The Poem

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 716

“Ode to the Most Holy Eucharist: Exposition and World,” a relatively short poem in classic hexameters, is divided into three overall sections of four-line stanzas (“Exposition,” “World,” and “The Devil”), which are thirty-six, forty, and sixteen lines long. The title indicates the serious nature of the poem, but also suggests the possibility of an ironic reading by emphasizing the superlative degree in “Most Holy.” This blending of high seriousness and ironic detachment is one of the hallmarks of the poem. When its first two sections were published in 1928, the poem carried the subtitle “Fragment” above the dedication, indicating that Federico García Lorca intended to add to the poem. The poem was completed during García Lorca’s visit to the United States in 1929.

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The poem’s original dedication to the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla (1876-1946), a devout Catholic and friend of García Lorca, irritated de Falla; the composer agreed to accept García Lorca’s friendly homage only because he hoped that the unfinished sections of the poem would reverse the evidently sacrilegious direction of the first two. De Falla’s reaction has been typical of many readers of the poem in predominantly Catholic Spain; the poem is infrequently translated into English and is rarely included in anthologies of García Lorca’s work.

The poem is written in the first person, and the speaker might easily be seen as García Lorca himself. In 1928, following the critical success of his “Gypsy Ballads,” García Lorca experienced extreme emotional difficulty in adapting to sudden fame and the possibility that his homosexuality might become widely known. In a letter to Jorge Zalamea in the autumn of 1928, García Lorca noted: “By sheer will power, I’ve resolved these past few days, one of the most painful periods I’ve experienced in my life.” Many critics have argued that “Ode to the Most Holy Eucharist” marks a brief return to the security of his Catholic upbringing in an effort to combat the emotional turmoil brought upon him by the increased scrutiny of the public. In essence, García Lorca was searching here for a way to come to terms with a Dios anclado (a God “anchored” in human terms). While he is clearly longing for the security of such a God, he cannot conceive of such a God in other than somewhat shocking human terms.

In the letter to Zalamea mentioned above, García Lorca referred to the composition of the rigorous hexameters of “Ode to the Most Holy Eucharist” as an exercise: “for discipline, I’m doing these precise academic things now and opening my soul before the symbol of the Sacrament.” García Lorca’s longing for control over the fragments of his life is reflected in the last line of the “World” section: “Immutable Sacrament of love and discipline.” García Lorca also referred to “Ode to the Most Holy Eucharist” as “probably the greatest poem I’ve done.”

The three sections of the poem might best be considered as three panels of a stained-glass window viewed in a large cathedral. “Exposition” focuses on the moment during the Catholic Mass when the wafer of bread is transformed into the body of Christ. “World” contrasts the nature of the divine with the nature of man and offers images of mankind’s tawdry existence. The final section, “The Devil,” presents a sensuous incarnation of evil in a manifestation of beauty. In order to understand García Lorca’s method here, however, it might help to imagine that the stained-glass window had at one time been broken; what one sees now in the poem is a reconstruction, an assembling of fragments. In other words, much of the difficulty in reading this poem stems from the fact that there is no real narrative pattern or story to follow; García Lorca chooses to present an array of compelling images for contemplation rather than a series of methodical points for understanding. In this respect, the use of regular hexameters (frequently employed for heroic subjects, and therefore appropriate to the “Most Holy Sacrament”) contrasts with the decidedly nonheroic images that the hexameters convey. The final effect is one of unease, of not knowing whether García Lorca is celebrating or mocking the “Most Holy Sacrament” of the Eucharist.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 662

“Exposition” uses the setting of the Catholic Mass as its basic motif and specifically focuses upon the elevation of the wafer at the moment of consecration. As the elevation of the wafer within the monstrance (ostensorio, display frame) is accomplished, the speaker marks its comparison to, of all things, a frog’s heart: “Live there, my God, inside the monstrance./ Pierced by your Father with a ray of light./ Trembling like the poor heart of the frog/ that the doctors put in a glass bottle.” García Lorca is emphasizing a double transformation. The first transformation, depicted in the symbology of the mass itself, is devout, reflecting the transubstantiation of God into man: the mass commemorates the moment when God became man. The second, in the construction of the poem, is ironic and appears to devalue divinity by comparing the beating of the divine heart with that of a frog in a dissecting bottle. García Lorca also indicates, however, that the God in the monstrance is “trembling,” having been pierced by a ray of light from his Father. Several traditions are blending here. First, García Lorca alludes to the Catholic belief that Jesus Christ was the son of God the Father. Second, he identifies that Father as a source of light (of enlightenment, or salvation to medieval Catholics). Finally, however, he emphasizes that God the Son, inside the monstrance, is trembling like the heart of a dissected frog. This last comparison emphasizes the contamination that the Son of God encountered as a result of his connection with humanity, and perhaps suggests that the Son of God made the transformation into the human with some fear. In any case, García Lorca’s God here is a “God in infant’s dress, diminutive, eternal Christ,/ a thousand times pronounced dead, crucified/ by the impure word of sweaty man.”

In “World,” García Lorca focuses on the human environment that divinity has chosen to enter. He presents this environment with a type of fragmented-image technique that is closely akin to T. S. Eliot’s style in The Waste Land (1922). Most of the images are taken from the seamier side of life: “The razorblades lay on the dressing tables/ waiting impatiently to sever the heads”; “Clerks asleep on the fourteenth floor./ Prostitute with breasts of scratched glass”; “To assassinate the nightingale came three thousand men armed with shining knives.” In each of these clusters of images, the meaning depends more upon the compelling quality of the image itself than upon its reference to a known story. In other words, unlike Eliot’s The Waste Land, which ultimately rewards the reader who examines the sources used in the poem’s composition, “Ode to the Most Holy Eucharist” relies solely on the arresting power of the images themselves to convey a picture of the dangerous nature of the world that the incarnating (recall that the poem focuses on the moment that God enters the flesh of man) God will inhabit. The entrance of God into such a world provides the antidote, or relief, for such danger, but García Lorca is aware that such relief requires a nonrational standard of belief. In two of his favorite lines, “The unicorn seeks what the rose forgets/ and the bird attempts what the waters impede,” García Lorca emphasizes that belief in the impossible (the unicorn or the incarnation of Christ) makes possible what was hitherto thought to be out of the question (roses remembering or birds flying, or the salvation of man). Only the sacrament of the Eucharist is capable of soothing the heart of the frog in the glass bottle and the hearts of twentieth century humankind: “Only your balanced Sacrament of light/ soothes the anguish of unloosed love./ Only you, Sacrament, manometer that saves/ hearts flung at five hundred per hour.” Finally, the sacrament is compared to a measuring device that would recognize an excessive speed and warn the operator against exceeding his own limitations.

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Themes