The Poem

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

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“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.

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.