Gacela of Unforeseen Love

by Federico Garcia Lorca

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The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 503

“Gacela of Unforeseen Love” is the first poem in Federico García Lorca’s collection entitled Diván del Tamarit. The words diván and “Tamarit” both have several meanings. Originally, the Tamarit was the chief administrative office of Arabic power in Spain during the period of medieval Moorish domination. It was also the name of a family home in the country where García Lorca spent summers until the time of his death. “Divan” was the Arabic name for the assembly of governors who held council with the Tamarit; a divan is also a collection of poems. In Spanish, diván also means “reunion.” By celebrating the spirit of all southern Spain, the collection may be seen as García Lorca’s attempt to come to a “reunion” with his past.

García Lorca labeled the twenty-one poems in the collection as either gacelas or casidas, forms invented by Hafiz, a fourteenth century Persian poet. In Arabic, a gacela is a short lyric form, usually with the theme of love; the casida is a longer poem of varied elements, one of which is the elegiac reminiscence of love or parting. The casida tends to be more abstract than the gacela; however, García Lorca neither adhered strictly to their Arabic forms nor made any real distinction between the two forms. García Lorca’s language and imagery are drawn from his own surrealistic and folk-ballad styles.

The first poem of Diván, “Gacela of Unforeseen Love,” is often considered to be the key poem of the collection. It is a short, extremely personal poem written in free verse, and it contains four stanzas. Its theme is that of fleeting love and inevitable separation.

In the first stanza, the speaker (the “I”) of the poem addresses his male lover, using the past tense to recall the “perfume” of his lover’s body, in particular his “belly’s dark magnolia.” He reiterates the fact that he alone understood that body and notes how his lover tormented him by taking “love’s hummingbird” (an unusual phallic symbol) between his teeth. The speaker goes on to describe that as his lover slept and dreamed of “a thousand Persian ponies,” an allusion to Spain’s Moorish past, the speaker embraced his lover’s waist for four consecutive nights.

In the third and fourth stanzas, the lover’s glance is described as “between plaster and jasmine,” images connoting hardness and softness; the speaker continues his description, calling the glance “a pale seed-branch,” something that can be as transitory or as ephemeral as seeds scattering in the wind. Then, desiring to give his lover a symbol of permanence, the speaker searches his heart and thinks about giving his lover letters carved out of ivory that spell “always.” Yet that same word is also the speaker’s “garden of agony,” because he knows that permanence in love is unattainable and death will overtake both lover and beloved. In the poem, time, as well as love, is fleeting; separation is inevitable.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 278

In “Gacela of Unforeseen Love,” García Lorca sketches in imagery that is partly Eastern and partly surrealistic his attraction to a young man. In the first stanza, the strange image of “love’s hummingbird” also appears in a painting by Salvador Dalí. García Lorca’s central image in this stanza is the magnolia, which he has made dark with all the suggestions of the word—the dark night of passion, dark as isolation and oblivion. The speaker tries with all of his being to make his love eternal, but he fails.

It is interesting to note that form illustrates content. The third stanza ends with the word “always.” The fourth stanza repeats the word twice more; the form of this broken stanza illustrates the impermanence of love, declaring that permanence was not to be in “the ivory letters saying always.” The speaker is writing in the garden of the Tamarit, the same one in which the Arabic poets mused long ago, but it has become for him a “garden of agony.”

At the poem’s end, images of light and dark prevail: “the blood of your veins in my mouth/ your mouth’s light gone out for my death.” The sensual connotations of “night” and “darkness” seem to outweigh the foreboding attributes of these words. The speaker seems almost willing to accept the transitory nature of existence: He accepts only “four nights” of love with his lover, and at the end of the poem he accepts the fact that he must die. Thus, in “Gacela of Unforeseen Love” there is a movement from a remembrance of erotic attachment to a recognition of the fact of death.

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