish banquet in a Figueres hotel. There, too, Lorca dazzled his audience with a reading of his poems. A local journalist noted the “intense maturity” Lorca had achieved, despite his relative youth.
Shortly after the banquet Lorca left Figueres with Dali, and the two went to Barcelona. They spent a few blissful days in the city, listening to jazz and visiting friends. Lorca gave a private poetry recital at the Atheneum. He then said goodbye to Dali and boarded a train for Madrid. His stay with the Dali family had lasted just over two weeks brut its effect was abiding. Nearly ten years later he would list Cadaques among the four places in the world where he had “loved the most.”
He returned home to Granada in June. He missed Catalunya desperately and sent letters to both Salvador and Ana Maria Dali, urging them to visit him. Neither came. Dali insisted that he could not leave his work.
With Ana Maria, Lorca struck up a flirtatious correspondence. “I have a portfolio of memories of you and of your laughter that is unforgettable,” he confessed to her soon after leaving Catalunya. He remarked on her sun-burnished beauty and called her a “little daughter of the olive trees and niece of the sea!”
But his true passion was for her brother. Within weeks of his visit to Cadaques, Lorca began drafting an “Ode to Salvador Dali,” in which he revealed his affection for the painter:
I sing a common belief
that unites us in the dark and golden hours.
It is not Art, this light that blinds our eyes.
It is first love, friendship, or fencing.
As he worked on the ode, Lorca sent passages of the poem to Dali, who praised its brilliance and begged to see more. “AH, MY ODE!” he scrawled exuberantly across the top of a letter hailing Lorca as “the only genius of our time.” He signed the document, “Dali Salvador, painter of certain talent and friend (close) of a great POET who is VERY handsome. Goodbye. Oh, your recently shaved face. WET! Your shoehorn, your SUITCASE . . ! Your socks.”
Already the two shared a private vocabulary that soon evolved into an encoded language all but indecipherable to outsiders. Week after week letters went back and forth between Catalunya and Granada, and later Madrid. “What are you doing? Are you working?” Dali asked Lorca in November I925. “Don’t fail to write to me-you, the only interesting man I’ve ever known.” He referred to himself repeatedly as Lorca’s “little son” and sent him drawings, collages, photographs, postcards, and even a florid valentine-the essence of putrefaction-stamped “My Beloved Darling.”
By January I926, Lorca could boast to Melchor Fernandez Almagro that he enjoyed “an abundant correspondence [with] my friend and inseparable companion Salvador Dali.” Elsewhere he spoke reverently of “the ineffable Dali.” He had not been so intoxicated by another human being since adolescence, when he had pined after Man* Lisa Egea. She had spurned his love; Dali did not.
To Lorca, the painter’s extravagant, adoring letters were a godsend. But Lorca wanted more. In the summer of I925, in the weeks following his visit to Cadaques, he talked anxiously of his desire to see Dali, and in letters to their mutual friend Benjamin Palencia, a painter, he hinted at the depth of his attachment to “Salvadorcito.” Through Palenca, Dali had promised to send him a pair of his paintings. “They will live in my house and next to my heart,” Lorca said.
To admit to himself that he loved Dali as much as he did was to confront matters Lorca had long sought to suppress. It was a troubling summer. Frustrated by his stalled theatrical career and increasingly mesmerized by Dali’s radical ideas, he questioned the direction of his work. At home, his parents had once more begun lamenting his apparent unwillingness to make something of himself. Lorca mourned his absent friends. Each evening at dusk he watched the sun cast its golden light across the vega. He saw birds glisten like bits of metal in the sky, and he felt as though he had died. “I’m going through one of the toughest crises I’ve ever experienced,” he told Palencia. “Both my literary and emotional work are failing me. I don’t believe in lyone. I don’t like anyone. I dream of a constant dak;- cold as a spikenard, full of cold smells and exact erQtions. An exact tenderness and a hard, intelligent light. We’ll see how I escape!”
Lorca knew the perils of homosexual love. He knew about Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment, and he had read De Profundis; his copy of Wilde’s book was heavily marked. He could scarcely have been ignorant of his own country’s attitude toward samesex love. The Arabs who settled Andalusia had sanctioned it. But the Inquisition had persecuted homosexuals, and the Catholic Church continued to regard them as deviants of the worst sort. Lorca knew how people gossiped; as a teenager he had been ridiculed for his peculiar dress and effeminate ways. At twenty-one he had gone weeping to a friend’s house after learning that someone was spreading a rumor that he, Lorca, was homosexual.
For years he had tried to convince both himself and his friends that he was “normal.” Although he lacked his brother’s polish with women, he made a show of desiring. While vacationing with his family in Malaga in I9I8, he complained to an acquaintance, “The hotel is lively but there are no girls.” In truth, Lorca-was intimidated by the notion of physical intimacy with women. His closest friends and confidants had almost always been men. He loved the frank badinage of the all-male tertulia, the high jinks of masculine camaraderie at the Residencia. His poetry revealed his growing fascination with the beauty of the male form.
He would later admit that since boyhood an “impassioned force” had driven him toward men, not women. He claimed to have idolized a particular village boy during his childhood, a younger neighbor whose friendship Lorca sought to monopolize. “I wanted him to play only with me.” Decades later Lorca still remembered that early love with an acute sense of joy as well as privation. “When I eventually realized my preference,” he recalled, “I came to understand that what I liked, others thought perverse.”
He learned to veil the truth, to flaunt a socially acceptable facade. Even in the summer of I925, in the midst of his turbulent awakening to a new emotional, sexual, and aesthetic self, he understood intuitively that he must dissemble. To his lifelong friend Melchor Fernandez Almagro he said only, “I’m getting into problems I should have addressed long ago.” Newly consumed by the notion of masquerade, he began sketching clowns and harlequins whose sad faces belied the merriment of their dress.
He turned to metaphor as a means of both veiling and articulating the truth. To Ana Maria Dali he confessd that he’d had a difficult summer and longed to be near the sea. More than ever, landlocked Granada epitomized his repressed desires, and the sea his longing for emotional and sexual freedom. “The young ladies of Granada go up to their whitewashed terraces to see the mountains and not see the ocean,” he wrote delicately to Dali’s sister. “In the afternoon they dress in gauze and vaporous satiny things and go down to the promenade where the fountains flow like diamonds and there is an old anguish of roses and amorous melancholy. . . The young ladies of Granada have no love for the sea. They have enormous nacre shells with painted sailors and that is the way they see it; and great conch shells in their salons, and that is the way they hear it.” A trip to Malaga with his family toward the end of the summer “saved” his life. There, as in Cadaques, Lorca basked in the life-giving force of the Mediterranean. The moment one reaches Malaga, he told Benjamin Palenca, “Dionysus rubs your head with his sacred horns and your soul turns the color of wine.”
By late September, he had begun writing what he called “erotic poetry.” The effort invigorated him. He wrote eight poems in all, each a brief, ironic work depicting a particular woman and the sexual trait by which she is known. The poems suggest Lorca’s deepening aversion to the female anatomy. He describes the breasts of a spinster as “black melons.” Of another woman he writes, “Beneath the moon-dark rosebay/ you looked ugly naked.” In the short poem “Lucia Martinez” he assumes the voice of a predatory Don Juan:
Here I am, Lucia Martfnez.
I’ve come to devour your mouth
and drag you off by the hair
into the seashells of daybreak.
Because I want to and I can.
The poems were a departure for Lorca, his first foray into what he called “a distinguished field.” They made him feel young again. “Am I backward?” he asked Fernandez Almagro. “What is this? It seems as though I’ve only just come into my youth. That’s why when I’m sixty I won’t be old . . . I’m never going to be old.”
Age frightened him nearly as much as heterosexual sex. Both were the subject of a new play he began that summer, The Love of Don Pertimpn for Belisa in Their Garden, the story of a marriage between an elderly man and a beautiful young woman whose seductive appearance on their wedding night so intimidates her husband that he is unable to consummate the marriage. Lorca subtitled the work an “Erotic Aleluya”-a reference to the popular Spanish broadsheets, or aleluyas, printed with colorful vignettes of stock characters, which he and his brother had read as children. Again Lorca was mixing genres. The plot of Perlimplfn enabled him both to revisit an art form he had loved in boyhood and to explore a favorite and familiar theme, the conflict between spiritual and sensual love. Perhaps for that reason the short play flowed quickly from his pen. Lorca finished a first draft by January I926.
He remained restless. In the midst of his work on Perlimplin he began writing a series of short, highly experimental dialogues. “Pure poetry. Naked,” he said of them. Terse and unorthodox, the miniature works sketched an amusing portrait of the life Lorca had known the previous year in Madrid with Dali and their friends. He titled one work “Dialogue of the Residencia.” Others included “Dialogue with Luis Bunuel,” a conversation over tea at the Residencia; “Buster Keaton’s Stroll,” a short homage to Keaton and the silent films Lorca had grown to love; and “Mute Dialogue of the Carthusians,” a wordless conversation-expressed principally through punctuation marks-between two Carthusian monks. Dali’s presence in the dialogues, explicit as well as implicit, was pervasive. On the manuscript of “Buster Keaton’s Stroll,” Lorca wrote, “Goodbye Dalilaitita/ Daliminita/ Dalipiruta/ Damitira/ Demeter/ Dali.” And then: “Write to me at once./ At once./ At once. At once.”
To Fernandez Almagro he described the dialogues as “more universal than the rest of my work . . . (which, in parentheses, I don’t find acceptable).” Lorca later pronounced both the dialogues and Perlimplfn “very poor.” He drew little comfort from his work. “I’ve gone through a terrible, dark time of grave emotional depths which neither my lyric nor my innate happiness has been able to combat,” he told another friend. Professionally, he was drifting. He had completed two full-length plays since 1920-Mariana Pineda and The Billy Club Puppets-both of which remained unproduced. He had not published a poetry collection since 1921.
At twenty-seven, he was under renewed pressure from both family and friends to prove himself. “My parents are angry with me,” he told Fernandez Almagro. The critic was unsympathetic. “You don’t tell me why your parents are angry with you, but I can imagine why. And in your conscience you know we’re right when we reproach you for your ‘things’ . . . Everyone who loves you laments your idleness.” He urged Lorca to “discipline and manage” himself.
But Lorca yearned to escape. He felt that time was closing in, dissolving him “the way water dissolves lumps of sugar.” He longed to travel abroad, to go to Paris or “to Italy, which is my dream.” Instead, it was his enterprising brother who went to France in the fall of I925 as the recipient of a government scholarship-Paco’s second visit to the country in two years. Lorca stayed home. Newly worried about his oldest son’s floundering career, Don Federico refused to let him leave Granada until he had shown he could support himself. Lorca toyed with the idea of a teaching career. He told Fernandez Almagro he was thinking about taking “some qualifying exams, and if not . . . we’ll see! I don’t think I’ll lack for money as long as I’m strong.”
Both friends and admirers nagged him. The Madrid critic Enrique Diez-Canedo remarked publicly in rg26 that Lorca had shown “unspeakable laziness” in refusing to publish anything since Book of Poems. Rafael Alberti told Lorca that, given his abilities, he should have published five or six books by now. “You’ve been too distracted.” Benjamin Palencia, the painter in whom Lorca had confided his feelings toward Dali, also scolded him. “It’s not right that the best young poet in Spain should be unknown and unpublished.” The poet Gerardo Diego spoke of “the impossible and doubtful and problematic Federico Garcia Lorca.” Even Lorca’s mother reprimanded him, arguing that “without realizing it you get tired of your work and drop it, because nothing pleases you, and that’s the source of your apathy and neglect.”
