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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 547 words.)