Lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejías

by Federico Garcia Lorca
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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 378

Lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejías by Spanish poet Federico García Lorca is about a the famous Spanish bullfighter of the poem's title. The poet was a personal friend of the late Sánchez, who met the poet through his lover-turned-wife, "La Argentinita" (Encarnación López), a Spanish-Argentine flamenco dancer and widow of a bullfighter who had been killed in the ring. She was a talented dancer who performed in Lorca's plays.

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In 1935, Lorca wrote his Lament (Spanish: llanto) to commemorate the death of Sánchez when he died in the ring in the previous year. The poem is divided into four (4) parts: 1.) The Goring and Death (La Cogida y la Muerte), 2.) The Spilled Blood (La Sangre Derramada), 3.) The Laid Out Body (El Cuerpo Presente), and 4.) Absent Soul (Alma Ausente). The four parts of the poem mimic four distinct stages of grief experienced by individuals who have lost someone close to them. These stages include shock, denial, anger, and resignation. In the first part, the poet details the circumstances surrounding the bullfighter's death, using the refrain "at five in the afternoon." In this section, the poet discusses physical and temporal setting ("bones and flutes blow in his ear"). In the second section, the author moves into a stage of denial, asking the moon not appear so that he does not need to see his friend dead. This section's refrain is "I don't want to see it." In the third section, the poet beseech's the help of powerful not to let Sánchez die (I want them to show me the way out for this captain tied to death"). In the fourth section, the poet predicts a dismal world without Sánchez, imagining a time when Sánchez is entirely forgotten "like all the dead who are forgotten").

Sánchez was a quite sensational figure. He traveled the America as a stowaway, received a dangerous wound to his femur in 1914, and was in the ring when his brother-in-law Jóse Gómez was killed in 1920. Sánchez had been married to Gómez' sister, Lola, whom he left to be with La Argentinita. Lorca wrote this poem not only to remember his friend but to immortalize in poetry a man who was a hero of Spain.

The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 809

Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter is a long elegy divided into four parts corresponding to four dramatic movements. It was written to commemorate and celebrate the death of a man who many considered the bravest and most gallant matador of Spain. Ignacio Sánchez Mejías was also Federico García Lorca’s great friend. In this poem, there is complete identification between poet and speaker.

The first part of the poem, “The Goring and the Death,” starts at the very hour of the tragedy—“at five in the afternoon”—and proceeds to dwell on all the horrific details of the bull ring. A child brings a white sheet; lime is spread to soak up the blood; we can see and smell the chemicals of death, the chloride and the iodine. Surprisingly, what is missing is the fallen hero himself. It is as if the speaker cannot bring himself to look at his friend, lying bleeding in the sand, and instead must concentrate on what surrounds his body. The cadence is like that of a muted, tolling bell as after every stark image, the litany-like response “at five in the afternoon” is repeated.

The scene then shifts to Ignacio’s deathbed, where the killer bull, “El Granadino,” has become a bellowing nightmare that roars in triumph in the bullfighter’s ears in his delirium. The clinical facts of a terrible death by gangrene poisoning are expressed poetically, but the agony cannot be hidden by beautiful words. Sensing that, again, after every image, the speaker drums into the listener the hour of the incident, until, finally, the poetic voice rises in protest at the significance of these “terrible fives.”

The same fever pitch continues into the second section, “The Spilt Blood.” The speaker shouts that he does not want to see Ignacio’s blood in the sand and that no one can force him to gaze on it. (In this context, it is interesting to note that García Lorca did not witness the accident and later could not bring himself to visit his dying friend, even though their mutual acquaintances pleaded with him to go.) In the poem, the speaker wants night to come and, with it, the whiteness of the moon to hide the evidence of the truth from him. He tries to calm himself by invoking images of the living bullfighter who had always “walked with death on his shoulders,” and he lauds his friend’s courage, grace, wit, and intelligence.

