(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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 entire section is 941 words.)