Eternal Post-Apocalyptic Vigil Lorca Puts Us On In His Poem, For The Sake Of Our Redemption

Truth is an intellectual integrity issue…, an ethical issue. We should be teaching our children how to determine what is true.
Harold Kroto, 1996 Nobel Prize Laureate in Chemistry

Fascism as the impossibility of truth – when fake (aggrandized) self-image, contempt and hate for otherness and artificial (fraudulent) goals (of self/group enrichment and despotic control over others) transform life into idolatry.

In 1936 Garcia Lorca was arrested by Franquist soldiers, and on the 17th or 18th of August, after a few days in jail soldiers took him to “visit” his brother-in-law, the socialist ex-mayor of Grenade whom the soldiers had murdered several days before and dragged his corpse through the street. When they arrived at the cemetery, the soldiers forced Garcia Lorca from the car. They struck him with the butts of their rifles and riddled his body with bullets. His books were burned in Granada’s Plaza del Carmen and were banned from Franco’s Spain.

City That Does Not Sleep

In the sky there is nobody asleep.
The creatures of the moon sniff and prowl about their cabins.

Nobody is asleep on earth.
In a graveyard far off there is a corpse
who has moaned for three years
because of a dry countryside on his knee;
and that boy they buried this morning cried so much
it was necessary to call out the dogs to keep him quiet.

Life is not a dream.
We fall down the stairs in order to eat the moist earth
or we climb to the knife edge of the snow with the voices of the dead dahlias. But forgetfulness does not exist, dreams do not exist;
flesh exists. Kisses tie our mouths
in a thicket of new veins,
and whoever his pain pains will feel that pain forever and whoever is afraid of death will carry it on his shoulders.

One day
the horses will live in the saloons
and the enraged ants
will throw themselves on the yellow skies that take refuge in the eyes of cows.

The men who still have marks of the claw and the thunderstorm,
or that dead man who possesses now only his head and a shoe, we must carry them to the wall where the iguanas and the snakes are waiting, where the mummified hand of the boy is waiting, and the hair of the camel stands on end with a violent blue shudder.

Nobody is sleeping in the sky.
If someone does close his eyes,
a whip, boys, a whip!

Let there be a landscape of open eyes
and bitter wounds on fire.
No one is sleeping in the world.
I have said it before.

No one is sleeping.
But if someone grows too much moss on his temples during the night, open the stage trapdoors so he can see in the moonlight
the lying goblets, and the poison, and the skull of the theaters.

By Federico Garcia Lorca

By Federico Garcia Lorca
Federico Garcia Lorca (1898 – 1936)

In three lines starting the poem Lorca describes three types of people with whom he populates the world he creates in his poem. These types, through intricate metaphoric chains suppose to refer to the people of Spain in a period around Civil war that puts the fascists and their leader General Franco as the rulers of the new, post-democratic Spain. These types are – the sky settlers, “the creatures of the moon” (“who sniff and prowl about their cabins”), and the earth settlers. The creatures of the moon are characterized by Lorca purely behaviorally, the sky settlers – only indirectly, and the earth settlers are those with whom Lorca identifies (by using in the line 10 pronoun “we”). Lorca puts “us” who are prone to destroy one another – so intense “our” fear and hate of life, on a kind of eternal vigil to make “us” able to be witnesses of our own violence. Even gods (sky settlers) are forbidden by the poet to rest and close eyes. But the creatures of the moon, it seems, are the prosperous or the poor philistines who try to live without personal participation in clashes of human history – who just want to survive and live without endangering themselves and their comforts by any action that may put them at risk. Creatures of the moon are not without moral maxims, but these principles became mute, lost articulation, became morbidly de-cathected. The earth settlers, on the other hand, consist of two categories – murderers and victims. Both of these categories of people are moved by social passions and striking (murderers) or shining (victims) verbalities. Murderers need language to make themselves ferocious, victims – to talk with their destinies.

