The Poem

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“Gacela of the Dark Death” is a short lyric poem in free verse. The poem is composed of twenty-four lines divided into five stanzas. The title, “Gacela of the Dark Death,” identifies the poem as a gacela, a form perfected by the fourteenth century Persian poet Hafiz. Gacelas are...

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“Gacela of the Dark Death” is a short lyric poem in free verse. The poem is composed of twenty-four lines divided into five stanzas. The title, “Gacela of the Dark Death,” identifies the poem as a gacela, a form perfected by the fourteenth century Persian poet Hafiz. Gacelas are typically short, usually rhymed, verses that often mix religious mysticism, eroticism, and daily experience. In Federico García Lorca’s gacelas, images drawn from his surrealistic and folk-inspired imagination figure prominently. Moreover, “Gacela of the Dark Death” has a place in Diván del Tamarit in that the typical movement of the collection as a whole is from a remembrance of erotic familiarity to a confrontation with and recognition of the inevitability of death. Death is the condition most associated by García Lorca with lost love, and water is a frequent symbol portending death.

The poem is written in the first person. A poet may adopt a first-person narration strategically, to speak through a persona whose outlook on life and point of view may differ from his or her own. No such difference, however, is implied in “Gacela of the Dark Death.” In the intimate, personal tradition of the lyric poet, the narrator speaks directly to the reader, establishing a foundation of personal experience. The reader is placed in a position to experience life as the narrator does, with all of life’s immediate sensations.

“Gacela of the Dark Death” embraces a return to nature, and particularly to the spiritual aspect of nature. In the first stanza, the separation implied between human concepts and conventions and natural experience is established. The poet attacks the artificial distinction created by Western civilization, which separates itself from the natural and spiritual (and therefore eternal) and overly emphasizes mortality. By the third stanza, the poet has transformed himself through a union with nature, and the commonplace in nature serves as the catalyst for this transformation. The transformation renders the artifices of civilization, including mortality, superficial.

Throughout the poem, the speaker emphasizes the personal quality of his experience that permits reunification with nature. Having paid close attention to dreams and learned the lessons offered by everyday experience, the narrator has discovered an alternative—a spiritual, fulfilling alternative—to conventional values. Ultimately, this alternative leads to a self-actualizing, eternal experience that, by comparison, reveals the shallowness of a civilization that is predicated on a narrow view of time. Finally, even such givens as death and time are emptied of their conventional meanings as, in the alternative experience, they are redefined and become nonthreatening, positive forces.

Forms and Devices

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Repetition is one important element of “Gacela of the Dark Death.” Emphasis is continually placed on personal experience through the repetition of “I want.” Metaphors of dreams and sleep lend a spiritual, metaphysical quality to the poem; it is through the force of these images that the narrator is able to transcend conventional experience. The image of the child is also central to the poem, in that it is the child’s ability to experience nature completely and without reservations and anticipations that allows an awareness of nature as a transforming entity.

References to apples are frequent in García Lorca’s poetry, and they usually represent the forbidden knowledge Eve attained. In the first and last stanzas of “Gacela of the Dark Death,” the apple is used to confirm the narrator’s desire to merge an eternal moment of sexual communication with a sense of eternal time (that is also death). In Diván del Tamarit the flow of water, which signals timeless death, is reminiscent of an Arabian, especially Moorish, sensual appreciation of water. This twin dread of and fascination with death is characteristic of García Lorca’s poetry.

The sea has usually stood in García Lorca’s work for infinity and death. To be touched by the sea in life is to become ready for whatever destiny awaits. Such a readiness enables the recipient to be better prepared for that destiny.

