What is "Lament for the Death of Ignacio Sanchez Mejías"?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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"Llanto por Ignacio Sanchez Mejias", "Llanto por Ignacio", and also known in English as "Lament for the Death of Ignacio Sanchez Mejias, is an elegy, which is a written work composed in memory of someone who has died. This particular work is a pretty lengthy poem by Spanish writer and poet Federico Garcia Lorca.

It is based on the day of the death of the eponymous man for which the poem is written: a toreador (bullfighter) who was still on the prime of his youth, fame, fortune and physical attractiveness.

Lorca divides up the poem into 4 parts.

Part I: Cogida y death- This composite of 4 full stanzas comprises the moment when the bull corners and stabs Ignacio (la cogida) at exactly 5 in the afternoon. The poem begins with the body being freshly stabbed on the floor and a boy coming with a white sheet to get the body from the ground. It also talks about the reaction of the people, and relates in good detail how these things tend to unfold in Spain: the people coming from all over, the commotion, the crying, the chaos.

In a repetitive state that echoes Lorca's own disbelief of this moment, the breakdown of the death is spoken one verse at a time, from the moment Ignacio completely loses consciousness, to the gangrene setting in, to the bull getting killed. Each single verse being followed by

a las cinco de la tarde (at five in the afternoon)

Then it all ends with the actual death:

The wounds were burning like suns
at five in the afternoon.
At five in the afternoon.
Ah, that fatal five in the afternoon!
It was five by all the clocks!
It was five in the shade of the afternoon!

Part 2: The Spilled Blood 

This sad memory focuses on the horrid aftermath that succeeds a moment of chaos: looking at the actual scene; at the spilled blood. In this part comes another repetitive verse that equally mirrors and embodies the extreme pain that Lorca feels for the death of his friend. Hence, the words:

I will not see it (the blood)!

This part of the poem also gives a wonderful rendition of the man killed by the bull, with a noteworthy mention of the verses that describe him as beautiful in the inside and out:

The air of Andalusian Rome
gilded his head
where his smile was a spikenard
of wit and intelligence

These are beautiful words with which to honor a friend, a hero, and someone who was seen by many as a role model. This part emphasizes also on the influence that his death will cause on others.

Part 3: The Laid Out Body

This part deals with the horrid process of body preparation. The vigil, the burial, the pain of forgetting. Federico is clearly having a really hard time in this part. The anxiety of the poet is evident in that he no longer holds to the same format as the previous two parts. This part is written with more profound emotion, with less certainty, and with more humanity. The onset of desolation and anxiety begins to show face. Lorca is preoccupied with the future; one with life without Ignacio.

I don't want to cover his face with handkerchiefs
that he may get used to the death he carries.
Go, Ignacio, feel not the hot bellowing
Sleep, fly, rest: even the sea dies!

Part 4: Absent Soul

In this part the reader can sense defeat in Lorca. He is resigned now to the fact that his friend has passed. In fact, he is so upset that he sounds angry. He says over and over the repetitive verse:

Because you have died forever

in recrimination of the fact that life is so uncertain and ephemeral that, even the likes of Ignacio, one day must go. The poet takes jabs at nature, at life, at the universe. He is past the stage of depression at this point. He now needs to pick up the broken pieces and move on. Yet, it is hard to do. He tries, but it is very hard for him. All he can do is find solace in singing to praise the man that so inspired him, and whom he loved so much...until an equal Andalusian can ever appear again on the face of this earth.

It is, indeed, the most beautiful elegy in the Spanish language and one written from the depths of a very anguished heart.

Sources:

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