The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Despite the poet’s declaration that he himself did not know what was going on in the poem, “Somnambule Ballad,” Federico García Lorca’s supreme dream poem, readily yields most of its secrets to the patient reader. It narrates the plight of a wounded gypsy smuggler seeking refuge from the Guardia Civil (Civil Guards, the rural Spanish police force, at one time noted for its harshness) in the house where his sweetheart lived. Incantatory phrases, haunting images, and a confusion of the real and dream worlds form the background against which this ballad’s action takes place.

A strong sense of Andalusia, a province in southern Spain, pervades the poem. Country houses there typically have verandas on their roofs to allow the inhabitants to appreciate the cool evening breezes, and a cistern or water tank can be found in most Andalusian patios.

The poem opens by invoking the allure of the color green, makes a reference to the smuggler’s means of transport (ship and horse), and then describes a mysterious girl transfixed on a veranda. Her hair and eyes reflect the moonlight; while under its spell, she is surrounded by things that see her but that she herself cannot see. This is the first of many instances in which the characters in this dream ballad seem impotent, unable to move and to answer for themselves.

The narrator hears someone coming, and a dialogue occurs between two men—one of them the smuggler, the other his...

(The entire section is 471 words.)