Federico García Lorca’s “Fight,” in Robert Havard’s translation, is a short ballad narrating a fatal encounter between rival gypsies in the mountains of southern Spain. As in an ancient Greek tragedy, the story opens in medias res—in the middle of things—in this case, both spatially and temporally, as knives already flash half-way down a ravine. Horses rear in fury, a man named Juan Antonio of Montilla tumbles, his brow pomegranate-red with blood. A magistrate then arrives, accompanied by rural police, called “Civil Guards,” and sums up the event with: “it’s the same old thing again./ Four Romans have died/ and five Carthage men.” The reader has witnessed, it seems, the reenactment of a centuries-old quarrel in which the identities of victims change over time while the plot remains the same.
The ballad is traditionally a sparse, dramatized narrative. Sometimes long, as in the case of epic ballads, the narrative is nevertheless sparse in the sense of providing few descriptive details and little or no commentary. In “Fight,” García Lorca barely sketches in the events, and one’s initial perspective on them is distant, as if one is in the mountains and suddenly, across a distance, catches the bright flash of metal, hears the scream of horses, sees a man fall, and instantly knows what has happened. The perspective shifts somewhat as the ballad names the dead man and transports the reader to the site of the encounter....
(The entire section is 422 words.)