Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 547

The vituperative stance of the poem’s speaker regarding urban homosexuals, called “perverts of the cities” and “mothers of filthiness,” implies a certain distance between the speaker and García Lorca himself. These wanton carriers of disease who “bestow upon boys/ the foul drop of death with wormwood of venom” disgust the...

(The entire section contains 547 words.)

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The vituperative stance of the poem’s speaker regarding urban homosexuals, called “perverts of the cities” and “mothers of filthiness,” implies a certain distance between the speaker and García Lorca himself. These wanton carriers of disease who “bestow upon boys/ the foul drop of death with wormwood of venom” disgust the speaker with their base disregard for the feelings of their sexual partners and the studied artifice of their appearance.

Midway through the ode, these “toadies of women” and “dressing-room bitches” improbably try to claim Whitman as one of their own, pointing him out publicly with the “taint of their fingernails.” Their obvious antagonism to the natural world, though, precludes this possibility. Indeed, even when described in natural terms as animals, these raffish urban homosexuals appear in a negative light as “catlike and serpentine” and are later pronounced “dove-killers.” After all, sexual desire need not manifest itself so vilely; in contrast to the primarily physical and self-indulgent encounters of the city, the speaker reminds men that “we might, if we would, lead our appetite on/ through the vein of the coral or the heaven-sent nude.”

Having suitably praised Whitman for the sincerity of his motivations, the speaker unhesitatingly goes on to group his poetic forebear with those homosexuals whose honest embracing of their identity is reason for admiration. Addressing Whitman directly, as he does throughout much of the ode, the speaker explains that he does not denounce all urban homosexuals, such as “the boy who inscribes/ a girl’s name on his pillow,” or “the young man who dresses himself like a bride/ in the dark of the clothes-closet,” or “the stags of the dance-hall/ who drink at the waters of whoredom and sicken.” These men suffer unjustly because of who they are, and they harm no one (except, in some cases, themselves) as they poignantly attempt to come to grips with their confusing sexual stirrings. The speaker sympathizes with their plight and hopes that “the pure, the bewildered,/ the illustrious, classic, and suppliant/ shut the festival doors” in the face of their less genuine and more selfish counterparts.

In dire contrast to the “perverts,” then, Whitman, the poet so in tune with nature that he is dubbed a “patriarch, comely as mist,” emerges as the only figure in the ode to exist in spiritual harmony with New York City’s East River. “Nobody slept/ or wished to be: river,” the ode recounts of the single-minded workers in the first stanza. Of Whitman, again addressed directly by the speaker, the reader learns: “you dreamed yourself river, and slept like a river.” While “America drowns under engines and tears,” the poem closes with Whitman “on the shores of the Hudsonasleep,” García Lorca’s ode having again reiterated the poet’s enduring promise of love as peaceful, supernal coupling:

It is fitting that no man should seekin another day’s thickets of blood for his pleasure.Heaven has shores for our flights out of life,and the corpse need not make itself over at dawn.

The poem’s final striking image takes another step toward this ideal union of men by heralding the arrival of a phallic reign of nature in which “a black boy declares to the gold-getting white/ kingdom come in a tassel of corn.”

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