Chastened, Lorca plotted his literary salvation. “I work in order to die living,” he told Fernandez Almagro. “I don’t want to work to live dying. I’m renewing myself. Thank God, in whom each passing day I place my desire and dreams.”
In I924 the Revista de Occidente had announced the appearance of a new movement, surrealism, “one of the latest inventions of the French literati.” In I925 the journal published Andre Breton’s “Surrealist Manifesto,” a plea for the resolution of “dream and reality into a sort of absolute reality, a surreality.”
The news intensified Lorca’s desire to visit France, to establish himself as a player in the avantgarde. “Foreign waters,” he told a friend in early I926, would refresh his poetry as well as his heart. He begged his brother to send him “all the news” from France-“your impressions of Bordeaux, of the surrealist youth, etc.” From other friends in Paris, among them Luis Bunuel, he learned of further artistic and intellectual developments in the French capital.
He resolved meanwhile to demonstrate his mettle by publishing not one but three books of poetry: Suites, Poem of the Deep Song, and a new collection to be called Songs (“the best one!”), consisting of nearly ninety poems composed between I92I and Ig26. He had no publisher, and no one to help him prepare his manuscripts, but he felt capable nonetheless “of creating a great, original oeuvre, and have faith I can do so,” he told his brother. As soon as the books came out he intended to go to Madrid and then to France. “In four months time I could put French under my belt.”
Because they possessed a “rare, surprising unity” he planned to issue the three collections simultaneously in a cardboard slipcase. He labored over the arrangement of the poems, sifting through the disordered mass of papers he had accumulated since the publication of his last book in I. He sought to winnow each book until it contained only those poems that “belonged” to it. To his amazement, he found he enjoyed the process of collating and ordering his poetry. “I have seen completed things I couldn’t see before, and I’ve given balance to poems which were limping but which had heads of gold.” He also envisioned a fourth book, a Gypsy ballad collection, and in his apparent haste to complete that series, he wrote four new ballads in early I926. These included “The Unfaithful Wife,” a work Lorca described as an “erotic ballad.”
Convinced that he had entered a new phase of his career, he sent exultant reports to friends. “You can’t say I waste time!” he wrote breezily to Jorge Guillen. “I’m hacking away . . . a hardworking guy. I’m a gentleman who’s a knockout.” To Melchor Fernandez Almagro he confided, “I want to be a Poet through and through, living and dying by poetry. I’m starting to see clearly. A high awareness of my future work is taking hold of me, and an almost dramatic sense of my responsibility constrains me . . . it seems to me I’m giving birth to new forms and an absolutely defined balance.”
Dali remained his most important audience. Lorca hoped the painter would design the covers for his new books. He worked on his long ode to the artist even as he rushed to complete his poetry collections. He finished the “Ode to Salvador Dali” in March and published it the following month in Madrid’s progressive Revista de Occidente, edited by Jose Ortega y Gasset. The poem’s twenty-eight stanzas filled six pages of the journal. Critic Guillermo de Torre described it as a perfectly balanced “poetic transcription of cubism’s visual norms,” and later hailed the ode as “the most important work of I926.”
It was as much an exaltation of cubism as of Dali, for to Lorca the two were vitally linked. Although Dali was not a cubist per se, he embraced cubist ideals in his paintings. Lorca sought to effect the same dispassionate, analytical approach to reality in his ode. His poem presents an Apollonian Dali, an artist who paints with a light “that the loving vines of Bacchus/ and the chaotic force of curving water fear,” a man whose “astronomical and tender heart” is afraid of emotion, but who inspires the poet nevertheless: “I sing your restless longing for the statue,/ your fear of the feelings that await you in the street.’
The ode, like Dali’s art of the period, is rigid, ordered, classical. Lorca wrote the poem in alexandrines, a meter he believed “must be clear, well constructed, and weighty,” as opposed to shorter forms, which, he said, “can be winged.” Dali judged certain lines of the ode to be “almost ARITHMETIC.” He praised the poem’s objectivity. A prescriptive as well as a descriptive work, it stakes Lorca’s claim to a new aesthetic, effectively renouncing the romanticism of his past. In the ode, he outlines the evolution of Dali’s art, from its inception in the “white ateliers” in Paris, where the first cubists practiced their craft, to its ripening in Cadaques, whose angular shapes and horizon remind the poet of “wounded handkerchiefs.”
Provocative metaphors combine with traditional metrics to give the ode a startling sense of newness. Guillermo de Torre called the poem a brilliant embodiment of the “two aesthetics of humanized and dehumanized art”-a reference to Ortega y Gasset’s 1925 essay “The Dehumanization of Art,” a work aimed at clarifying the chief traits and tenets of post-World War I movements such as cubism and expressionism. Having noted the tendency of these movements to avoid reality and eliminate living forms, Ortega coined the phrase “dehumanized art” to describe the phenomenon. His essay helped steer a generation of writers toward a “depersonalized” art devoid of the pathos of romanticism and naturalism and devoted to a spirit of play. Lorca had toyed with the new aesthetic in his dialogues and erotic poems, but in the “Ode to Salvador Dali” he went further, blending form and content to exalt the revolutionary art of his contemporaries. With its dispassionate tone and wild flights of metaphor-a tool Ortega defined as “the most radical instrument of dehumanization”-Lorca’s ode exemplified the new.
And yet, as Torre observed, the poem is also a personal, “humanized” work of art designed to pay tribute to a beloved companion. Throughout the work Lorca extols Dali’s “olive-colored voice” and “honest eyes,” his extraordinary talent and steadfast ideals. The poem ends with a prayerful appeal to his friend:
May fingerprints of blood on gold
streak the heart of eternal Catalunya.
May stars like falconless fists shine on you,
while your painting and your life break into
Don’t watch the water clock with its
or the hard scythe of the allegory.
Always in the air, dress and undress your brush
before the sea peopled with sailors and with
Despite his infatuation with the French avant-garde and his longing to go abroad, Lorca found things to admire in Spain. In February 1926, he made a two-day trip to the Alpujarras, south of Granada. “I’ll never forget the village of Ca*ar (the highest in Spain), full of singing laundresses and somber shepherds,” he told his brother. “Literarily speaking, there is nothing newer.” On February 13, during the inaugural ceremonies for Granada’s new Atheneum, Lorca delivered a lecture on a oncerenowned sixteenth-century Cordoban poet, Luis de Gongora, whom he proclaimed “the father of the modern lyric.” Ostensibly a speech about a neglected baroque master, the lecture, “The Poetic Image of Don Luis de Gongora,” was in effect a statement of Lorca’s own evolving poetics.
He applauded the older poet’s “legacy of objectivity and his sense of metaphor.” In essence, Gongora had written “dehumanized” verse three hundred years before Ortega y Gasset defined the term. By stripping his poetic images of spontaneous emotion and what Lorca called “realities that die,” Gongora had created a lasting body of work. A genius at metaphor, he had memorably transformed the Straits of Magellan into an “elusive silver hinge,” and a grotto into a “melancholy yawn of the earth.” “A poem’s eternity,” Lorca said, “depends on the quality and coherency of its images.”
Long overlooked, except for a brief vogue among the French symbolists and Hispanic modernistas, Gongora exemplified for Lorca and his generation their growing quest for a “pure” poetry, detached from reality and uncontaminated by ordinary usage. Gongora’s work-chiefly sonnets, ballads, and his four-part masterpiece, Solitudes-was objective, clear, and technically brilliant, just like Dali’s paintings. Both men had striven to distance themselves from the Dionysian fires of creation and take refuge in an Apollonian world of order and control=a world Lorca also sought to inhabit, despite his impulsive, essentially emotional nature. “I do not believe any artist works in a state of fever,” he said in his lecture. “Even the mystics begin working only after the ineffable dove of the Holy Spirit has already abandoned their cells and is vanishing among the clouds. One returns from inspiration as from a foreign land. The poem is the narration of the voyage. Inspiration supplies the image but not its clothing.”
In its front-page review of the talk, the Defensor de Granada called Lorca’s speech a “brilliant dissertation” and described Lorca as a “restless and delicate spirit, full of emotion.” An accompanying photograph showed his dark face staring moodily into the camera. Shocked by the uncharacteristic solemnity with which he had addressed his audience, Lorca, then twenty-seven, told Jorge Guillen, “My voice was another’s. It was a serene voice and full of years. . . as old as I am! It grieved me a little to see that I’m capable of giving a lecture without making fun of the audience. I’m becoming serious. I spend a lot of time in pure sadness. At times I surprise myself when I see that I’m intelLigent. Old age!” Aware that Guillen had written a doctoral dissertation on Gongora, Lorca promised to forward a copy of his talk. “You tell me as a teacher what critical blunders it has,” he urged.
By March, he had made some progress with his poetry books, but he still lacked a publisher and a secretary to help him prepare his manuscripts. In the meantime, he had resumed the dismal task of trying to find a producer for Mariana Pineda. Although confident that once he prevailed in the theater (“as I believe I will,” he told his parents) the doors to success would open wide, he had yet to find anyone willing to take on the play. Gregorio Martinez Sierra (“that bastard”) had withdrawn his initial offer to stage Mariana. Lorca had also sent a copy of the script to the Catalan playwright Eduardo Marquina, whom he had known since Ig Ig, but Marquina had not responded. Lorca despaired. “Will anyone want to produce it?” he asked Melchor Fernandez Almagro. “I’d like that for my family’s sake. There’s no doubt that I really have a feeling for the theater.”
Confined to home until he published his books or otherwise persuaded his parents to let him leave, Lorca groped for ways to withstand the tedium of provincial life. At times he believed Granada had a “deadly” effect on his work. He harbored few illusions about the city. The older he became, the more he decried its faults. The granadino, he once said, is a man of “few friends,” because he withdraws from the world instead of embracing it. In words reminiscent of Unamuno, Lorca called for the “Europeanization” of his hometown. “We must love Granada, but we must think in European terms. Only in this way can we unearth our finest and most secret local treasures.”
For years he and his Rinconcillo friends had flirted with the idea of publishing a small magazine in Granada, partly as a means of needling their complacent bourgeois neighbors. In recent years a number of Lorca’s poet friends had started literary magazines elsewhere in Spain. Eager to be part of the trend, Lorca announced in early I926 that he, too, intended to found a magazine-“a joyful, lively, anti-local, anti-provincial review belonging to the whole world, as Granada does.” He planned to call the magazine gallo, or “cock,” because the cock “is a symbol of youth, whose song everywhere heralds the dawn.” If he couldn’t be part of the Paris vanguard, he would forge his own version of the avant-garde at home.
He had no funding for the magazine and little idea how to proceed, other than to launch a letterwriting campaign to friends soliciting material for the first issue. Dali agreed to design its cover. But even he had more business sense than Lorca. “I’ll make you all the covers you want for any magazine you like, but you’ve got to be more specific,” he said. “Give me the facts:/ size/ black-color, etc./ the magazine’s degree of putrefaction.”
In early April, Lorca’s parents paid his way to Madrid so that he could try to locate a producer for Mariana Pineda. Although he failed to find one, he secured a commitment from the Revista de Occidente to publish his Gypsy ballads in book form.
