Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 523

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In the same way that the ballad is brief yet dense with symbolic exchanges, the historical events of “Fight,” which last only an instant, raise questions of great historical scope. A quarrel that might be no more than an anecdote soon forgotten—“the gypsies again, the same old story”—is rendered as a reenactment of centuries of violence stretching back to the first wars in Europe. This particular fight thus becomes like a refrain in a much longer ballad. One might dismiss it wearily, as the judge seems to do. He sees that this story could be rewritten, but he can only read back in time, always arriving late.

The balladeer, however, always arrives in time; the story is yet to be sung to an audience that is waiting to learn it. As this story takes shape, one is invited to repeat and learn, and also to pause and wonder: Do human beings determine their own actions, or are those actions only the repetition of historical rivalries? Would a keener attention to the refrains that human beings learn so effortlessly provide a fundamental knowledge of what drives them, as well as their stories, forward?

The force of weapons carefully crafted to kill, of myth, superstition, ubiquitous images of death upon a cross, popular belief in angels of death, a history of war after war, and rumors in the air, ever present as incitements, all play roles in the story. The perspective of the balladeer seems limited indeed on such a crowded stage. Yet that perspective has written all those actors into a form—the ballad—that is the stuff of popular song in the balladeer’s culture, while saturating that form with complex imagery.

Among the worlds that come together in this ballad, therefore, are those of high poetry and of the songs that people sing without pausing to reflect upon their imagery and symbolism. “Callinga sweetmeat ‘bacon from heaven’ or ‘nun’s sighs,’” said García Lorca, is a charming, clever, everyday use of Spanish. He considered popular imagery in general to be “extremely refined and marvellously sensitive.”

Everyday English also makes frequent, if generally unremarked, use of poetic devices, as in “raging river,” “crows’ feet,” “the apple of my eye.” An important theme of this ballad, carried by its language, is that one may mean more than one realizes in one’s everyday speech, structuring thought and the world with symbolic associations that are anything but natural.

Like most ballads, this one presents a story as if it “speaks for itself,” as is often said of everyday language. Poetry, however, is not assumed to “speak for itself” in this culture. Responding to an unfamiliar convention, one discovers other stories—implied in images, symbols, legends, or traditions—that give rise and lend meaning to both fight and ballad. Poets can imply and help one to read those stories within stories. García Lorca has done so here, and as a result, a song of blood that was “mute”—but all too comprehensible to an unconscious mind—is given a voice and a body that one can consciously read, and choose to rewrite.