The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter is a long elegy divided into four parts corresponding to four dramatic movements. It was written to commemorate and celebrate the death of a man who many considered the bravest and most gallant matador of Spain. Ignacio Sánchez Mejías was also Federico García Lorca’s great friend. In this poem, there is complete identification between poet and speaker.

The first part of the poem, “The Goring and the Death,” starts at the very hour of the tragedy—“at five in the afternoon”—and proceeds to dwell on all the horrific details of the bull ring. A child brings a white sheet; lime is spread to soak up the blood; we can see and smell the chemicals of death, the chloride and the iodine. Surprisingly, what is missing is the fallen hero himself. It is as if the speaker cannot bring himself to look at his friend, lying bleeding in the sand, and instead must concentrate on what surrounds his body. The cadence is like that of a muted, tolling bell as after every stark image, the litany-like response “at five in the afternoon” is repeated.

The scene then shifts to Ignacio’s deathbed, where the killer bull, “El Granadino,” has become a bellowing nightmare that roars in triumph in the bullfighter’s ears in his delirium. The clinical facts of a terrible death by gangrene poisoning are expressed poetically, but the agony cannot be hidden by beautiful words. Sensing that, again, after every image, the speaker drums into the listener the hour of the incident, until, finally, the poetic voice rises in protest at the significance of these “terrible fives.”

The same fever pitch continues into the second section, “The Spilt Blood.” The speaker shouts that he does not want to see Ignacio’s blood in the sand and that no one can force him to gaze on it. (In this context, it is interesting to note that García Lorca did not witness the accident and later could not bring himself to visit his...

(The entire section is 809 words.)

Lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejías Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poetry of García Lorca is difficult to translate because of the complex associations of his verses, which are an amalgam of surrealistic images, personal trademark symbols, and traditional Spanish poetic and thematic echoes. His genius lies in the ability to fuse these disparate elements into one fluid, musical whole. Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter is a master example of this poetical transmutation.

García Lorca was also a great playwright, and this poem can be described as a verse drama in four acts. Images and allusions are utilized as props or metaphoric icons which link the action and lead the listener/spectator to the artistic denouement. Two of these devices are color and the recurring image of the animal protagonist of the corrida, the bull.

Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter starts in medias res. The reader is not actually present at the fatal goring; only its consequences are seen as if in a blurred black-and-white film. All color is stripped away as, one by one, dreamlike white objects appear and then fade away into others. The white of a sheet covering the body dissolves into that of lime, cotton wool becomes “arsenic bells,” and the “sweat of snow,” white eggs. These surrealistic images contrast sharply with the jarring simplicity of the refrain, just as white objects stand in contrast to the steady flowing of the red blood which the speaker cannot yet look upon or even...

(The entire section is 569 words.)