From Madrid, he traveled north to Valladolid to visit Jorge Guillen and to give a public poetry reading, one of his first outside Granada. For Guillen, Lorca felt “total admiration, if not veneration.” Since their first meeting in Madrid two years earlier, he had come to know both Guillen and his lovely, French-born wife, Germaine, as well as their two small children, with whom Lorca struck up a playful correspondence. He admired Guillen’s calm and disciplined demeanor, his patent devotion to his family, and he was awed by the poet’s erudition. A gifted writer as well as scholar, Guillen had received his doctorate in literature from the University of Madrid and had taught at the Sorbonne before joining the faculty of the University of Valladolid. He looked like the professor he was: tall and lean, with round spectacles and a probing gaze. Guillen’s presence reminded Lorca of his own academic failings. He confessed sheepishly to the older writer, “I’m not intelligent, it’s true! But I’m a poet.” Guillen countered with unqualified praise for Lorca’s work. In response to a self-deprecating remark by Lorca, he once sent a postcard addressed “to the Poet Federico Garcia Lorca.” On the back he wrote, “Poet, yes, always. (Impossible, utterly impossible, the notion of `ex-poet.’)”
Lorca relied on Guillen’s advice and encouragement, and looked for inspiration to the poet’s “dean and beautiful verse,” a highly refined, “pure poetry” that, while intelligent, was not “excessively cerebral.” In fact, Lorca argued, Guillen’s verse possessed “the gift of tears,” a phrase he borrowed from Saint Teresa. By contrast, he sometimes felt his own poetry lacked clarity and light. “I have too much chiaroscuro,” he complained to Guillen. “You’re generous with me. Ge-ne-rous.”
At his poetry reading in Valladolid, Guillen introduced Lorca as a magnificent writer destined to enter the annals of history. “As the years go by,” he told the audience, “we’ll be able to say, ‘We saw in Federico Garcia Lorca the great and glorious poet he later became. We were among the makers, not the grave diggers.”‘ Guillen enumerated Lorca’s gifts as a poet, playwright, artist, and musician, and praised Lorca’s oratorical skills. Lorca himself then took the stage. To local critic Francisco de Cossio he seemed “almost adolescent,” with his clumsy walk and engaging smile. But the moment he began reading, Cossio knew he was in the presence of a master. The critic praised Lorca’s poetry and predicted his eventual fame. Someday, he wrote, children will sing Lorca’s ballads, and young girls will “whisper his songs in secret.” The Defensor de Granada reprinted Cossio’s flattering review, together with excerpts from Guillen’s introduction, under the heading “A Granadan Poet in Castile.” By letter Lorca took pains to inform his parents that he had been “well taken care of” in Valladolid and had passed several agreeable days “gratis.”
On his way home from Valladolid he stopped in Madrid, where he appears to have met up briefly with Salvador and Ana Maria Dali. The two had just made their first trip to Paris. From the French capital they had sent a joint postcard to Lorca. “We think of you constantly,” it read. Alone, Dali sent a second card with an image of the Eiffel Tower. On the back he scrawled a single phrase: “Another hug.”
Dali’s fame, like Lorca’s, was growing. In late I925 he had held his first painting exhibition in Barcelona, at the prestigious Dalmau Galleries. A critical as well as commercial triumph, the show caught the eye of Pablo Picasso. When Dali visited Paris, the two artists spent several hours together in Picasso’s studio. During his stay in Madrid that spring Dali provoked another of his short-lived scandals. Having reenrolled in Madrid’s Academy of Fine Arts after his expulsion in I923, he showed up at the school in mid-June I926 for a final examination. Dressed in a checked coat with a gardenia in its lapel, and bolstered by a glass of absinthe, he curtly told his examiners, “Given that none of the professors at the school . . . has the competence to judge me, I withdraw.” For the second time in his life, he was expelled from the institution. Dali went home to Catalunya, intent on persuading his father to send him to Paris. He believed that in France he would “definitively seize power!”
Lorca continued to idolize him. Each viewed the other as his most discerning audience. After his Barcelona exhibition, Dali sent Lorca press clippings from the show, but only “the harshest criticism.” The other reviews, he explained, were of no interest “because they are so unconditionally enthusiastic.” In March I926, Dali confessed to Lorca that he had spent the whole of one Sunday afternoon rereading Lorca’s letters to him. “Little son! They’re extraordinary. In each line there are suggestions for numerous books, theatrical works, paintings, etc., etc., etc., etc.” A week or so later he sent another note. “Do you love me?” he asked.
He still wanted Lorca to collaborate with him on a book of putrefactions, and they discussed the project during Dali’s visit to Madrid that spring. But Lorca had more pressing matters to address -chiefly the business of finding a producer for Mariana Pineda. He told his parents he intended to remain in Madrid until he had resolved the issue. After Dali’s departure, Lorca lingered in the capital, but without results. Eduardo Marquina could not find a producer for the play, and no one else to whom Lorca showed the script was willing to take on the work. Lorca blamed the theater establishment. “This business of dealing with impresarios is one of the most repugnant things in the world, because they’re all a bunch of idiots,” he said to his parents. “The Spanish theater is in the hands of the worst riffraff, actors as well as playwrights.”
He assured his family he hadn’t the “slightest worry or the least bit of depression. I’m naturally optimistic. And I am entirely certain that at the end of the day everything will turn out just as I want it to and as it ought to be. I have a wonderful thing called faith! I have faith in myself, as do a number of other people.” In another letter home, he blithely announced that the trick to conquering despair was to live an active life-to play tennis, to bathe every morning, and to eat prudently. “That’s how I’ve freed myself at times in Madrid from becoming too sad because of some (always small) setback.”
After a couple of months in Madrid, Lorca left the capital empty-handed and went home to Granada for the summer. He invited Dali to join him, but the painter declined, citing the need to prepare for his next exhibition. Unlike Lorca, who yearned for Dali’s physical presence, the artist was content with a mostly cerebral friendship. He needed Lorca imaginatively, not physically. At least four canvases in Dali’s upcoming exhibition bore hints of Lorca’s heart-shaped face.
In their letters the two began to make cryptic, homoerotic references to Saint Sebastian, by coincidence the patron of Cadaques. Dali referred to Sebastian’s “delicious” agony and, invoking another shared icon, the fish, invited Lorca to embrace “my new type of Saint Sebastian, consisting of the pure transmutation of the Arrow by the Sole.” Both men viewed the figure of Sebastian as a provocative one, at once inviting and impassive, a perfect emblem of the emotional control each now sought to achieve in his work. Dali called Sebastian “Saint Objectivity.” In a letter to Jorge Guillen, Lorca defined true poetry as “love, effort, and renunciation. (Saint Sebastian).”
More so than Dali, Lorca struggled to find a balance between his old work and his new. He continued to be inspired by Andalusia, even as he looked to Catalunya and to France for enlightenment. But it was a constant battle. While on holiday in the vega with his family that summer, he told his brother he was sick of the village of Asquerosa and its petty inhabitants “In the country one seeks innocence,” he grumbled. “I attribute all this to the fact that there are no cows here, and no grazing of any sort.”
Luis Bunuel wrote from Paris to ask if Lorca would consent to write a screenplay for his cinematic debut. The former athlete had decided to become a filmmaker. “You know this is a lucrative business, and I know you intend to make money, come what may,” Bunuel advised. But despite his numerous requests, Lorca refused to collaborate, and eventually Bunuel gave up.
Late in the summer the Lorca family moved into a new summer home on the outskirts of Granada, a two-story white house that Don Federico had bought the previous year and christened the “Huerta de San Vicente” in honor of his wife, Vicenta. Lorca instantly fell in love with the place and in doing so rekindled his passion for Andalusia. Although the house stood barely half a mile from the center of Granada, it was surrounded by the damp green fields of the vega and adorned with flowers. There was so much jasmine in the garden that each morning he and his family suffered “a lyrical headache,” he told Jorge Guillen. “And yet, nothing is excessive! That’s the beauty of Andalusia!”
His mother kept the house filled with roses. His father planted fruit trees and rows of vegetables in the garden. In time Lorca and his brother sunk three cypresses into the soil beside the dirt path that led to the house, so that from a distance the site was marked by their mournful silhouettes. From the balcony of his bedroom upstairs, Lorca could see both the vega and the towering Sierra Nevada in the distance, a view he thought “the most beautiful. . . panorama of mountains in Europe.”
At night the perfume of flowers suffused his room, and the air became “divinely unbreathable.” Inspired by his bucolic surroundings, Lorca returned to Andalusian themes and resumed work on two of his more conventional projects, the Gypsy ballads and a popular Andalusian farce called The Shoemaker’s Prodigious Wife, which he had begun two years earlier. Years afterward he described the circumstances that prompted him to complete The Shoemaker’s Prodigious Wife in the summer of I926:
I was in the city of Granada, surrounded by black
fig trees, spikes of wheat, and little crowns of wa
ter . . . The restless letters I was receiving from
my friends in Paris, who were engaged in the
handsome and bitter struggle to create abstract
art, led me to produce this almost banal fable with
its direct reality.
In contrast to his friends’ experiments with abstraction, The Shoemaker’s Prodigious Wife “was like slamming my fist down on the table,” he said. Brief and raucous, like the drama Don Perlimplin, which he had finished earlier in the year, Lorca’s farce dealt with one of the Spanish theater’s more traditional themes: the marriage of a young girl to an old man. But the play lacked the tragic overtones of Perlimplin, and was, in fact, closer in spirit and technique to his puppet theater. Lorca later recalled that while writing the play during his first summer at the Huerta de San Vicente, he felt “as though I were holding happiness in my hands. I felt I was the intimate friend of all the roses in the garden.”
The idyll did not last. He and his family moved back to their Granada apartment in the fall, and Lorca renewed his search for a producer for Mariana Pineda. He called the play, which had now consumed nearly three years of his life, “the exceedingly tiresome Mariana Pineda.” Most recently, playwright Eduardo Marquina, then in his late forties, and one of the country’s best-known writers, had given the script to Margarita Xirgu, a prominent Catalan actress who ran her own theater company. Marquina, who had long supported Lorca’s literary efforts, believed Xirgu might be interested in staging the work. But weeks passed without a response from the actress. “I know her mother died,” Lorca griped to Marquina, “but that was some time ago, and besides, she’s not going to retire from the stage on account of that.”
He knew that the theater was the only way he stood to make any money as a writer-and yet he could not seem to break into its insular world. To make matters worse, his brother had recently gone to England, where he was enjoying further success in his lustrous academic career. “My parents see nothing practical in my literary endeavors,” Lorca reported wearily to Marquina. “They are displeased with me and do nothing but point to the example of my brother Paquito, a student at Oxford loaded with laurels.”
By late fall he had lost patience with himself, with his play, and with Marquina, whom he had never completely trusted. He lamented the time he had spent on this “disastrous venture of mine into the den of the theater.” He told Melchor Fernandez Almagro that he had been a victim of “bad faith,” of “rotten people and cretinism.” He begged Fernandez Almagro to speak to Marquina on his behalf-“the shameless and cavalier Marquina.” “Naturall,y, if Mariana were produced, I’d gain everything with my family.”
Granaha turned cold and damp. The first snows fell, and Lorca felt even more trapped “What do I do?” he asked Fernandez Almagro. “My family, annoyed With me because they say I dbn’t do anything, won’t let me leave Granada. I’m unhappy, as you can imagine. Granada is a hateful place to live. Here, in spite of everything, I’m drowning.” Relations with his parents had rarely been worse. “For the first time, they are opposed to my writing poetry without thinking of anything else,” he revealed to Jorge Guillen.
