that poet Federico Garcia Lorca experienced in his native Spain or
elsewhere in Europe quite prepared him for the nine glorious and
terrible months that he spent in New York City in 1929. Here
he encountered the city's teeming multitudes, the imposing
splendor of its architecture which rose vertically to the heavens,
and the economic disparities that divided the metropolis between
extremes of rich and poor. He spent frenzied passionate days
in Gotham overwhelmed by the city's beauty and vigor, both
enamored and repelled by the city. All this is set down in Poet
in New York, a series of thirty-five poems. New York, a
city where Lorca felt one could (literally) be:
Murdered by the sky.
Among the forms that move toward the snake
and the forms searching for crystal
I will let my hair grow.
Stumbling onto my face, different every day.
Murdered by the sky!
Living in the dorms at Columbia University, Lorca became
enraptured with Harlem and empathized with its African-American
denizens and culture. "Being born in Granada,"
Lorca wrote, "has given me a sympathetic understanding of all
those who are persecuted - the Gypsy, the black, the Jew, the
Moor, which all (Grandians) have inside them."
African-American spirituals and jazz recalled for Lorca a
particularly emotional form of flamenco, the cante jondo or
'deep song' of his native Spain. In The King of
Harlem, Lorca exalts:
Oh Harlem! Harlem!
There is no anguish compared to your oppressed reds,
to your blood shaken inside the dark eclipse,
to your garnet violence, deaf and mute in the shadows,
to your great prisoner king in his janitor's uniform.
Lorca cannot hide the genuine affection that he develops towards
the city that nurtured generations upon generations of immigrants
or its wonderfully idiosyncratic inhabitants:
Not for one moment, beautiful old Walt Whitman,
have I not seen your beard full of butterflies,
or your corduroy shoulders worn away by the moon…
Lorca, the flâneur, looks on with the eyes of the dazzled and
repelled European, always the foreigner, as he wanders the great
Best known for his plays The House of Bernarda Alba and Blood
Wedding, Lorca wrote Poet in New York at the outbreak
of the Great Depression. He returned to Spain in 1930, and,
perhaps because of his support for the Republicans, he was
abducted by a group of Spanish Nationalists and executed in June,
in New York, Federico Garcia Lorca, A Bilingual Edition (tr.
by Pablo Medina, and Mark Statman)