The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Western ballads have been transmitted orally, often as songs, since the Middle Ages, when they became known in Spain as “romances,” poems composed in the vernacular, romance tongue. The Spanish ballad, composed in verses eight syllables long, rhymes the same final vowels in every other line. Like most ballads, it incorporates dialogue and refrain. García Lorca adheres closely to this familiar form. “Fight” is also a rich example, however, of the kind of complex imagery that is often thought of as differentiating “high” from popular poetry and lyric from narrative. Fusing these genres was a goal García Lorca set for himself in composing Gypsy Ballads.

This poem tells its tale in a rapid sequence of largely visual images. Much of this poem’s charm in the original is in the complex awareness produced as the regular cadence carries the body along, while unusual images hold the mind’s eye in suspense. Rolfe Humphries’ 1953 translation sensitively recasts lyrical mood and cadence, while Robert Havard’s 1990 translation is more faithful to narrative elements such as verb tense. Two images illustrate the poem’s generally complex manipulation of cultural material and its interweaving of poetic device and narrative.

The fifth verse sets the stage, bathing it in a “hard” light of playing cards. The brightness of sunlight in southern Spain can make it appear hard, while light emanating from a deck of cards might also...

(The entire section is 563 words.)