In early September, Lorca abruptly announced his decision to become a literature professor. “I think I have a vocation for it (it’s slowly growing in me) and the capacity for enthusiasm,” he wrote weakly to Guillen. He claimed that his parents had “promised, if I begin to study promptly, to give me the money for a trip to Italy, which I’ve dreamt about for years.” He asked Guillen for advice on his new career. Guillen replied with amusement, “You have to start by buying yourself a card file! A CARD FILE. This practical first step will make a huge impression on your family: `He’s begun a card file! And index cards!’ That is, evidently you’re going to work in earnest.”
Lorca dutifully ordered a card file (“What fantastic notes will fill it!”) and asked Guillen what he should do next. “Because I need to have a job. Just suppose I wanted to get married. Could I do that? No. And this is what I want to resolve. I’m beginning to see that my heart seeks a garden and a little fountain as in my first poems.” Lorca assured Guillen that as yet there was no “particular girl, but isn’t it imminent?”
His own sister Concha, then twenty-three, had announced her engagement that fall to Lorca’s friend Manuel Fernandez-Montesinos, a medical student and former member of the Rinconcillo. The news had jolted Lorca, who suddenly now yearned for a conventional life, for a career that would please his parents, and for the respectability of marriage and fatherhood. In one of his earliest plays he had portrayed an adolescent Christ who dreams of “a tranquil and sweet life” he knows will never be his. Lorca, too, dreamt of a happy existence, “a garden and a little fountain.” But the events of the past two years-above all, his infatuation with Dali-pointed in a different direction.
Caught between his desire for propriety and his urge to flout convention, to acknowledge his sexuality, he looked wistfully back to the innocence of childhood. “Let me stay a little longer in the playground,” he wrote plaintively to Guillen, recalling a popular childhood rhyme (“To the garden of happiness/ my mother sends me”), “since I’ll have plenty of time to put on gray flannel and the cold airs of meditation.” He talked idly of obtaining a position abroad as a lecturer in Spanish literature. “Paris would be ideal.” In Paris he would be free of his family and could indulge his whims, sexual or otherwise. He could go off by himself to watch the sun rise over the mountains, “with no need to be home on time. Dawn of responsibility. I’ll be responsible for the sun and the breezes. Threshold of fatherhood.” At the same time, he worried that he lacked the “aptitude” to be a professor. “Because I’m neither intelligent-nor hardworking (a good for nothing!).”
Guillen persuaded their mutual friend Pedro Salinas to look into the possibility of a teaching position for Lorca in France. But Salinas was skeptical. “My private opinion is that your true career is your vocation: poet,” he told Lorca. “But your father will never see that as a responsible career as long as you are not known and acclaimed publicly. And you would achieve that with books or stage productions.”
From Cadaques came even sterner advice. “You won’t take examinations for anything,” Dali wrote. “Convince your father to let you live in peace without all those worries about guarantees for the future, work, personal effort and other things . . .. publish your books, for that can make you famous . . . with a real name and not a legendary one like you have now.” The painter reminded Lorca that he loved him “very much. One day we’ll see each other again, and what a great time we’ll have!”
A few weeks after receiving Dali’s letter, Lorca abandoned his plans for a university career. His flirtation with the academy had lasted just over two months. In a letter to Jorge Guillen written shortly after reaching his decision, he signed himself “Federico (incorrigible poet).”
His three books of poetry-Songs, Suites, and Poem of the Deep Song-remained unpublished. In the ten months since announcing his plan to publish them, Lorca had come to doubt the wisdom of issuing the three simultaneously, and on the advice of friends had elected to stagger their publication. In late October I926, he surrendered the manuscripts for the collections to fellow poet Emilio Prados, who with Manolo Altolaguirre had recently founded both a literary magazine, Litoral, and a small press by the same name in his native Malaga and was looking for material. Both men had known Lorca for years-Prados most notably in the early I920s, when he had developed an intense crush on Lorca at the Residencia. Although the two had subsequently drifted apart, both geographically and emotionally, Prados continued to admire Lorca.
He spent several days visiting Lorca in Granada that October. The two toured the province by car and took part in a local homage to the seventeenthcentury Granadan poet Pedro de Soto de Rojas, another neglected figure from the city’s past, whose work Lorca and his Rinconcillo colleagues sought to revive. Dressed in a bulky suit, Lorca gave a short, highly poetic talk at the homage. He praised the baroque poet and his inspired vision of Granada as a “paradise closed to many.”
Days later, Prados returned to Malaga, brandishing Lorca’s manuscripts. But his joy at having procured the collections paled the moment he inspected the handwritten documents. It was not unusual for Lorca’s manuscripts-even those he submitted for publication-to contain misspelled words, faulty punctuation, accentless syllables, coffee and tobacco stains (which he sometimes ringed with tiny drawings), in short, as Prados described it in a panic-stricken letter to Jorge Guillen, “twenty thousand unknown and indecipherable muddles . . . I didn’t count on this when I brought his papers with me. What’s to be done?”
The following month, Prados and Altolaguirre published the first volume of their new literary magazine, Litoral. The issue contained three of Lorca’s Gypsy ballads. These, too, had proved difficult to transcribe, for when Lorca opened his copy of the magazine he found “more than ten! enormous errata” in the poems. The sight so grieved him that he wept. “What great anguish it caused me,” he told Guillen, “. . . to see them broken, damaged, without that strength and flintlike grace that to me they seem to have!”
Both Guillen and Prados scolded Lorca for his carelessness. Prados returned the manuscript of Songs, the first of the poetry books Litoral intended to release, and demanded that Lorca prepare a fair copy of the book himself. His nerves were shattered, Prados said, “after translating you from the Chinese.” Lorca at first misinterpreted the gesture to mean that Litoral no longer wished to publish his books. In desperation he told Guillen that “even if it’s just the book of Songs, I want to publish it. After all, if I try to publish, it’s only to please a few friends and nothing else. I’m not interested in seeing my poems definitively dead . . . that is to say published.”
Late in the year Lorca received word from Melchor Fernandez Almagro that the actress Margarita Xirgu had agreed to produce Mariana Pineda. By then Lorca was so weary of the play that he could only muster a perfunctory thank you to his friend and confess his revulsion at the process he’d been forced to endure. “It’s disgusting, the theater,” he said. Fernandez Almagro had to remind him to thank the many people who had helped secure the production.
In Figueres, Dali rejoiced at the news and begged Lorca to let him design the show. But Lorca was ambivalent about the work. He remarked gloomily to Guillen that while it had been fine to write a romantic verse drama three years earlier, he now viewed Mariana, his lyrical account of the life and martyrdom of a love-struck nineteenth-century granadina, as “peripheral to my work.” Nevertheless, he went to Madrid in March to meet with Margarita Xirgu and read his drama to her company.
In Malaga, the pace of work on Songs quickened. With a production of Mariana looming, Prados and Altolaguirre hoped to capitalize on Lorca’s impending renown by issuing his new poetry collection in time for the play’s premiere. Lorca scrutinized the copy for the book until he had each poem “just where it wants to be.” Proud of his workmanship, he told Fernandez Almagro, “I’m happy. I’ve omitted [some of the] rhythmic songs despite their success because I want the book to have the high air of the sierra.” He thought Songs “great poetry (great in the sense of nobility and quality, not of worth),” and he predicted the book would provide “surprises for many and happiness for a few.”
Songs appeared on May 17, 1927, three weeks before Lorca’s twenty-ninth birthday, in a handsome paperbound edition. Lorca dedicated the collection to the three friends who had been his most trusted confidants while preparing the book: Jorge Guillen, Melchor Fernandez Almagro, and Pedro Salinas. Privately, Lorca called them “my three weaknesses.”
He described the volume itself as a “book of friends.” Many individual poems carried inscriptions to friends or to the children of friends. Leafing through his new copy of the book, Jorge Guillen was charmed to find a poem dedicated to his young daughter, “Mademoiselle Teresita Guillen, playing her six-note piano.” Guillen slipped a photograph of the child into the book at that spot. He told his wife that Songs was “formidable. Brilliant. The best one of all. It contains the most offbeat, most adorable things.” Lorca’s poetry, he said, was “divine.”
The collection included nearly ninety poems written between I92I and I926. Their short lines and airy refrains were redolent of popular Spanish songs, especially children’s songs, but their veneer of childlike innocence was deceptive. Even the most impish of works in the collections reveals Lorca’s poignant understanding of human nature:
I wish I were silver.
you’d be very cold.
I wish I were water
you’d be very cold.
Embroider me on your pillow
Awash with traditional Andalusian settings and motifs, Songs-like Book of Poems and Poem of the Deep Song-shows how completely Lorca had absorbed the lore of his region. But the collection is more than simply an exercise in the neopopular. Through a combination of humor and obscurity, coupled with an emphasis on metaphor and a studied avoidance of the personal, Lorca reveals his infatuation with the trends of his day: pure poetry, haiku, Gongora. The collection exudes a sense of confidence and delight: in the possibilities of structure and rhythm, in the sorcery of words. One contemporary reviewer pronounced it “new, new, new. Terribly new. Avantgarde!”
Above all, Songs exemplifies the notion of a “dehumanized” art. By avoiding the confessional tone and romantic diches of his earliest work and replacing these with what Ortega y Gasset called “the higher algebra of metaphors,” Lorca achieved a new level of poetic composure, in which he neither hides nor confesses anything. Relatively few poems in Songs possess any sort of narrative voice, and those that do are evasive. “The song/ I will never say,/ has fallen asleep on my lips,’ says the unnamed speaker in the poem “Verlaine.”
Language allowed Lorca to do on paper what he longed to do in life: prevaricate. Songs is filled with terms such as “mute,” “echo,” “shadow,” and “mirror”-words that enabled Lorca to stress the layered nature of truth. Throughout the collection surfaces mislead, shadows contradict, and personality is mutable. “I used to be./ I once was./ But I am not,” confides the narrator of “Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.” (While at work on the collection, Lorca admitted to Melchor Fernandez Almagro that in “everything” he found “a painful absence of my own and true person.’)
Lorca’s interest in concealment sprang partly from his growing need to suppress certain aspects of himself. In Songs he hints at his ambivalent feelings toward love and sex. His evocations of heterosexual love are occasionally tinged with a sense of regret:
The girl goes through my brow.
Oh, what ancient feeling!
Full moon brunette.
What do you want of my desire?
The collection includes the series of “erotic poems” Lorca wrote in 1925 in the wake of his first, impassioned visit to Dali in Cadaques, poems that exude a triumphant-if ironic-male sexuality. In “Song of the Fairy,” part of another series called “Games,” Lorca writes with amusement of a “fairy” homosexual in a silk dressing gown who “arranges/ the curls on his head” while his neighbors watch from their windows and smile.
In a complex series of six poems entitled “Three Portraits with Shadow,” Lorca intimates his unease with the female sex (“No one would love you like me/ if you’d only change my heart!”) and seems to embrace love of the self, or those like the self. True to the overall concept of the book, it is only in the so-called shadow poems-“Bacchus,” “Venus,” and “Narcissus,” each of which appears in smaller type after its “portrait,” respectively, of Verlaine, Juan Ramon Jimenez, and Debussythat Lorca ventures to signal the truth, and then he does so obliquely, relying on metaphor to convey what he cannot speak. “Boy!/ You’ll fall into the river,” he warns in “Narcissus.” “Deep down there’s a rose/ with another river inside.”
