The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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...

(The entire section is 716 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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...

(The entire section is 662 words.)