“Blood Oranges” comes from Second Language, Lisel Mueller’s fourth book of poetry. In this poem, one sees subjects that have interested Mueller throughout her career, most notably the Holocaust in Hitler’s Germany and her fascination with poetry’s way of capturing the physical world so concretely that reality’s horrors cannot be ignored.
An interesting aspect of this poem is that it presents Nazi Germany, from which Mueller’s family fled when she was young, as a sort of safe haven, a place where a child could live comfortably in ignorance of the brutality around her. The abusive political system that Mueller looks back on here is that of Spain in 1936, where, on August 19, the famed poet and playwright Federico García Lorca was executed by Fascist rebels. García Lorca was internationally famous for his sympathetic writings about the poor common people of Spain, especially the Andalusian gypsies.
“Blood Oranges” describes Mueller as a child, living in Germany and reading acceptably pleasant German poetry from long in the past, oblivious to the Spanish political situation and unaware of the sheer greatness of the poet who was being murdered at the same time. There is a painful irony in the fact that, as García Lorca was being killed, the young girl was savoring the sweetness of oranges from Spain that are called “blood oranges.” Modern readers are able to add to this scene another layer, with the knowledge that the Fascist rebels in the Spanish Civil War were supported by Adolph Hitler and that Hitler would in a short time wield similar control over Germany, encouraging mob action against Jews and blacks, homosexuals and gypsies.