As in all of Lorca’s work, there is an undertow of loss and sorrow in Songs, and a sometimes acute consciousness of human mortality, but despite the collection’s occasional sobriety, it is the most buoyant volume of poetry Lorca was to create. Individual poems have titles like “Silly Song,” “Useless Song,” “Sung Song.” Many are dedicated to Lorca’s friends at the Residencia (one inscription read: “to Luis Bunuel’s head. En gros plan”), and the collection as a whole is marked by the sort of high-spirited fun that characterized life at the Madrid institution.
In shaping the book, Lorca had sifted through almost six years’ worth of poems, many of which he had originally written for other collections, chiefly Suites and Poem of the Deep Song. As a consequence he had also had to rethink each of those books. The process caused him “genuine anguish.” But in the end he was pleased with the results. “The songs remain girded to my body and I am master of the book,” he told Jorge Guillen. “A bad poet . . . very well! But master of my bad poetry!”
Any doubts he had about the collections were groundless. Songs was Lorca’s first definitive book, a leap forward in the evolution of his style, and while it received scant critical notice at the time, those who did review it were struck by its originality. El Sol’s Ricardo Baeza praised Songs as isa poetry of codes and arabesques.” Luis Montanya, writing in the avant-garde Catalan journal LAmic de les Arts, called Songs “pure poetry. . . an authentic book of poems.” Enrique Diez-Canedo, who the year before had criticized Lorca for his sloth in getting his work into print, extolled Lorca’s “penetrating poetic vision.”
Dali voiced his qualified approval of the book. Although he claimed to prefer the poetry of “a nickel-plated motor” to that of an old Granadan song, he nevertheless admired Lorca’s “delightful songs.” Yet he could not refrain from noting that Lorca’s lyrical vision of a timeless Andalusia no longer suited a world that had just seen Lindbergh cross the Atlantic. “Your songs are Granada without trains, without even airplanes,” Dali wrote. He conceded, however, that Lorca would go on doing whatever he wished. “That much we already know.”
At twenty-three, Dali was on the brink of international fame. In late I926 he held his second painting exhibition in Barcelona. The show drew buyers from Paris and a representative from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute, who purchased two Dali canvases.
In February 1927 the Spanish army drafted the artist for nine months of military service. “Cansimo amigo,” Dali wrote to Lorca in March. “You can’t imagine. I’ve been a soldier for one month!” Being in the army was a lark. “I’m strong from boxing and very suntanned,” he reported in May. He missed Lorca: “Now we’re beginning to need our madnesses, our wanderings about, our tears and our laughter, and our hunger!”
Nearly a year had passed since their last rendezvous in Madrid. With Mariana Pineda slated to open that summer in Barcelona, they expected to see each other soon. In late March Lorca went to Madrid to meet with Margarita Xirgu to finalize plans for the production. From there he intended to go to Barcelona to begin rehearsals. He told Pepin Bello it was the start of a new era for him: “I’m saying goodbye to Segovia and Toledo. That’s how it must be. I dream of Paris and another, more enjoyable life.”
But he needed money for the trip, and his father, exasperated with Lorca’s spending habits, hesitated to give it. His parents were especially put out with him because during his brief stay in Madrid in March. he had squandered a large amount of money. He claimed it wasn’t his fault. Upon his arrival the Residencia had been full, he explained, and he had been forced to eat in cafes and stay in a costly hotel (the cheaper places were too far away to accommodate his “theater life”). He had also found it necessary to send a bouquet of roses to Xirgu and to host a banquet for several journalist friends in order to persuade them to go to Barcelona later in the season to review Mariana. “The money disappears like water,” he said. “I’m not a spendthrift.”
His father viewed matters differently. For years he had indulged Lorca financially. A two-month allowance sometimes vanished in three days-spent on little more than outings with friends. In letters home, Lorca invariably asked for money, time and again insisting that his expenses were “necessary.” His requests could be blunt: “Send me fifty pesetas in your next letter. I need it.” Usually his parents obliged him. They sent money so that he could buy food, shoes, hats, a new winter coat. “You know that we want you to be decently dressed and not to have to beg things from people,” his mother wrote.
But in the spring of I927 his father balked, and threatened to withhold funds for Lorca’s trip to Barcelona. Lorca was devastated. In a six-page letter defending himself and his goals-yet another plea for parent respect-he promised his father that he would “more than repay” the expense of the trip once he had collected his earnings from Mariana. Why begrudge him the money he so desperately needed-especially now, when he had just spent ten months in Granada “with three and a half pesetas to my name (so to speak)”? If his parents refused to pay his way, he would simply go back to Granada and stay there. Xirgu could produce Mariana “any way she likes, and with the scenery and the acting as she sees fit. Anything to keep from upsetting you.”
Worn down from years of argument, and newly reminded of his son’s unyielding determination, this father relented. By mid-May, Lorca was on his way to Barcelona.
In his soldier’s uniform Dali was as dashing as a Hollywood star. Tall, suntanned, slim, he posed coolly beside Lorca not long after the poet reached Barcelona that spring, and the two had their picture taken. Dali wore his hair brushed neatly, back from his porcelain face; he placed his hands in his pockets and extended one uniformed leg gracefully in front of the other. Beside him Lorca looked young and unrefined. He wore a rumpled gray suit and held his hands stiffly together in front of him. An acquaintance who met him during his visit to Catalunya in I927 recalled that he “exuded ‘south’ from every pore.” Powerless to match Dali’s urban polish, Lorca traded on his rustic Andalusian roots. He cheerfully mocked the ardent Catalan nationalism then rampant in Barcelona, telling one local reporter, “I’m from the Kingdom of Granada!” He began wearing a red carnation in his lapel.
Throughout the two-month rehearsal period for Mariana Pineda, Lorca shuttled back and forth between the Dali home in nearby Figueres and a hotel room in Barcelona, which he and Dali sometimes shared when Dali was able to get leave from the army. The two friends wandered the city together, lost in passionate conversation about art and aesthetics, or about Lorca’s play, which Dali had agreed to design. Lorca deluged the painter with sketches and photographs of typical Andalusian settings. He praised Dali’s “shrewdly intuited” take on the play’s design, while Dali, in turn, gamely applauded Lorca’s “sophisticated sentimentality.”
On Sunday afternoons they often attended a weekly tertulia in the spartan apartment of Rafael Barradas, the bohemian artist who had created designs for Lorca’s first play, The Butterfly’s Evil Spell. Stretched out on the floor, Lorca, Dali, and their friends discussed music, literature, theater, film, dadaism, and surrealism. As usual, Lorca dominated the conversation. He frequently sat at Barradas’s rented piano and belted out popular songs. No one objected, because whatever he said or did was “so terribly interesting,” remembered Sebastian Gasch, a rotund Catalan art critic who met Lorca in Barcelona that spring and quickly yielded to the granadino’s “fiery, young, impulsive character.”
Gasch, like others, was struck not only by Lorca’s ebullience but by his abrupt changes of mood. Once, after contentedly listening to a group of Gypsy singers in a local cafe, Lorca suddenly fell silent. His companions asked what had happened, but he refused to speak. In due course he confessed, with a touch of melodrama, that he had been thinking about death. At times he seemed to Gasch oddly pensive, even devout. One night he told his friends he had to go home early so that he could attend Mass the next morning at the cathedral. Smiling softly, he rolled his dark eyes skyward and murmured something about the “aroma of ancient pomp” he always experienced inside the huge Gothic church. Dali pointed toward the table where they sat and said, “I’m more interested in this olive.”
It was this side of Lorca-contemplative, reverential, nostalgic, even maudlin-that had led him to write Mariana Pineda. As he watched his play come to life that spring in Barcelona’s Teatro Goya, Lorca must have felt he was recovering some part of his lost childhood. During rehearsals he worked meticulously with the chorus of children who were to sing the ballad of Mariana Pineda at the beginning and end of his play. Seated at a piano, his hands racing “nervously, easily” over the keyboard, Lorca went over the song with his young actors until they understood its essence as clearly as he did. At the final dress rehearsal, a reporter asked him to explain what he had hoped to accomplish with Mariana. Lorca answered that he wanted to show his love for “these old things”-for Mariana herself, for the nineteenth-century engravings he and Dali had attempted to re-create onstage, for the popular ballad about Mariana that he had first heard as a boy. “Perhaps,” Lorca mused, “the entire work is nothing more than an example of variations on the theme of the popular ballad.”
He was far more comfortable with Xirgu’s production of Mariana Pineda than he had been with the Madrid premiere of The Butterfly’s Evil Spell. Dali’s childlike designs for the show delighted him -there was nothing “picturesque” about the artist’s use of Andalusian motifs, Lorca told Manuel de Falla-and he thought Xirgu’s portrayal of the doomed Mariana “wonderful.” He was profoundly indebted to the Catalan actress. She alone, he told a journalist, had dared to produce Mariana after “all the companies in Spain that pride themselves on being artistic” had rejected it. She had not only been willing to stage the play, but she had agreed to spend a large sum of money on it-a fact Lorca proudly reported to his family.
He and Xirgu enjoyed an easy rapport. During their first meeting earlier in the year, he had regaled the actress with the story of his woeful debut as a playwright in Madrid in I92o. He told the tale with obvious enjoyment, lingering over the details of his public humiliation. He described how he had cowered in the basement of the theater as the audience above him stomped its disapproval of his play. Xirgu was charmed. She shared Lorca’s addiction to the stage, and she loved his robust laugh-a laugh, she said, that seemed to emanate from the vowel O.
Her patrician looks belied Xirgu’s working-class origins. She was a statuesque woman with a strong, square face, black eyes, and a dark voice. Jose Ortega y Gasset, one of her many admirers, wrote that Xirgu’s arms formed “curves of harmony.” Lorca found her riveting, and later described her as “the actress who breaks the monotony of the footlights with breezes of innovation, who flings handfuls of fire or pitchers of cold water onto the dozing public.”
As a child she had given makeshift theatrical performances on her family’s dining room table; at ten she had appeared in her first amateur production. She made her professional debut on the Catalan stage at eighteen, and by her early thirties she was known to audiences throughout Spain and Latin America as both a formidable actress and a shrewd producer who ran her own theater company with fellow actor Enrique Borras. The I922 Nobel laureate, Jacinto Benavente, wrote plays expressly for Xirgu.
The actress was thirty-eight when she premiered Mariana Pineda. To capture Lorca’s gentle heroine, she softened her usually severe makeup and concealed her dark hair under a mass of shiny blond curls. The audience loved her. On opening night, June 24, I927-the Feast of Saint John, a day Lorca adored-cheers erupted at the end of each act, and Lorca was called onstage repeatedly to bow beside Xirgu. Flushed with excitement, he gripped the actress’s hand and whispered, “Even the old folks are clapping! Even the old folks are clapping!”
Later that evening, as he strolled along the winding gray streets of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter with Xirgu and a handful of friends who had attended the opening, including Salvador and Ana Maria Dali, Lorca reenacted the curtain calls he and Xirgu had been asked to take. In a brief, unexpectedly melancholy charade, he bowed solemnly to an imaginary audience. Watching him, Ana Maria Dali thought to herself that he was unable to experience or even conceive of joy without acknowledging its antithesis. Eventually the group made its way to a sidewalk cafe, where Lorca impulsively asked a female street performer to join them. “But without speaking,” he instructed the woman. “Like a carnation.”
The following day he sent effusive telegrams to friends. “Huge success Mariana Pineda. Hugs. Federico-Dali,” read the terse wire Melchor Fernandez Almagro received in Madrid. In Granada, Lorca’s family waited anxiously for news of the play’s reception. Despite a congratulatory cable from Xirgu that morning, Don Federico was unable to relax until he had received confirmation of the play’s success from Lorca himself. Late in the afternoon the playwright’s telegram arrived, and the family rejoiced.