Literary Style

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Ghazal
Lorca’s somewhat loose metrical and rhythmic pattern in the poem is an important stylistic device and may relate to the traditional ghazal. The poem is not a technical ghazal, but it does have some interesting elements in common with the Arabic form, such as the importance placed on the two line phrase, which is called a sher and is traditionally considered a complete poem in itself. Lorca often uses quiero (I want) to create the effect of individual shers in “Gacela of the Dark Death,” particularly in stanzas one, two, and five, although the first two lines of stanza three make the only rhyming sher in the poem and the last three lines of stanza two make an irregular sher. These couplets give the poem a lyrical quality and may imply that the lines similar to a traditional sher follow the traditional function of a ghazal, which is generally to meditate about love.

Symbolism
“Gacela of the Dark Death” contains many images that have a profound symbolic resonance. Lorca employs archetypes from religions including Islam and Christianity, alludes to traditional elements of Spanish culture, and refers to a complex system of symbolism developed throughout his body of poetry. As mentioned above, in his book The Symbolic World of Federico García Lorca, Robert C. Allen highlights the ocean and the child as the chief symbols in Lorca’s poetry, representing the “womb of life” and “renewal” and regeneration, respectively. Other symbols include the apple and the snake, which refer to the Garden of Eden, the “establo de oro” (stable of gold), which probably refers to Christ’s Nativity, and the “viento Oeste” (West Wind), which symbolizes spring.

It is important to remember, however, that “Gacela of the Dark Death” is not a strict allegory (a symbolic moral lesson) and that Lorca’s symbols in the poem are rather ambiguous. In fact, Lorca is careful in his sophisticated use of symbolism to choose only symbols that have a complex duality: the child also represents a possible lover, the “high seas” also have connotations of death and violence, the Garden of Eden is both paradise and a warning of the fall, and the stable of gold also connotes the wild violence of horses. This renders the symbolism well-suited to the oscura (dark and obscure) themes of the poem, and emphasizes the complexity of Lorca’s meditations.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources
Allen, Rupert C., The Symbolic World of Federico García Lorca, University of New Mexico Press, 1972, pp. 1–7.

Anderson, Andrew A., Lorca’s Late Poetry: A Critical Study, Francis Cairns Publications, 1990, pp. ix, 2, 14, 67–76, 148–52.

Binding, Paul, Lorca: The Gay Imagination, GMP Publishers, 1985, pp. 193–201.

Boyle, Peter, “Some Notes on the Poetry of Federico García Lorca,” in Southerly, Spring–Summer 1999, p. 198.

Cobb, Carl W., “Chapter Five: The Later Poetry,” in Federico García Lorca, Twayne Publishers, pp. 100–01.

Gibson, Ian, Federico García Lorca: A Life, Pantheon Books, 1989.

Honig, Edwin, García Lorca, Octagon Books, 1981, p. iii.

Lorca, Federico García, Collected Poems, edited by Christopher Maurer, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002, pp. xxvi, 781–82.

The Selected Poems of Federico García Lorca, edited by Francisco García Lorca and Donald M. Allen, New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1955.

Newton, Candelas, Understanding Federico García Lorca, University of South Carolina Press, 1995.

Further Reading
Gibson, Ian, Federico García Lorca: A Life, Pantheon Books, 1989. Gibson’s biography of Lorca is extremely thorough and authoritative, and it is of great help in considering how the poet’s personal life affected his writings.

Lorca, Federico García, Line of Light and Shadow: The Drawings of Federico García Lorca, edited by Mario Hernandez, Duke University Press, 1991. Lorca was an influential artist as well as a writer, and his drawings offer some helpful perspective on his poetry. This book is a vivid overview of his artwork.

Morris, C. Brian, Son of Andalusia: The Lyrical Landscapes of Federico García Lorca, Vanderbilt University Press, 1997. This book discusses the main settings for Lorca’s poetry and the influence of his native region on his verse.

Stainton, Leslie, Lorca: A Dream of Life, Bloomsbury, 1998. Stainton’s accessible literary biography of Lorca tends to concentrate on his career in the theater but also provides an insightful discussion of The Diván at Tamarit on pages 360–64.

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