Themes and Meanings

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As the title of the volume suggests, a specific evocation of the Arabic civilization exists in García Lorca’s collection. The poet looks back not only at the long years of Spanish decline but also at the agonizing years of the decay of the Arabic civilization in Spain. In mature Arabic literary culture, three distinct themes of love existed: sensual love; a kind of Platonic love, in which the sensual is transmuted into artistic or divine love; and “Greek love,” in which the poet extols the beauty and attraction of young men, often of humble station in life. In the Diván, the poet projects a form of Greek love, sometimes with Platonic overtones.

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The general theme of the Diván, as well as the particular theme of “Gacela of Unforeseen Love,” centers on the anguish of the memory of love and on the speaker’s present despair, which he is struggling to translate into language. The speaker’s voice has seemingly become disembodied; he is a universe of presentiment and nostalgia, of dark instincts and faded passions. Time hangs heavy; there is a sense of the poetry as frozen in time, of having no way out, of merely grimly enduring. In García Lorca’s personal images and metaphors, there is a threatening desperation that the poet keeps tightly controlled.

The gacela as a standard Arabic verse form used for love poetry is used by García Lorca to sing of a love no longer incarnate, a love that has become almost mystical in remembered passion. He adds to the Arabic theme a heightened sense of sympathy with the mineral, botanical, and animal worlds that create the immortal conflict in nature. This poem, as well as all the poems in the collection, reaffirms the cultural heritage García Lorca had derived from the medieval Arabic poets; the poems also celebrate the aesthetic of sensual form in fleeting time.

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