In their reviews, critics focused more on Lorca’s potential than on his achievement. Several reviewers noted the humanity of his characters, and many praised his “luminous” verse. But some questioned whether he belonged in the theater. La Vanguardia, one of Barcelona’s leading papers, suggested that although Lorca was a “delicate and sentimental poet,” he was not a serious playwright. La Publicitat’s Domenec Guansi observed that in Mariana Pineda Lorca seemed to have been concerned “with nothing more than the creation of atmosphere. Characters? . . . Action?” Critics had raised the same issues with The Butterfly’s Evil Spell.
A more gratifying appraisal came from the reviewer Francisco Madrid of La Noche, another prominent Barcelona paper, who argued that Lorca could “now join the list of Spanish poets who uphold the tradition of poetic theater.” In his long and favorable review, Madrid heralded Mariana Pi neda as a breath of fresh air in an era of mediocre plays, and he praised Lorca and Dali for their extreme modernity. Lorca clipped the review and sent it to his parents with a note boasting that the article had appeared in “the most important daily in Barcelona, the one with the largest circulation.”
Fewer than twenty-four hours after the premiere of Maria Pineda, Lorca opened an exhibition of his drawings in Barcelona’s celebrated Dalmau Galleries, the city’s leading proponent of avantgarde art. With the exception of two private showings of his sketches at a friend’s home in Granada, where the drawings were hung from curtains with pins, he had never publicly shown his work before. Mostly he sketched for pleasure, using whatever was handy-a piece of stationery, a crayon, his sister’s colored pencils. He had no desire to be a painter, he joked, because his parents could not tolerate stains in the house. But Dali admired his visual intuition (which he described as ‘aphrodisiac”) and, together with several other Barcelona friends, persuaded the diminutive, white-haired Josep Dalmau to present an exhibition of Lorca’s work in his gallery.
Dalmau had long championed the avant-garde. He introduced Barcelona audiences to the work of Filippo Marinetti and Marcel Duchamp, and he helped launch the careers of Juan Gris, Joan Miro, and Pablo Picasso. Dali had twice shown his paintings in Dalmau’s galleries, and he owed his success in part to the visibility those exhibitions had given him. Lorca’s weeklong exhibit drew less attention than Dali’s, but it did receive a few flattering reviews from friends, including Dali, and to Lorca’s astonishment he sold four drawings. He gave the rest away to his Catalan friends.
An eclectic mix of old and new, traditional and avant-garde, the drawings in the exhibition complemented Lorca’s poetry collection Songs, published one month earlier. Both demonstrated his abiding love of popular Andalusian motifs, his newfound admiration for cubism, and his increasing preoccupation with identity. In a number of his Dalmau sketches Lorca superimposed one dreamlike face on another, as if to offer a graphic interpretation of the ideas he had explored in Songs:
“Woodcutter./ Sever me from my shadow.” Years later he described one of his double-faced images as a self-portrait that shows “man’s capacity for crying as well as winning.” The works encapsulate the split that characterized Lorca himself: his profound and deeply personal conviction that without sorrow, joy was inconceivable; without death, life incomprehensible.
In a somber drawing called “The Kiss,” he sketched a face much like his own, with dense black eyebrows and a wedge of black hair, joined at the lips to a second, featureless face whose oval contour resembles Dali’s. In his own work Dali, too, had recently begun pairing Lorca’s face with his. Each man appeared to covet, or fear, losing himself in the other. Aesthetically they had never been closer. Dali said later that during this phase of his career, “for the duration of an eclipse,” Lorca’s shadow “came to darken the virginal originality of my spirit and of my flesh.”
Lorca was equally swayed by Dali. His Barcelona drawing revealed the degree to which he had absorbed the painter’s cubist aesthetic and shared Dali’s enthusiasm for surrealism. The exhibition included a formal portrait of Dali, one of several Lorca made during this period. He had developed his own icon for the artist’s face: a Modigliani-like ovoid with almond-shaped eyes, black eyebrows, and full lips. In one of Lorca’s portraits of the artist, Dali appears as a kind of fecund priest wearing a bishop’s miter, with fish nibbling at each of the fingers on his right hand. Rife with Freudian overtones, this intensely private work referred to a world only Lorca and Dali fully understood. Lorca gave the drawing to the painter, who kept it for decades. By way of explaining the image, Dali said only, “Lorca saw me as an incarnation of life, graced like a dark god.”
Days after the dosing of both Mari.ana Pineda and his Dalmau exhibition, Lorca boarded a bus with Salvador and Ana Maria Dali, and the three took off for Cadaques. They sat side by side on a rooftop bench. The instant Lorca caught his first glimpse of the village in the distance, he shrieked: “Cadaqueeees! Cadaqueeees!” The Dalis quickly chimed in.
At nineteen, Ana Maria was leaner and more graceful than she had been during Lorca’s first visit to the town, in I925. Her long, angelic curls were gone, replaced by a stylish I92os bob. Lorca adored her. At dusk the two took walks together, ambling hand in hand through groves of olive trees while church bells pealed and the sun sank beneath the mountains, casting its pink light on the small white town. Lorca often wore a fisherman’s shirt Ana Maria had made for him. Asked years afterward whether Lorca had been in love with her, Ana Maria merely blushed. That he loved her was certainbut in ways neither seemed able to articulate.
On Sundays the two attended Mass together. Dali refused to join them. aI’ve seen it before,” he quipped But Lorca found the ritual soothing. As he stood beside Ana Maria in the small sanctuary, immersed in gestures and phrases he had known since boyhood, he seemed “in ecstasy.” He continued to identify not with the authoritarian Father of Old Testament doctrine but with the New Testament Christ: symbol of goodness and love, proof that human charity might transcend evil and offset the capriciousness of fate. Only in church, thought Ana Maria, was Lorca unafraid of death. Elsewhere it obsessed him. Like a frightened child, he insisted on taking their hands whenever he went for a walk with the two Dalis. “He was afraid of dying,” Ana Maria believed, “and it seemed to him that by holding our hands he could remain anchored to life.” At the beach he swam only in shallow water, and even then he clung to Ana Maria’s hand. When she and Dali ventured farther out to the sea, Lorca remained on shore. He was terrified of drowning.
Even small things alarmed him. At the slightest hint of a sore throat, he insisted that Ana Maria and Dali take his temperature and prepare inhalations of eucalyptus leaves. Because they loved him they indulged him. (Later, he apologized to Ana Maria for his “grave throat illness, which caused you so much trouble.”) The three spent whole days playing games together. Dali and Lorca took turns pretending to be a capricious child, a “babouet,” who refused to walk or eat. When Lorca played the baboue he demanded to be told terrifying stories with unexpectedly comforting endings.
They went sailing together, took part in local festivals, played records all day long, and at night, with the guitarist Regino Sainz-who was visiting Cadaques-sat on the beach, while Lorca sang folk songs or recited poems. In dozens of artfully arranged photographs they immortalized their fun: Ana Maria, holding a phonograph and a stack of records on her lap; Dali, standing alone in a white terry-doth robe, bronzed and sultry, his hair damp from the sea; Lorca, clowning on the beach in bathing trunks and a robe, his chunky legs draped in a showgirl’s pose, an impish grin on his face. In one snapshot he and Dali sit across from each other at a table with Lorca’s bathrobe cord stretched between their foreheads, as though they are transmitting thoughts back and forth. In another picture, each display an emblem of his artistic temperament. Dali, who fancied himself a rational Apollonian, holds a triangle, while Lorca, his hair smooth back, one hand resting on Salvador’s knee, clasps a wine glass.
Lorca’s stay in Cadaques, though brief, was rapturous. He subsequently told a friend that Dali inspired in him “the same pure emotion” he felt in the presence of the baby Jesus, “abandoned in the Portico of Bethlehem, with the whole germ of the crucifixion already latent beneath the straws of the cradle.” Incapable of resisting the painter, he-helped Dali draft and sign a strident “Anti-Artistic Manifesto” exalting the machine age and condemning much of the very literature and art Lorca had once admired. Other friends were alarmed by Dali’s increasingly rigid views on art and his newly “materialistic, irreligious, and objective” behavior. But Lorca maintained that nothing was more dramatic than Dali’s objectivity, and he allowed himself to be swept up in the painter’s escalating quest for radical new images and ideas-one of which, paradoxically, was Saint Sebastian, who became for Dali a paradigm of the emotional control he sought.
The martyred saint had been an intimate point of contact between the two friends for at least a year. In March I927, Dali signed a letter to Lorca, “Your Saint Sebastian.” Even Ana Maria was in on the secret. On the back of a postcard to Lorca she wrote, “I’m sending you this card because you might like it; but don’t show it to Saint Sebastian. It would be improper.” Both men were intrigued by the iconography of the saint: his manly beauty and his passive, at times ecstatic, response to the arrows piercing his flesh. Lorca came to believe that “one of man’s most beautiful postures is that of Saint Sebastian.” He meant the posture of defeat, willingly accepted.
Dali persisted in calling Sebastian “Saint Objectivity.” In late July he published an exhaustive prose poem on the martyr in the Catalan journal LAmic de les Arts. Dedicated “To F. Garcia Lorca,” Dali’s meandering poem extols Sebastian as an exemplar of the modern age. In Sebastian’s pose of “exquisite agony,” the saint embodies an aesthetic of objectivity that offers a foil to the sentimentality and “putrefaction” Dali despised. On a more personal level, Sebastian reminded the painter of Lorca. He told Lorca that while at work on the poem, it had often seemed to him that the saint “is you . . . We’ll see if Saint Sebastian turns out to be you.”
Through the image of Sebastian the two made sly allusions to the intense emotional-and conceivably physical-nature of their involvement. Dali spoke bluntly of the saint’s “unwounded ass.” Lorca was more oblique. “Saint Sebastian’s arrows are made of steel,” he wrote to Dali later that summer, “but the difference between you and me is that you see them as firmly fixed and robust, short arrows that don’t come undone, and I see them as long . . . at the moment of the wound. Your Saint Sebastian of ivory contrasts with mine of flesh who is dying all the time, and that’s how it must be.”
To what degree the martyr reflected Lorca’s private relationship with the artist remains unclear. Years later Dali claimed to have spurned Lorca’s sexual advances. But others who knew the artistPepin Bello, Luis Bunuel, Rafael Martinez Nadal -suspected Dali of distorting the truth in order to shock or amuse his admirers, much as he had once feigned love for an adolescent girl because he enjoyed deluding her. Bello and Bunuel both believed Dali was “asexual,” a chaste Apollo to Lorca’s earthbound Dionysus.
Dali’s paintings imply otherwise. By 1927 he had replaced the neoclassical lines of his earlier canvases with the stark landscapes of a Freudian world. His sensual portraits of Ana Maria had given way to cryptic representations of Lorca-often shown as a decapitated head with closed eyes-surrounded by jarring manifestations of Dali’s subconscious: nude female torsos, severed hands, rotting animals, airplanes, fish, phallic gadgets, genitalia. His ambiguous, at times misogynist, depictions of women, together with the prevalence of both homoand autoerotic images, signal the depth of Dali’s sexual malaise and suggest that in all likelihood he and Lorca engaged in a short-lived physical affair.
Dali was obsessed by Lorca, and troubled by his obsession. In several paintings he layered Lorca’s features over his own or placed one man’s face in the other’s shadow. At times he simply fused the two faces. Their lives were similarly intertwined. Dali was beginning to write poetry, while Lorca spent more and more time drawing. In their work, they spoke the same metaphorical language. Each heaped praise on the other. “Federico is better than ever,” Dali wrote to Luis Burluel in Paris that summer. “He’s the great man. His drawings are brilliant.”
