Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter Summary
Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter grows out of a series of facts that help explain some of the poem’s allusions. Ignacio Sánchez Mejías, the son of a Seville doctor, was a member of García Lorca’s generation, a patron of the arts, a writer admired for his plays, and a nationally known bullfighter who had learned his art from the great García y Belmonte. Sánchez Mejías retired from bullfighting in 1922 but allowed himself to return to the ring in 1934, close to the age of forty-three. He was gored on August 11, 1934. Taken to a clinic in Madrid, gangrene set in, and he suffered a painful end, writhing on his bed. He died on August 13. The next day, his body was placed on a train to take him for burial to Seville, and a Madrid newspaper in bold headlines announced the time of the train’s departure: AT FIVE O’CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON.
García Lorca had strong thoughts on the origin and nature of the bullfight, and it is these convictions that help explain the rhetoric of the elegy on the death of his friend. The sport, if it may be called that, was connected to the Spanish character. As García Lorca noted, “Spain [was] the only country where death is the national spectacle.” Ancient Near Eastern religions deified the cow, and many primitive religions required the annual sacrifice of an animal to ensure the fertility of the crops. Bulls were bred in Spain in Roman times, and the modern art of bullfighting began in the eighteenth century. García Lorca viewed the bullfighter as priest, the struggle with the animal as a ritual, and the entire spectacle as a primordial pagan rite. The bull’s bellow in the ring, the blood that is shed before the roaring crowd, and the entwined movement of man and animal originate, García Lorca believed, in primitive spectacles from the Mediterranean region of Europe.
The poem consists of 220 lines divided into four parts. Part 1, “The Goring and the Death,” creates the turmoil that surrounded Ignacio’s accident and the agony of his death. With a dirgelike effect, every other line reads “At five o’clock in the afternoon.” Attributes of the goring and the clinic are strewn between each of these funereal lines: the winding sheet, the basket of lime to be thrown on the spilled blood in the ring, cotton and oxide, the operating table (“a coffin with wheels”), groups of silent men on the corners awaiting the news, and the metaphor that announces the gangrene: “death laid eggs in the wound.” The gored flesh burns like the sun, and it is five o’clock on all the clocks!
Part 2, “The Spilt Blood,” starts with an anguished shout, “I do not want to see it” (Ignacio’s blood on the sand). The poet cries out to his old friend the moon to rush to the scene and sends for jasmines so that their whiteness will cover the blood.
Lines 67 to 74 incorporate for the first time mythical elements. The cow of the old world licking up the generations of blood spilled on the sand alludes to the primitive cow goddess. The bulls of Guisando are standing stone statues not far from Madrid, erected as part of a bull cult. With this device, García Lorca turns the personal tragedy of Ignacio’s death into an event with mythic proportions, a millennial sacrifice. Ignacio did not flinch when he saw the horns near, but the “terrible mothers/ lifted their heads,” for they scented once more the sacrificial blood. These terrible mothers contain, as is so often the case in García Lorca’s poetry, several layers of allusion
(The entire section is 941 words.)