Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 352

“Gacela of the Dark Death” is probably Federico García Lorca’s most complete exploration of the nature of death, an even more complete exploration than Lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejias , perhaps his most famous and ambitious poem. The second stanza is reminiscent of the work of Miguel de Unamuno y...

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“Gacela of the Dark Death” is probably Federico García Lorca’s most complete exploration of the nature of death, an even more complete exploration than Lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejias, perhaps his most famous and ambitious poem. The second stanza is reminiscent of the work of Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo. Human beings, in Unamuno, both need and fear immortality so that fear and desire, the opposing emotions involved, animate human beings through life. In the second stanza, it appears that García Lorca is expressing a wish for a complete death and that he has the courage to accept it.

In “Gacela of the Dark Death,” nature is held forth as a fulfilling, if initially fearsome, presence. The initial representation of nature is fluid and antagonistic, mirroring an inward landscape, in the narrator, of unfulfilled desire and passion. The last line of the poem suggests that the very act of lamentation constitutes a victory over mortality. Lamentation is cleansing.

The idea of a person facing up to what is perhaps the most horrifying fact of all—that his body will rot away—is present in the figure of a Dead Boy in García Lorca’s play Así que pasen cinco años (1937; When Five Years Pass, 1941). In that play, a young man is at the center of the action, and all the other characters are, in one way or another, projections of him. The play is also preoccupied with time, and especially with the tendency in Western civilization to live in the present, ignoring the timeless, universal possibilities of time.

Ultimately, in “Gacela of the Dark Death,” García Lorca appears to present an indifference to physical death. This indifference is accomplished because the narrator believes that he can be remembered, if people can be reminded of his accomplishments, or if he retains a mystical consciousness which is symbolized by the fruit of knowledge, the apple. In this quest for meaning, the poem takes on a meditative quality. Nature becomes a transforming force, able to strip away the mortal flesh of the narrator and reveal an immortal soul.

Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 578

Death and Love
The elemental forces of death and love are inseparable throughout The Diván at Tamarit, and in “Gacela of the Dark Death” this is a particularly well-developed theme. As mentioned above, the title itself is careful to draw attention to their intersection— a ghazal, or Persian love poem, about “dark death”—and Lorca considers the interplay of these ideas throughout the poem.

He begins by challenging the reader’s understanding of death, drawing on many of death’s traditional associations. In the refrain “dormir el sue˜no” (sleep the sleep), Lorca explores death’s connection with the “sleep of apples” while also considering death and sleep as distinct forces. By the final refrain, the boundaries of dormir (sleep), morir (death), and vivir (life) are, in one sense, much clearer to the speaker and to the reader in terms of what they truly signify; death is a soulless state enclosed in the earth while sleep signifies a peaceful and free state of regeneration. But in another sense, the poet has reversed the traditional meanings of these themes to the point where it is very difficult to decipher where each of them begin and end. For example, cutting one’s heart out on the sea is an image of life, and of sleep, to the speaker, but it literally refers to death.

Further complicating this idea is the connection of sleep, life, and death, with love. In the above example, the boy evokes the idea of a lover and cutting one’s heart out into the high seas implies the idea of passion and regeneration by love. As Rupert C. Allen writes in his book The Symbolic World of Federico García Lorca, the ocean represents “the womb of all life” in Lorca’s poetry while the child represents “the promise of man’s continued renewal.” So it is also difficult to distinguish the role that love plays in the battle between soulless death and soulful life, which already have a close duality themselves.

Indeed, it is particularly significant that, in the penultimate line, the speaker wants “to live with that dark child.” This is the first time Lorca has introduced the verb “vivir” (to live), and it is no coincidence that the image is strongly connected both to the place of love in the poem and to the adjective “oscuro” (dark), used the first time in the poem’s body, in order to connect it to the “muerte oscura” (dark death) of the title. Death and love have combined into an obscure force that can be either regenerative or destructive, and the final image of the poem emphasizes their inseparable duality.

Obscurity and Perception
Throughout “Gacela of the Dark Death,” Lorca is concerned with perception, darkness, expression, and obscurity. The theme of sleep is particularly important to his exploration of perception, since the speaker longs for distant and obscure sleep characterized by the “dark child.” The speaker’s self-consciousness about what he does not want to hear or find out continues to develop the idea that perception is obscure and dreamlike, as does his desire to be wrapped in a veil and his desire to sleep for “un rato, un minuto, un siglo” (a moment, a minute, a century), which is an attempt to obscure certain harsh realities of life that are never specifically explained. Lorca is considering what it means to long for obscurity and darkness, and why perception and self-expression are inevitably so obscure.

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