Nevertheless, that is still not the real Ignacio, the man of flesh and blood who dies. The speaker is still trying to mask reality. In a further distancing technique—a further separation from the real, raw tragedy—Ignacio is now made the subject of medieval balladry. This entire section is written in the traditional Spanish ballad line, the romance. In addition, in another medieval echo, the poet imitates the famous cadences of another great Spanish elegy, Jorge Manrique’s Coplas por la muerte de su padre (1492, Verses on the Death of his Father). García Lorca, however, does not have the philosophical or religious consolation of the medieval poet. Therefore, in the concluding lines of this section, the intensity of voice rises again as the speaker insists that nothing, no symbol or image, “nor song nor flood of white lilies,” can contain or justify that spilled blood.

In the third section, “The Body is Present,” the verse line is lengthened as the speaker meditates on the finality and mystery of death. The stone on which the bullfighter lies is the symbol of the implacable laws of the universe, immutable for all living things: “Stone is a shoulder to carry time, with trees of tears and ribbons and planets.” There is no life nor movement here, only the silence of this stone. The speaker, in protest, asks the strongest, those “men of hard voice,” to stand in front of this stone, in front of this corpse and help him to discover another life for his friend and, by extension, for all humankind, but there is no hope. He then asks them to teach him a funereal song that may express adequately this horrible truth. Contrasted with the resignation of the final lines of this section, however, there still remains the lingering defiance of a friend who does not want Ignacio to accustom himself “to the death that he carries.”

In the last section, “The Soul is Absent,” the speaker talks quietly to the dead man. The “you” of his address is juxtaposed to the final “I” of the closing verses as the speaker insists that he is the only one who can, or wants to, remember the bullfighter. All other things and people of this world must forget, but the memory of Ignacio lives on because this poet can sing of his life and death.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 569

The poetry of García Lorca is difficult to translate because of the complex associations of his verses, which are an amalgam of surrealistic images, personal trademark symbols, and traditional Spanish poetic and thematic echoes. His genius lies in the ability to fuse these disparate elements into one fluid, musical whole. Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter is a master example of this poetical transmutation.

García Lorca was also a great playwright, and this poem can be described as a verse drama in four acts. Images and allusions are utilized as props or metaphoric icons which link the action and lead the listener/spectator to the artistic denouement. Two of these devices are color and the recurring image of the animal protagonist of the corrida, the bull.

Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter starts in medias res. The reader is not actually present at the fatal goring; only its consequences are seen as if in a blurred black-and-white film. All color is stripped away as, one by one, dreamlike white objects appear and then fade away into others. The white of a sheet covering the body dissolves into that of lime, cotton wool becomes “arsenic bells,” and the “sweat of snow,” white eggs. These surrealistic images contrast sharply with the jarring simplicity of the refrain, just as white objects stand in contrast to the steady flowing of the red blood which the speaker cannot yet look upon or even bear to mention. Yet both he and the listener/spectator know it is there. In this first section, the animal that physically causes Ignacio’s death announces the coming of this death. Agent becomes symbol.

In the second section, so resonant with traditional Spanish echoes, the roaring bull becomes plural and is transformed into the ancient stone bulls of Guisando, archetypal symbols of Spanish endurance and pride, and mute evidence of man’s impermanence on earth. These figures, “almost death and almost stone,” in their turn are metamorphosed into “the bulls of heaven.” Celestial forces, they represent the fatality which seemed to surround Sánchez Mejías; they are the “black bulls of sorrow.”

This black overcomes the white images of consolation which try to palliate the reality of death, but “no white frost of the light,” that is, reason, can hide the blood which now “comes singing,” forcing itself into the poet’s sight. The speaker had asked the moon to hide with its white light the blood of his friend. The moon, as a symbol of death, is one of the definitive images of García Lorca’s poetry. Here, its coldness cannot quench the fever of memory.

The dominant color of the third section is gray; the reds and whites mist away into “pale sulfurs” and “rain showers.” Even noise and movement seem to harden into the cold gray stone on which Ignacio lies and which gives “no sound, nor crystal, nor fire.” The speaker hopes without hope that his friend’s spirit can break free of the physical death which fetters him. The bulls become part of the earthly impedimenta which weigh down on him, preventing his escape. (The living Sánchez Mejías could not resist this siren song; he had to return to the ring one more time.) “The Soul is Absent” has no colors, no bulls, no stone, nor indeed anything for Ignacio. These symbols are only for the living.

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