The Spanish poet and dramatist Federico García Lorca wrote his famous “Oda a Walt Whitman” (“Ode to Walt Whitman”) in 1930 while completing a year of study at Columbia University. The poem did not appear in its entirety, however, until it was collected in the first two editions of Poeta en Nueva York in 1940, more than three years after the poet was executed by Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s fascist troops during the Spanish Civil War. From the outset this emotionally charged piece, translated by Ben Belitt in Poet in New York (1955), subsumes the confusing onslaught of city images that bombarded the non-English-speaking García Lorca during his first ever trip abroad in the wake of the disastrous stock market crash of 1929. The irregular stanzas and varying lengths of the poem’s 137 free-verse lines accurately reflect the bustling, chaotic character of this major metropolitan center. In addition, the poem implicitly contrasts the city’s arduous striving for economic recovery through local industry with the splendors of its half-concealed natural beauty. Thus the poem’s speaker can address “filthy New York” as the city of “cables and death” while musing in the very next line, “What angel do you carry, concealed in your cheek?”
García Lorca uses the ode, a celebratory lyric form, to praise the charitable nature of the influential American poet Walt Whitman (1812-1892), a writer closely associated with New...
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