Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The physical setting of Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter is quintessentially Spanish: An Andalusian bullfighter, singled out by fate, dies defiantly in the ring. Its philosophical setting is a meditation on life and death. Two men, in the poem, must face this ordeal. Ignacio dies, but it is his friend who must deal with the implications of this tragedy. This personal poem symbolizes the universal dilemma of all human existence, what Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo called “the tragic sense of life.” Human beings desire the eternal but are confronted with the seeming finality of death, which must come at a specific time and place. This sense of an implacable fatality is overwhelming in the first part as the reader is continuously reminded that Ignacio’s death struggle must begin at a specific, inevitable moment (García Lorca was convinced that Sánchez Mejías had to die: “Ignaciodid everything he could to escape from his death, but everything he did only helped to tighten the strings of the net”).

Much has been made of the ancient Spanish “culture of death,” the idealization of those who deliberately place themselves in the greatest danger; much has been made also of García Lorca’s identification with, and admiration of, this concept, in which (paradoxically) the continual defiance of death can be seen as an affirmation of life. It is appropriate to remember that García Lorca, criticizing those who wanted to abolish bullfighting, said: “I think it is the most cultured festival that exists anywhere in the world. It is the only place where one can go in safety to contemplate Death surrounded by the most dazzling beauty.”

Sánchez Mejías, against...

(The entire section is 694 words.)