The Lorca Murder Case

García Lorca, Asesinado: Toda la verdad

by José Luis Vila-San-Juan
Editorial Planeta, 299 pp., 500 ptas

Federico García Lorca: Murder in Granada

directed by Humberto Lopez y Guerra
Swedish Radio TV/Channel 13

The death of a writer changes his writings, fills them with apparent hints and prophecies. If the writer is Spanish, the hints of death itself are overwhelming, and the prophecies often seem uncanny. Assassination is mentioned nine times in Lorca’s Poeta en Nueva York, for example—once actually in the eerie phrase Comprendí que me habían asesinado, “I realized I had been assassinated.” The effect of this, of course, is to lend a weird pathos to the squalid occasion in 1936 when Lorca was taken out to a road near his native Granada, and literally assassinated. But another effect is to make the poems themselves seem curiously shallow, metaphorical in the thinnest, most literary sense, only metaphorical, the work of a man who doesn’t know (or care) what assassination really means.

Tropezando con mi rostro distinto de cada día.
¡Asesinado por el cielo!….

[Running into the faces that I wear, different from day to day.
Assassinated by the sky…]

y ví dos niños locos que empujaban llorando las pupilas de un asesino…
[and I saw two crazy children in tears as they pushed the pupils of an assassin…]

Accounts of Lorca’s death provoke a similar double effect when they fall for the irresistible quotation from his work. Humberto Lopez y Guerra’s film discreetly shows a cluster of trees, with an eloquent guitar in the soundtrack. Then there is silence. Shots are heard. The guitar resumes, and we see the text of a well-known Lorca poem called “Memento,” which begins

Cuando yo me muera,
enterradme con mi guitarra
bajo la arena…
[When I die
bury me with my guitar
under the sand…]

Mildred Adams quotes from another well-known poem (“Mother, when I die…/ Send blue telegrams / To go from South to North”), and Ian Gibson1 quotes yet another (“If I die, / leave the balcony open”). José Luis Cano2 confects a miniature Lorca anthology to see the poet to his death, and ends with the last lines of Lorca’s lament for his friend, the bullfighter Ignacio Sánchez Mejías:

Yo canto su elegancia con palabras que gimen
y recuerdo una brisa triste por los olivos.
[I sing his elegance in moaning words,
and I remember a sad breeze in the olive trees.]

José Luis Vila-San-Juan has a little anthology of his own, but he closes with the same poem, and goes Cano one better by insinuating the imagery of the poem into the historical landscape: “The olive trees, close to the road, cast almost nonexistent shadows in the early morning light. The dawn breeze moves them sadly.” It seems to be true that Lorca was shot near an olive grove, but the rest, as Verlaine said in a rather different context, is literature.

The intention in all these cases is kindly. A little grace is to be added to Lorca’s dying, and he is to write his own epitaph..But his death…

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