Bunuel was appalled by the intensity of Dali’s attachment to Lorca. Perhaps because he resented Lorca’s refusal to collaborate with him on a film the previous year, or more probably because he detected Lorca’s homosexuality and objected to it, Bunuel had come to loathe what he described as Lorca’s “extreme narcissism” and “terrible aestheticism.” He told Pepin Bello that unless Dali escaped to Paris, the painter would amount to nothing. Only in Paris, Bu*uel said, could Dali “remake himself, away from Garcia’s ill-fated influence.”
By early August, Lorca had turned “black” from the Mediterranean sun. He told his brother, now back from his studies abroad, that he had begun writing “a new kind of poetry.” But although happy, he missed his family. He asked Paco to kiss everyone for him: “I long more than ever, do you understand me?” He did explain what he meant by the remark.
Shortly afterward, Lorca abruptly departed from Cadaques. For reasons left unclear-except to say that his family had urgently called him home-he felt compelled to return to Granada. Something had happened to cloud his relationship with Dali. From Barcelona, where he stopped overnight on his way home, Lorca sent an impassioned letter to the artist. In it he recalled his distress at leaving Dali’s home. “I was on the verge of throwing myself out of the car in order to stay with you (with little you) in Cadaques.” At a bend in the road leading away from the village he had suddenly experienced a vision of a “tiny” Dali, “eating a little red hand with oil and using a small plaster fork which you pulled from your eyes. All with the tenderness of a recently hatched chicken.”
The heat in Barcelona was oppressive. As he labored to convey his feelings, Lorca thought about Dali’s new paintings, with their logical, keenly proportioned, provocative images. “I get excited thinking of the things you’re going to discover about Cadaques, and I remember a neophyte Salvador Dali licking the shell of dusk without yet going inside, the palest pink shell of a crab turned on its back.” Having now left Cadaques, Lorca realized what he had lost. In Dali’s absence, Barcelona seemed confused, rushed, “unclear and unhinged”-unlike diaphanous Cadaques, where Lorca had felt “the blood’s circulation” in his shoulders for the first time in his life. Cadaques was real; in Barcelona, people seemed merely to be “playing and sweating with a concern for forgetting.”
He crowded his thoughts onto a sheet of stationery from a Barcelona cafe. “I want to weep,” he wrote. “I’ve behaved like an indecent donkey’s ass with you, you who are the best thing in the world for me. As the minutes go by I see it clearly and I am truly sorry. But this only increases my affection for you and my attachment to your way of thinking and your human quality.” Lorca avoided saying more about what had taken place between the two men. He begged Dali to remember him in his latest work: “Put my name in the painting so that [my name] might amount to something in the world.”
Dali acquiesced. In the foreground of a work he eventually titled Honey Is Sweeter Than Blood, he placed a likeness of Lorca’s head, with its neck severed, eyes wide open, and a trickle of blood seeping from its mouth. Positioned near the head, as though the two had once been attached, Dali painted the headless torso of a nude woman. Around both he arranged an assortment of rotting carcasses, flies, drops of blood, and sharp geometrical objects that Lorca called “apparatuses.” Lorca admired the painting. “The bisected woman is the most beautiful poem one can make from blood,” he told Dali. But he refrained from commenting on the work’s more unsettling implications: that his beloved friend seemed to associate him not only with androgyny but with a decaying aesthetic.
Lorca returned to Granada in early August, full of talk about Dali’s genius and their month together in Cadaques. Virtually everything he saw, did, and thought reminded him of the painter. With its lush trees and aura of “historic melancholy,” his family’s Huerta de San Vicente recalled the terrace of Dali’s home by the sea.
“I think about you and your little house,” he told the artist. “I’ve never thought more intensely than now. This is the summit. I hope you’ll write to me . . And that you’ll tell me if you resent me or if you’ve erased me from among your friends.”
When he and his family traveled to a resort in the Alpujarras later that month, Lorca yearned for his distant friend. He felt isolated in his hotel, where there was “not one decent curvaceous thigh,” he told Dali by letter, “. . . and I don’t like talking to anyone unless it’s the waiters who are handsome and I know what they’re going to say to me. I think of you all the time. I think of you too much. I feel as though I am holding a hot gold coin in my hand and I cannot let go of it. But I don’t want to let go of it either, little son. I must imagine that you are hideously ugly in order to love you more.”
In the same letter Lorca stressed his esteem for Saint Sebastian and the martyr’s “grace in the midst of torture. . . We are all capable of being like Saint Sebastian in the face of rumors and gossip.” Inspired by Dali’s prose poem on the saint, Lorca embarked on his own series of prose poems, the first of which, “Saint Lucy and Saint Lazarus,” he published in November. A fantastic account of a trip to a Spanish city much like Barcelona, the work recalls Louis Aragon’s 1926 surrealist text, Le Paysan de Paris, a dreamlike examination of a modern metropolis. But while Lorca’s poem indicates his growing interest in surrealism, the work stems more immediately from Dali’s “Saint Sebastian,” with its clipped syntax and circuitous design. In “Saint Lucy” as well as his other prose poems”Suicide in Alexandria,” “Beheading of the Baptist,” and “Lovers Murdered by a Partridge”-Lorca unveils a cruel, antiseptic, coldly ironic vision of reality. Motifs from Dali’s paintings-decapitated heads, modern machines, ants, mules, the skeletal remains of fish-fill the poems.
While neither man was ready to associate himself formally with surrealism, both Lorca and Dali had begun to experiment with such surrealist techniques as automatic writing and drawing, and dream images. Of the two men, Dali, as usual, was the most radical. Privately he regarded Lorca’s “Saint Lucy and Saint Lazarus” as a “wonderful” piece of work, but the “quintessence of putrefaction.” In letters to Lorca he mocked writers whom Lorca had once revered, and he urged the poet to intensify his quest for the new. “Act of FAITH,” he declared. “Lorca, the first truly future poet when he is completely purified and emerges like a motionless, beautiful oil.”
Heeding Dali’s call for the creation of stark, inexplicable metaphors, Lorca turned from words to images and, while at work on his prose poems, began using drawing pencils for inspiration. When the subject of a poem became too long or “poetically stale,” he resolved it by sketching. The act of drawing made him feel “clean, comforted, happy, childlike,” he told the art critic Sebastian Gasch, whom he had befriended in Barcelona that spring, and who was quickly becoming one of his most trusted correspondents and greatest fans. While drawing, Lorca said, “I live moments of an intensity and purity that poetry does not give me.” Emboldened by Gasch’s lavish praise of his sketches (the critic compared Lorca’s work favorably with Picasso’s and predicted that his “unforgettable drawings” would enjoy a success similar to that of Miro’s and Dali’s), Lorca began to talk seriously of publishing his drawings in book form.
His best sketches, he knew, yielded exquisite metaphors. A spare interpretation of Saint Sebastian, for instance, showed only a series of arrows pointing to a series of ink blots, a single eye, and -in what Lorca may have intended as a reference to Sebastian’s “unwounded ass”-a single dot surrounded by a small circle. In this and other conceptual drawings, Lorca endeavored “to choose the essential traits of emotion and form, or of superreality and super-form, to turn them into a symbol that, like a magic key, will lead us to better understand the reality they possess in the world,” he explained to Gasch.
And yet he shunned pure abstraction and refused to align himself wholly with surrealism. He insisted that his drawings were grounded in reality, and therefore human. To Gasch’s worried observation that he risked slipping into a dangerous state of “perpetual dream” with his visionary sketches, Lorca replied cheerfully that humor and humanity would save him from “the great dark mirrors that poetry and madness wield at the bottom of their chasms.” Unlike Dali, he would not abandon reason, would not sever his bond with the human community “I am and I feel myself to be treading cautiously in art,” he told Gasch. Life itself was another matter. “I fear dreaming and the abyss in the reality of my life, in love, in the daily contact with others. That, yes, is terrible and fantastic.”
Publicly he disavowed any link to revolutionary art movements. When Xirgu’s production of Mariana Pineda opened that fall in Madrid, Lorca told a reporter from the Heraldo de Madrid that he was neither an ultraist “nor a member of the avant-garde.” His poetic roots lay with Gongora, he said; his theatrical wellspring was Lope de Vega.
By the standards of his recent work, Mariana Pineda was hopelessly outdated, but Lorca defended the play on the occasion of its Madrid debut. Asked to explain the drama’s many cliches, he answered that he had purposely included these so as to give the work its “romantic, but ironically romantic, character.” On opening night, October I2, 1927, Lorca stood confidently backstage and listened to the audience applaud his creation. At the end of each act he strode onstage-“with a vengeance,” said one observer-to accept their praise. Outside the theater, Lorca’s former grade school teacher, Antonio Rodriguez Espinosa, waited in the dark for news of the play’s reception, as he had done seven years earlier at the premiere of The Butterfly’s Evil Spell. Now, as then, he was too nervous to venture inside the theater. Told at last that Mariana had triumphed, Rodriguez Espinosa sighed happily and said, “It had to come.”
Once more, triumphant telegrams made their way to Granada. This time Lorca’s family packed their bags and set off for Madrid to see the play for themselves. The poet Pedro Salinas met them during their stay in the capital and pronounced them “a most enjoyable family, in whom one finds various, scintillating clues to our friend’s personality -almost, almost a study of literary sources.”
Reviewers, among them several of Lorca’s personal friends, were generous. But dissonant voices and familiar reproofs surfaced. The critic Enrique de Mesa accused Lorca of having loaded his play with every “trick from the old theater . . . the funereal pealing of bells, the flowers that adorn little Mariana as she goes to her death, the long and tedious farewell.” Francisco Ayala denounced the work’s “intentional ingenuousness. Artificial childishness.” During its brief Madrid run, Mariana sparked a lively polemic among the city’s intellectuals, who debated the play’s artistic merits and political bent. As the discussion grew more heated, Pedro Salinas noted that the majority of comments were “adverse.” At a banquet in Lorca’s honor, guests quibbled about the play until the famed humorist Ramon Gomez de la Serna finally rose, adjusted his monocle, and offered an ironic defense of the work. “It breathes with great freedom, great freedom, great freedom!” he said, and smiled.
Commercially the show was a failure. It ran for only twenty-six performances in Madrid-well short of the hundred that typically signaled a success. On tour in the provinces later that season, it fared even more poorly. Audiences stayed away, and several performances had to be canceled. At a performance in Oviedo, Lorca’s self-consciously ornate language led one spectator to surmise, “It must be something written by one of those modern poets.” Although he reported to his parents that the play was enjoying a “great success” on tour, Lorca was painfully aware of the truth. To Pepin Bello he described the work as “an embarrassment.” To a journalist in Madrid he confessed that if he were to rewrite the play, “I’d do it another way, in one of the thousand ways possible.” Perhaps most disappointing, Mariana earned little money. Dali, among others, was dismayed. The painter had hoped to use the profits from Lorca’s verse play to underwrite a new project-an “ANTIARTISTIC Magazine.”
But despite his disenchantment with Marina, Lorca welcomed the publicity the play generated. Later in the season he published the drama in book form. Theatrical gossip columns speculated about upcoming Lorca productions. The poet Antonio Machado and his brother, Manuel, declared in an interview that Lorca was one of the brightest lights in the contemporary Spanish theater. “Did you see what the Machado brothers said about me?” Lorca asked his parents.
