Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 436

The gypsy population of Spain is concentrated in Andalusia. García Lorca grew up in Granada and knew well flamenco, the flamboyant music and dance of the gypsies. Living on the margin of Spanish society and often outside the law, the gypsies were looked upon with suspicion by the middle class and were persecuted by the infamous Civil Guards. In his earliest poetry (much of it still unpublished), García Lorca displayed a ready sympathy for the underdog. He found it easy to champion the gypsies in Spain and later the blacks in New York, and the enduring theme of his work is the evil of oppression in both its private and public forms.

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From this web of social facts and personal interests grew the Gypsy Ballads (Romancero gitano). García Lorca proposed mythologizing the gypsies, turning them into subjects of poetry. In the ballads, he puts the gypsies on an equal footing with the forces of nature. They interact with the moon, wind, sun, stars, and ocean in one enlarged magical community. As in any community, friends and enemies vary. The sea can frown and olive trees grow pale as the gypsy girl Preciosa is pursued by the satyr wind in one of the famous ballads. Nearly all the gypsy ballads tell of an encounter between the idealized “natural” gypsies and the fierce forces of law and order. Such is clearly the case in “Somnambule Ballad,” for in García Lorca’s time, gypsies were often smugglers and it was the Civil Guard’s business to catch them.

Much of the attraction of the “Somnambule Ballad” derives from its skillful handling of the dream atmosphere. Sigmund Freud said there are basically two kinds of dreams, wish-fulfillment dreams and anxiety dreams, and García Lorca has managed to present both in a single poem. The opening lines sing of the desire for green, or for some kind of elemental force that can be love, sex, or nature and can permeate the world (the wind becomes green). The poem is framed by the narrator’s deep desires. Within the body of the ballad, anxiety centers on the fate of the young man, his sweetheart (how did she die? did she throw herself into the cistern?), and the identity of the old man, all dramatized by the omnipotent and drunken Civil Guards.

Salvador Dalí, when he first heard García Lorca read the poem, is said to have remarked that there seemed to be a plot and yet there was not. In capturing so well this paradox of the dream state, García Lorca created an arresting poem.

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