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Federico Garcia Lorca: Two poems

translated by Gilbert Wesley Purdy

Federico Garcia Lorca is notorious for having rewritten poems without the least concern for indicating which (if any) he considered to be his final draft. He was equally inattentive to the proofs of his books and often allowed the worst kinds of mistakes to go uncorrected. Added to these facts, the standard text of his “Casida of the Branches”, as established by the Madrid Obras Completas, provides no provenance for the poem. It is unclear, that is to say, that Lorca ever achieved a final draft, as he returned yet again, during the final days of his life, to rewriting the poems of The Divan of the Tamarit.

These facts have encouraged me to take a liberty with my translation of the text. I have changed the tense of the fourth stanza from the past imperfect to the present tense. This for two reasons I feel are compelling:

1 Lorca clearly avoids the past tense whenever possible in order to maintain an immediacy in his poems.
2 The stanza makes much better sense in the present tense, the approach of autumn being immanent rather than having already passed. The sense of the poem is consistent, given the change, the orchard being under an impending threat of decay throughout.

The alternative might be that the poet simply wrote a questionable stanza (this, of course, happens) that is inconsistent with his style as we know it.

Gacela of Unforseen Love

No one understood the perfume
of the dark magnolia of your belly.
No one knew you martyred
a hummingbird of love between those teeth.

A thousand Persian carousels slept
in the moon plaza of your forehead,
while four nights I lashed myself
to your waist, enemy of snow.

Among the plaster and jasmine, you saw
I was a pallid branch of seeds.
I sought through my breast
to give you letters of ivory saying always,

always, always: garden of my last breath,
your body escaped forever,
the blood of your veins in my mouth,
your mouth already without light for my death.

Gacela del Amor Imprevisto

Nadie comprendía el purfume
de la oscura magnolia de tu vientre.
Nadie sabía que martirizabas
un colibrí de amor entre los dientes.

Mil caballitos persas se dormían
en la plaza con luna de tu frente,
mientras que yo enlazaba cuatro noches
tu cintura, enemiga de la nieve.

Entre yeso y jazmines, tu mirada
era un pálido ramo de simientes.
Yo busqué, para darte, por mi pecho
las letras de marfil que dicen siempre,

siempre, siempre: jardin de mi agonia,
tu cuerpo fugitivo para siempre,
la sangre de tus venas en mi boca,
tu boca ya sin luz para mi muerte.

Casida of the Branches

The dogs of lead have arrived
among the orchards of the Tamarit
hoping that they might fell the branches,
hoping that they alone might break them off.

The Tamarit has an apple-tree
with an apple of sobs.
A nightingale extinguishes the sighs,
and a pheasant chases them through the dust.

But the branches are joyful,
the branches are like us.
They do not think in the rain and have slept
as if they were trees, suddenly.

Sitting with water on the knees
two valleys await autumn.
Their shadows push over stalks
with elephant steps and trunks.

There are many children with veiled faces
among the orchards of the Tamarit
hoping that they might fell my branches,
hoping that they alone might break them off.

Casida de los Ramos

Por las arboledas del Tamarit
han venido los perros de plomo
a esperar que se caigan los ramos,
a esperar que se quiebren ellos solos.

El Tamarit tiene un manzano
con una manzana de sollozos.
Un ruiseñor apaga los suspiros,
y un faisán los ahuyenta por el polvo.

Pero los ramos son alegres,
los ramos son como nosotros.
No piensan en la lluvia y se han dormido,
como si fueran árboles, de pronto.

Sentados con el agua en las rodillas
dos valles esperaban al otoño.
La penumbra con paso de elefante
empujaba las ramas y los troncos.

Por las arboledas del Tamarit
hay mucho niños de velado rostro
a esperar que se caigan mis ramos,
a esperar que se quiebren ellos solos.

Gilbert Wesley Purdy’s work in poetry, prose and translation has appeared in many journals, paper and electronic, including: Jacket magazine (Australia); Poetry International (San Diego State University); The Georgia Review (University of Georgia); Grand Street; The Pedestal Magazine; SLANT (University of Central Arkansas); Orbis (UK); Eclectica; and Quarterly Literary Review Singapore. More detailed information is available at his Hyperlinked Online Bibliography.

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