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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 332

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The primary theme of Federico García Lorca’s poem is the heroic nature of facing death. While the poet specifically presents the theme of the cultural importance of the Spanish bullfight, he extends the quality of heroism into the normal routine of daily life as well. The underlying theme of the importance of choosing one’s own destiny is offered through the metaphor of time, encapsulated in the duration of the fight. The poet also self-consciously examines the theme of immortality: although it is primarily Ignacio’s own heroism that will cause him to live on, the poet also has a role in endowing him with immortality. That is, the writer is a kind of hero because of their role in perpetuating others’ acts: it is primarily through words that memories are created.

The theme of heroism is presented within a specific Spanish cultural context in this poem but, more generally, Lorca can be understood as writing about the important, enduring qualities of Spain that were endangered at that time. Although he does not address politics directly, Lorca was well known as an opponent of Francisco Franco and his brand of nationalism. As Lorca writes movingly of national values, he is implicitly criticizing the corruption of those values that he saw occurring all around him. In praising the poet’s role, he is also promoting freedom of speech and expression, which he saw threatened. The heroism of Sánchez Mejías within one cultural realm may likewise be extended into the responsibilities of all Spaniards to stand up for what matters in their own society, even at the cost of their own death.

The idea that the time has come for all Spaniards to stand up and be counted is emphasized through the repetition of a single phrase about time. “A las cinco de la tarde,” “At five in the afternoon,” became a refrain associated with Lorca’s execution by Franco’s forces and, by extension, the ongoing struggle against them.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 694

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 advice of all his friends, had come out of retirement because he missed the danger and excitement and was killed while performing a foolhardy maneuver in the ring. In the poem, García Lorca eulogizes Ignacio’s “appetite for death and the taste of its mouth” and recalls the “sadness that was in your valiant gaiety.” This sadness reflects the belief that man’s existence is terminal; therefore, Ignacio’s courage is all the more to be praised.

In Coplas por la muerte de su padre, Jorge Manrique compares the lives of men to rivers that flow into the sea, but this sea is not eternal oblivion. It signifies the passage from mortality to eternity. Fortified by his fate, Manrique’s father accepts death with a Christian resignation. In García Lorca’s poem, however, the poet keeps repeating, “Now it is all over,” and in a direct rejection of the optimistic message of the earlier work, he cries out, “Go, IgnacioSleep, fly away, rest. Even the sea dies.”

Nevertheless, in one important sentiment, the final message of both poems, so far apart in time and philosophy, seems to coincide. Manrique, although he stresses that all mortal things are transitory and worthless, still clings to the hope that his father will be remembered; valiant deeds and a good life can endure, and his son’s elegy will reinforce that memory. García Lorca, too, sings so that his brave friend will live on in his words, but there is one significant difference: García Lorca believed that poets were mediums, bridges between different worlds; consequently, only through a poet could the dead make themselves known authentically to the living. Together, poet and friend can overcome the oblivion of death.

This interlocking of destinies has provided a poignant, historical background to the reading and interpretation of this poem. García Lorca identified strongly with the death of his friend; “Ignacio’s death is like mine, the trial run for me,” he stated. It frightened him that the animal that killed the bullfighter was called “El Granadino” (the one from Granada), an epithet that was applied to García Lorca himself. Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter has been interpreted as a premonition of its author’s own death; García Lorca was murdered in 1936 by Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. García Lorca’s life and death have been inextricably woven into the metaphoric richness of this work.