The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 511

As one might imagine from the title, “Landscape with Two Graves and an Assyrian Dog” is an unusual poem. The title suggests a painting of some sort—not an ordinary one, but a Surrealist painting such as Federico García Lorca’s fellow Spaniard Salvador Dalí might create. Such a painting almost always attempts to capture, on canvas, the illogical and imagistic nature of dreams.

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García Lorca attempts something similar in his poem. The poem is relatively short, consisting of three stanzas easily contained on one page. It is written in free verse with lines of varying length. García Lorca also uses jagged, discordant language, which, when combined with the form and length of the poem, serves to mirror the ephemeral and illogical nature of a dream.

One thinks of dreams as making an appeal to the subconscious to discover or work out something. García Lorca makes the same appeal in his poem. The poem begins: “Friend/ get up and listen/ to the Assyrian dog howl.” Each of the three stanzas begins the same way, by urging a friend to arise and listen. The poem is written in the first person, as are most of García Lorca’s poems, and the speaker is most likely García Lorca himself. It is possible that García Lorca is trying to rouse a friend, but because of the commands, the reader feels that García Lorca is speaking directly to him or her, thus reaffirming this sense of urgency.

The poem shifts from this type of command to the poet’s description of his surrealistic vision, about which he is warning the reader. In this vision, there are, among other things, “cancer’s three nymphs,” “mountains of red sealing wax,” and a horse with “an eye in its neck.” All of these images help build suspense and create an overwhelming feeling of terror.

García Lorca uses this technique effectively in stanza 2: “Wake up. Be still. Listen. Sit up in your bed.” The poet does not plead or cajole; rather, he commands, as if he and the reader are in danger. And indeed, this seems to be the case because the howling of the dog is suddenly transformed into a “purple tongue” that disperses “terrifying ants and the liquor of irises.” These images appear to represent two disparate elements—the frightening, swarming, regimented material world and the soft, pure, natural world. By transforming internal concerns into external symbols, García Lorca blurs the boundaries between the real and the symbolic.

This blurring of boundaries, the horrific images, and the fact that García Lorca urges his friend to arise, all suggest that the poem is a nightmare from which García Lorca is attempting to awaken his friend or the reader. The final stanza, however, is simply the first three lines of the poem repeated. The sleeper never awakens. Readers are left with the realization that the poem is not a nightmare, but the singing of the nightmarish quality of the real world, from which they will never “awaken.”

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 494

The most striking aspect of “Landscape with Two Graves and an Assyrian Dog” is the imagery. The images García Lorca uses are not the picturelike images one finds in the poetry of William Carlos Williams (which one can literally picture, such as “a red wheel/ barrow/ glazed with rain/ water”), but images one can picture both consciously and subconsciously. García Lorca’s images are images formed in the psyche. For example, when he says, “The grass of my heart is somewhere else,” he is speaking of the vital, natural, basic elements that are dear to him but are now lost.

García Lorca does not use these images to describe something, but to convey a mood or to express emotion. In this poem, García Lorca is profoundly stirred, excited, and his mind is racing, making wild associations at the speed of light. The images are so strong that the poem revolves around them. The odd juxtaposition of the images, one of his most startling techniques, creates an odd poetic tension that infuses each line with power.

One’s reaction to this poem is not intellectual, but emotional. Unlike many modern American poets, García Lorca does not attempt to encapsulate an idea in his poems, but instead attempts to translate the sensory nature of things into language. In “Landscape with Two Graves and an Assyrian Dog,” this is especially evident, because we see García Lorca express the mysteries of being human through subconscious intuitions. He does this with force and passion; the poem builds up so much momentum that it seems it could explode at any moment.

The result of García Lorca’s insight is that he creates a new understanding, one more real than reality. The images do not make “logical connections”; instead, they cross boundaries and connect elements of the subconscious that appear frighteningly vivid and stark. For example, the first stanza closes: “And the moon was in a sky so cold/ that she had to tear open her mound of Venus/ and drown the ancient graveyards in blood and ashes.” Because of the odd juxtaposition of the already odd images, it is difficult to explain what this passage “means,” but one can discuss the mood it conveys.

The aura surrounding this passage is one of death, which coincides with the title of the chapter in which this poem appears in Poet in New York, “Introduction to Death.” In the poem, the moon mutilates herself, which in turn “drowns” (smothers) the graveyard in blood and ashes. This act of violence covers the dead (the graveyard) in traditional symbols of death (blood and ashes), as if to suggest that the dead are now more profoundly dead. This passage is a classic example of what García Lorca calls duende—which is the sense of the presence of death. He believes that for a poem to be truly powerful and magical, it must possess duende, which this poem does.

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Themes