Work by and about him now appeared regularly in the country’s prominent literary journals, and there was also talk of him abroad, in both France and Germany. In a front-page article entitled “A Generation and Its Poet,” critic Ricardo Baeza of El Sol hailed Lorca as “the foremost Spanish lyric poet of our day.” Baeza’s article embarrassed Lorca even as it pleased him. It “must have produced a great rumpus among certain persons,” he told Sebastian Gasch. “I’m truly sorry because I had nothing whatsoever to do with this.”
Many of his friends and peers cheered his new celebrity. The poet Gerardo Diego praised him for having finally forsaken his “medieval and random means of self-promotion, and his indolent aversion to proofs and postage stamps.” Although he still professed to regard his writing as merely “a game, an amusing diversion,” Lorca coveted the attention it brought him. He would sometimes grip one of his friends by the shoulder and exclaim, “Ah, how talented I am! Tell me I’m talented!” “You’re so talented,” the friend would reply and Lorca would laugh and say, “Yes sir, I am!”
Luis Bunuel, who saw Lorca during his periodic visits to Madrid, found his vanity insufferable. Others thought it charming. Lorca “let himself be adored,” an acquaintance remembered. He brazenly courted admirers, promising to dedicate poems to them and then forgetting his promise, or dedicating the same poem to a succession of friends. At tertulias he demanded to be the center of attention. If another speaker threatened to upstage him, he often left-only to return moments later with some crucial piece of news that restored him to the spotlight. He loved to ape others’ quirks-a friend’s blinking eyes or eccentric appearancebut when anyone dared to imitate him, he resented it. If he found himself with someone whose personality seemed capable of outshining his own, he simply walked away.
He grew especially impatient with fellow Andalusian Rafael Alberti, whose career as a poet had taken flight since their first meeting in I924 (Alberti won the I925 National Prize for Literature for his verse collection Marinero en tierra) and whose passionate recitations of verse rivaled Lorca’s. Because both came from the south, comparisons between the two were inevitable, and they began to vie for the role of successor to Juan Ramon Jimenez as the region’s reigning poet. Pedro Salinas dubbed them “the little Andalusian boys.” Critics spoke of Lorca’s influence on Alberti’s neopopulist verse, and friends charted their respective development. Pepin Bello complained that Alberti had learned to “copy” images and expressions directly from Lorca’s poems. Salinas confided to Jorge Guillen in the fall of I927 that he thought Alberti’s poetry much improved. “He’s undoubtedly making more progress than Federico.” In time, Lorca became so annoyed by the situation that whenever someone praised Alberti’s work in his presence, he feigned a sore throat and left. Aware that Lorca had on occasion spoken ill of him, Alberti implored him to forget their differences. “You don’t know how much I’m capable of loving you (this is not a declaration of love). You scarcely know me, cousin.” But Alberti, too, engaged in what he later referred to as “minimal battles,” and their friendship suffered as a result.
With his elders, Lorca was more forgiving. One evening at a tertulia with the irascible Galician playwright Ram6n del Valle-Inclan, then in his sixties, Lorca took offense at something Valle-Inclan said or did and made a cutting remark to the older man. Stunned, Valle-Inclan left the gathering early. Lorca instructed his friends to “go with him. Don’t leave him alone. I’ve been cruel.” He was childishly content to let others repair his wrong. At another gathering, he deliberately conspired to prevent the humorist Ramon Gomez de la Serna from monopolizing the conversation. But afterward Lorca felt remorseful, and as he left the restaurant he struck up a friendly conversation with Gomez de la Sema. That “was the really charming thing about Federico,” recalled his friend Santiago Ontanon, who witnessed the episode.
Friends like Ontanon and Jorge Guillen were willing to overlook the less flattering aspects of Lorca’s character-his petulance and immaturity his incessant and puerile need for adulation. They focused instead on his generosity and basic lack of pretension. Guillen noted that even after Lorca became famous, he remained “Federico”-never “Senor Garcia Lorca,” not even to strangers. Among close friends he was easygoing, spontaneous, and ordinary, and yet to Guillen he was plainly the best of their generation. Lorca agreed with this assessment, although he considered Guillen his equal. “We’re the captains of the new Spanish poetry,” he told the soft-spoken older poet. “Shake on it! You and I have character, personality, something inimitable that comes from within, a unique voice by the grace of God.’
In his long treatise “A Generation and Its Poet,” Ricardo Baeza had marveled at the magnanimity with which Lorca and his peers spoke of one another. He noted, too, that as poets the group shared certain traits: a veneration for the image, a thirst for purified verse, and a simultaneous regard for tradition and the avant-garde.
In particular, the new generation rallied around the figure of Luis de Gongora, the sixteenth-century Spanish poet about whom Lorca had lectured in early 1926, and whose dispassionate, densely metaphorical verse embodied the aesthetic principles underpinning his and his colleagues’ work. Throughout 1927, the tricentennial of Gbngora’s death, Lorca and his fellow poets rendered elaborate homage to the baroque master. Several literary magazines published special issues devoted to Gongora, and a number of writers delivered lectures on the poet and his work. Both Lorca and Rafael Alberti tried to compose commemorative “solitudes” in honor of Gongora’s greatest, most ornate verse collection, Solitudes, but only Alberti succeeded. Lorca claimed to have felt irreverent even attempting the feat.
He and his friends persuaded other luminaries to participate in the yearlong tribute to Gongora. Antonio Machado, Manuel de Falla, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, and even Luis Bunuel (who later dismissed Gongora as “the filthiest beast ever born”) all contributed to the anniversary celebrations. But Ramon del Valle-Inclan and a cantankerous Juan Ramon Jimenez-who increasingly sought to distance himself from Lorca’s headstrong generation because he could not tolerate their growing aesthetic independence and what he perceived as their “opportunistic” demeanor-both declined to take part.
In Madrid, Gongora’s admirers staged a mock auto-da-fe at which they burned effigies of books by the poet’s enemies from the baroque era, as well as those from their own period, including ValleInclan. After learning that the Spanish Academy had decided to snub G6ngora during his anniversary year, they went to the institution at night and urinated on its walls. One evening, Lorca, Alberti, and their friend Concha Mendez, one of the generation’s few female poets, rambled through the streets of Madrid wearing enormous broad-brimmed hats while reciting Gongora’s lyrics in loud voices.
The year culminated in a three-day homage to Gongora in Seville. Lorca was among a select group of Madrid writers asked to take part in the event as representatives of the “new Spanish literature.” On December rs this “Brilliant Pleiad,” as a journalist had dubbed them, boarded a train for the twelvehour trip south to Seville. “We’re like a team of soccer players,” Jorge Guillen scribbled to his wife as he sat in the first-class compartment eyeing his companions Lorca, Alberti, Gerardo Diego, Juan Chabas, and Damaso Alonso, a short, thickset, balding writer and scholar who was both a Gongora expert and a notorious libertine. Guillen considered himself the only “near-respectable” member of the group, because he was married. Throughout their trip to Seville the six men laughed, talked, and recited poetry. As they rumbled through Cordoba, G6ngora’s birthplace, they shouted, “Viva Don Luis de Gongora!” Guillen marveled at “these strange animals called poets.”
Late that night they pulled into Seville and were met by their host, Ignacio Sanchez Mejias, a retired bullfighter who was also a connoisseur of literature. During Gongora’s tricentennial year, Sanchez Mejias had taken it upon himself to memorize the most difficult of the Cordoban poet’s works. Thin, suntanned, and athletic, Sanchez Mejias was, according to a female acquaintance, “seduction itself.” He liked to dress ostentatiously in green suits and pink shirts, with ruby cufflinks in the shape of a bull’s head. His handsome, scarred face and rugged physique testified to his long years in the bullring. On the night of their arrival in Seville, Sanchez Mejias greeted his illustrious Madrid guests and shepherded them to his ranch on the outskirts of town. They arrived well after midnight. Sanchez Mejias draped his friends in Arab robes and plied them with champagne. He and a Gypsy friend sang cante jondo, while Lorca and others recited poetry, and Damaso Alonso got predictably drunk and began singing in English.
Officially, the three-day Gongora celebration consisted of speeches, lectures, readings, and a photo session with the local press. Unofficially it was a nonstop party. Although it rained daily, nothing quelled the poets’ revelry. Each night they caroused with their Seville friends until dawn. At one point Lorca found himself being driven wildly through town by a fat, homely, cattleman-turned-poet named Fernando Villalon, who sped through Seville in his automobile while reciting poetry, oblivious to traffic and to Lorca’s face, which was taut with fear. During another outing, Lorca crowded into a boat with a group of friends and endeavored to sail across the swollen Guadalquivir river. As their vessel pitched and turned in the current, Lorca threw himself onto the bottom of the boat. He was the only one of the group to admit his terror.
Far more comfortable onstage, he gave a formal reading of Gongora’s Solitudes one evening with Rafael Alberti at the Seville Atheneum. The following night Lorca recited his own Gypsy ballads from memory. Although he expected to publish the ballads within a few months, he still thought of them as oral poetry. As he spoke, his olive-skinned face grew tense, and a sliver of black hair fell across his forehead. With one hand he ceremoniously marked out the rhythm of the poems. His audience, enthralled, stood to applaud when he had finished and waved their handkerchiefs in the air, as if at a bullfight. One friend leapt onto his seat and tossed his jacket, collar, and tie at Lorca. Later that night Lorca gave an impromptu piano concert for friends at his hotel.
The poet Luis Cernuda, who met Lorca during the tricentennial celebrations in Seville, never forgot his vitality. Cernuda first glimpsed the Granadan as Lorca was descending the marble staircase in his hotel. Lorca wore black; his dark, cherubic face was sprinkled with moles. Cernuda thought it a face Murillo might have painted. Its light seemed to emanate from the eyes-large, eloquent, melancholy eyes that were somehow at odds with Lorca’s short, stocky body. His presence alone was charismatic. Cernuda said later that Lorca needed only to walk into a room for people’s faces to brighten and a sudden silence to descend. He was like a river, Cernuda remembered, “always the same and always different, flowing inexhaustibly.”
The tricentennial of Luis de Gongora’s death marked Lorca’s generation from that year forward. Collectively, the young poets who attended the Seville homage-as well as several who did not, including Pedro Salinas, Emilio Prados, Manuel Altolaguirre, and Vicente Aleixandre-became known as the Generation of ’27. Although in time their devotion to Gongora waned, and among themselves they sometimes squabbled over ideas and personalities, their respect and affection for one another endured. “We love each other, we adore each other, we’re all of us the same person,” Lorca declared several years after the Gongora tricentennial. “And they’re all such saints!” he said of his fellow poets. “They look after my fame and my glory like a flower, like a flower.”
During the tricentennial festivities in Seville, Lorca sketched a set of “astronomical maps of poetry”‘ to show to his colleagues, a tongue-in-cheek visualization of the “Brilliant Pleiad” he and his peers were thought to be. According to a friend who saw the maps, Lorca brashly depicted himself as “the star” of Spain’s poetic heavens, “surrounded by an immoderate and by all accounts fabulous number of satellites.”
LESLIE STANTON has written for numerous publications and scholarly journals, including The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Federico Garcia Lorca Foundation. Excerpted from Lorca: A Dream of Life, by Leslie Stainton. Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Copyright t 1999 by Leslie Stainton. All rights reserved. photographs of Federico Garcia Lorca and Salvador Dali Herederos de Federico Garcia Lorca
Copyright World Poetry, Incorporated Jul/Aug 1999
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