Translations

Four poems by Federico García Lorca


Gazelle of the Dead Boy

Every single afternoon in Granada,
a child dies. Every single afternoon,
the water sits to chat with friends.

The dead are wearing wings of moss.
The cloudy wind and the clear wind
are two pheasants flying among the towers
and the day is a wounded boy.

Not a blade of lark left in the air
when I found you along the caves of wine.
Not one crumb of cloud left on the land,
while along the river you drowned.

A giant of water collapsed on the hills
and the valley rolled down with lilies and with dogs.
Dead on the bank, your body, like the violet
shadow of my hands, was an archangel of cold.

In this version of La Gacela del niño muerto, by Federico García Lorca, I have sought to preserve the haunting combination of simple conversational diction, turns of speech, and utterly striking metaphors of the original (‘blade of lark; crumb of cloud’), which include Federico’s favourite ‘x of y’ phrasal structures. The original poem features purposefully peculiar use of prepositions that add a subtle disturbance to the meaning, such in the case of ‘drowning along the river’ rather than ‘in the river’, an eerie parallel to finding the drowned boy along the caves; this I have wanted to infuse into the translation. In this sense, it is less my work and hopefully more Federico’s own voice and beat, though at the expense of the rhyme.

Wheat Ears

From Libro de Poemas, 1921

The wheat has given itself up to die.
Now the scythes cut down their stalks.
The poplars nod while talking
with the subtle soul of the breeze.

The wheat just wants some silence.
It filled and set with sun, and sighs
all through the wide element
where woken daydreams dwell. The day,
ripened in sun and sound,
over the blue hills loses strength.

What mysterious thought
stirs the wheat field?
What beat of dreamy sadness
shakes the wheat?

The wheat ears look like old birds
that cannot fly.
Little heads
with pure gold brains
and peaceful faces.

They all think alike,
They all carry
a deep secret they mull over.
They wrench the living gold
belonging to the earth,
and, like sweet solar bees,
they suck the scorching ray
they dress up in to form
the flour’s song.

Oh, what a joyful sadness you stir in me,
you, most sweet wheat.
You come from the deepest ages,
you sang all through the Bible,
and when silences brush past you
you play a lyre concert.

You sprout for human food, but look
the white daisies and the lilies
born merely for the sake of it!
Gold mummies on the fields!
The wild flower’s born for dreaming
and you were born for life!


Introduction to Death
Landscape With Two Graves and An Assyrian Dog

From Poeta en Nueva York, 1931-1930

My friend,
get up so you can hear
the howling of the Assyrian dog.
The three nymphs of cancer have been dancing,
sonny.
They brought mountains of red sealing wax
and stiff sheets where cancer slept.
The horse had an eye on its neck,
and the moon was in such a cold sky
that her mount of Venus had to rip
and drown the ancient cemeteries in ash and blood.

My friend,
wake up, see the hills aren’t breathing yet
and my heart’s herbs are somewhere else.
Never mind that you are full of water from the sea.
A long time ago I loved a child
who had a little pen-nib like a feather on his tongue
and we lived a hundred years inside a knife.

Wake up. Listen. Hush. Sit up a little.
The howling
is a long purple tongue that leaves behind
horrendous ants and lily must.

They’re getting near the rock. Don’t stretch your roots!
It gets closer, moans. Do not sob in your dreams, my friend.

My friend!
Get up to hear
the howling of the Assyrian dog.


Damp Patio

From Libro de Poemas, 1921

The spiders
crawled all over the bay-leaf trees.
Coincidence
starts turning to snow,
and the sleeping years
now dare to nail
the looms of Ever.
The quiet
made into a Sphynx
laughs off
Death singing wistfully
in a group
of distant cypresses.
The ivy that hung with drops
covers the walls
soaking in ancient
Misereres.

Old tower! Weep
your Moorish tears
over this seriously sick patio
lacking a water source.
The spiders crawled
all over the bay-leaf trees.

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