From the line 4 to line 8 (“In a graveyard far off there is a corpse/ Who has moaned for three years/ because of a dry countryside on his knee; / and the boy they buried this morning cried so much/ it was necessary to call out the dogs to keep him quiet.”) Lorca draws a world where the living and the dead are co-present and co-exist in a kind of a bizarre and horrible togetherness struck by a common existential trauma, in a sort of a surreal community where both sides try to find a common language they didn’t know before when they lived on earth not yet destroyed by hate, crime and wars (even if these times exist only in their unconscious as a nostalgic dream). Lorca’s images display the exuberance of horror which he extends into virtuoso imagery which tries to dispel the pain through the consoling aesthetic touch. His poetic art embraces terror of life in the name of the dead and the maimed who need first and foremost the truth, not compassion.

Lines 9 /11addresses the fact that we, the creatures of pre-apocalypse (who are preparing its coming without understanding) are not able to differentiate between living and dreaming and transform life into a place for acting out our dreams, with disastrous consequences for humanity’s present and future (“eating the moist earth while hearing voices of the dead dahlias“– victims’ reincarnated souls that died again).

In lines 12 –14 we learn that in a world where violence is a norm as gulp of air we inhale, memories are dreams of the flesh – distortion of and distraction from the truth, when kisses become predatory like jaws that also hold the keys to the future. In a fascist periods flesh becomes mind, kisses – bites, and aggression and destruction – the only future.

And lines 15 –16 deliver Lorca’s condemnations of human inability to sustain life (to refrain from violent feelings and actions). He punishes humans for the inability to perceive the truth of human impossible suffering with religiously stylized condemnation (“whoever his pain pains will feel that pain forever and whoever is afraid of death will carry it on his shoulders.”)

The lines 17 – 20 are inspired by Lorca’s desperate futurological insight. Today, in the 21st century we see how “the horses live in the saloons” (louts who carry the logic of personal enrichment by any price to dominate or crush the world), how “the enraged ants throw themselves on the yellow skies” (conservative politicians and propagandists use god and sacred symbols in order to scapegoat those who think differently), and how “yellow skies take refuge in the eyes of cows” (how beauty and positivity of life pushed by hate and violence to retreat into the eyes of cows who are signifying the universal tribe of conformist and indifferent philistines, these survivors on the crumbs of the wealthy/powerful elites).

Lines 21 – 25 (developing the topic of lines 4 – 8) concentrate on the unbearable truth of the inevitable violent death – on further decaying of the bodies of the dead and wounded, when already mummified parts of the corpse want to disappear completely, to get themselves out of the torment of dying into absolute non-being. Lorca wants us not only see the physical death inflicted on the living and those who are already dead but not completely decomposed, but to feel the violent death not in the terms of its victims, but on the conditions of death including bodily decomposition – as a torture, as an apocalyptic violence against life and death. “To have a mark of thunderstorm” then means to be deadly bitten by an enraged nature, and “iguanas and snakes” then are the reincarnated souls of murderers who even after their death continue to practice their immortal craft, while “mummified hand of the boy” is a nightmarish signifier of a victim transformed into a predator (Lorca’s surrealistic parody on the ideological dream about historical progress).

Lines 26 – 32 include iconoclastic motif in Lorca’s scope of poetic experiences. He is including gods, deities and angels in those who need redemption. He demands from the gods an eternal vigil. He forbids them to turn away from earthly violence. The poet condemns not only the earth- and moon-settlers but the sky settlers as well to uninterruptedly look at the earthly violence and its consequences. He demands from them a better understanding of what’s happening with the world. He demands “a landscape of open eyes” and “bitter wounds on fire” – he invokes stars as cosmic eyes of the Creation, when stars see and burn. He post-apocalyptically invokes a cosmic analogy with earthly suffering. Stars/suns are dying by giving us life. Lorca appeals to the cosmic womb to understand the human suffering as a result of eternal return and repetition of fascist periods throughout human history as a result of human a vicious intimacy with inflicting violence.

Lines 33 – 36 provide the apotheosis of the poem. Oh, how well do we understand today, after invented wars of greed and the massive bailouts of petty criminals with big money appropriated through taxation of the illiterate poor, Lorca’s image of “growing too much moss on the temples”! The last lines mark the destruction of serious art in the totalitarian (in traditional or mass-cultural sense) episodes of human history, when theaters are transformed into skeletons and skulls, and solemn ideological goblets poison human reason with fraudulent jingoistic pathos.