Themes and Meanings
“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.