Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The poem "Lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejías" is divided into four sections. Many literary experts maintain that the sections represent the stages of grief. The first section centers on the emotion of grief; here, the narrator is in total shock. Meanwhile, the second highlights denial. The last two sections highlight depression/anger and acceptance.
In the first section, the phrase "five in the afternoon" is repeated throughout. The narrator is fixated on the time of Ignacio's death because he is in total shock. This first section begins with a boy bringing in a white sheet to cover up Ignacio's lifeless body. In the next stanzas, we get a hodge-podge of surrealistic events that supposedly occur at five o'clock in the afternoon. The dissonant images highlight the narrator's shock at Ignacio's untimely death.
We read of a leopard wrestling with a dove. Iodine, lime, and arsenic (all solutions connected with death) are scattered throughout this first section. Lime is said to preserve the corpse from decomposition, while arsenic and iodine are often traditionally used in embalming fluids.
In this first section, an orchestra begins performing ("the bass-string struck up"), but there are still groups of silence in the "corners." We hear the bull bellowing amidst the scene of death. Meanwhile, death "lays" eggs in Ignacio's wounds.
In the second section, the narrator is in denial. His repeated "I will not see it" tells us that he doesn't want to accept the truth about Ignacio's death. He references the "bulls of Guisando." Today, these bull-like animal sculptures still exist in Spain. The bulls represent Spain's tradition of bull-fighting, a tradition that has endured through time. The bulls are both "stone" and "death," as if the Spanish tradition of challenging death is a national heritage and prerogative.
In this second section, the narrator also sings Ignacio's praise. To the narrator, Ignacio is a celebrated and courageous bull-fighter. He seems larger than life, a sportsman who always faced his bovine enemies without fear. The narrator proclaims that Ignacio is like a lion, a great "torero in the ring." He remembers Ignacio's "confident profile" and "beautiful body" and he doesn't want to believe that the latter is dead. The narrator also maintains that, even now, Ignacio is hovering disbelievingly over his own dead body.
In death, Ignacio's blood will fertilize the earth, flow through the marshes and meadows, and assemble in a pool near the Guadalquivir river. The narrator proclaims that, no matter what happens, he will not "see" Ignacio's wounds, blood, or body. He doesn't want to accept the reality of death.
In the third section, the narrator is depressed, even angry. He questions how such a "well-born" bullfighter can end up lying on stone. He can't quite believe that "all is finished." The finality of death is upsetting. He calls on courageous men, those who "break horses" and "dominate rivers" to bring Ignacio out of his death state. He doesn't want Ignacio to get used to being dead.
In the fourth section, the narrator finally resigns himself to Ignacio's death. He admits that Ignacio has "died forever," like "all the dead of the earth." There is no coming back from death, however much he wishes it. The poem ends with the narrator promising that he will always sing of Ignacio's courage, wisdom, grace, and gaiety.