Landscape with Two Graves and an Assyrian Dog

by Federico Garcia Lorca
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Themes and Meanings

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Just as it is difficult to explain what a García Lorca image means, it is almost as difficult to attempt to offer the meaning of a García Lorca poem. “Landscape with Two Graves and an Assyrian Dog” is certainly no exception, but the tone of the language and the images suggest that the poet is concerned with the recognition of horror and that this poem is a confession of that recognition.

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García Lorca wrote this poem when he was staying on a farm in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. The owner of the farm, who was visibly suffering from cancer, owned a huge, half-blind dog that slept right outside García Lorca’s room. The terror that these elements elicited in the poet became the genesis for the poem.

Though he has been labeled a Surrealist, in poems such as this one, García Lorca transcends Surrealism. The French Surrealist poets would remain in the dreamlike world mentioned earlier, but García Lorca breaks out of the nightmare to take the world head-on, shocking as it may be. What is horrific about the poem is not that it is the transcription of a nightmare, but that it is ultimately about reality. The horrors of deformity and of people suffering—the horrors of everyday life—are far more terrifying than the horrors of the imagination.

Reality frightens him so deeply because one can never escape it. One can wake up from a dream or simply stop imagining, but one cannot elude the suffering one must experience as a human being. This theme of unavoidable grief is reaffirmed in the second stanza of the poem. García Lorca warns his friend, and the reader: “Here it comes toward the rock. Don’t spread out your roots!/ It approaches. Moans. Friend, don’t sob in your dreams.” Clearly something inescapable and terrible is coming and is bringing sadness with it.

García Lorca does not want the reader to remain sleeping, though; he urges him or her to wake up and listen to the dog howl: One cannot ignore the horrors of the world by living in a dream world or by covering one’s eyes or ears. One must wake up and listen; one must embrace what one fears. For García Lorca, facing up to what he fears is his only method of conquering it, and it acts as his muse to create art. He writes with his eyes, his ears, his teeth, his hair, his heart, and his blood. Because his entire being is assaulted, his entire being composes poetry.

As stated earlier, this is a poem of confession. García Lorca confesses that to him the sky and the earth engender death, that he has lost something vital to his existence, that he loves, and that he is afraid. He confesses that he and a child he loves “lived inside a knife for a hundred years,” suggesting that even his innocence has been ravaged. Essentially, the poet confesses to being human, and he accepts the tribulations of this responsibility through the force of his poetry which, to use his own words, even now remains “a conscious rocket of dark light, let off among the dull and torpid.”

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