Lorca’s Spanish Ghazals: Treasure of Andalusia

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Lorca's spanish Ghazals
Federico Garcia Lorca Spanish poet, playwright monument, sculpture at Plaza de Santa Ana or Saint Anne square in the literary quarter downtown Madrid | Dreamstime

Ghazals in Spanish? Tell even modest poetry lovers that there is indeed a great volume of poetry written by one of the foremost Spanish poets of the 20th century, they will reply with a look of disbelief. That is because most people do not know that the great Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936) wrote the last collection of poems before he was murdered by Fascism-leaning nationalists, under a deep influence of one of the great Muslim poets of the middle ages, Hafiz.

Influence behind Lorca’s Spanish Ghazals

Indeed, not only was he influenced by the content of what he called “the sublime amorous Ghazals of Hafiz”, but also one of the typical Islamic poetic forms namely the Ghazal. So, it would not be farfetched to say, that Lorca had a deep influence of Islamic poetry on him, at least in the last years of Life. Incidentally, it was not Lorca alone but his contemporary Indian poet-philosopher Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941) was also deeply influenced by the poetry and philosophy of Hafiz. In his travelogue-diary on his Iran travels Tagore said about Hafiz, “We are friends of the same tavern”.

So much was Lorca’s influence by the poetic form that his last collection, published posthumously in 1940, is called Divan Del Tamarit. Tamarit is a country estate near Granada in the Andalusia region of modern Spain. Lorca spent the last years of his life in this estate. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Divan del Tamarit also expresses Lorca’s lifelong interest in Arab-Andalusian (frequently referred to as “Moorish”) culture, which he viewed as central to his identity as an Andalusian poet. He regarded the Catholic reconquest of Granada in 1492 as a tragic loss. Divan del Tamarit responds to a widespread revival of interest in Arab-Andalusian culture, especially literature, in the 1930s.”

Ghazals and Qasida

The divan is the Arabic name of a form of poetic collection where poems are collated according to rhyme-arrangements. The poems in this book are divided into 2 forms: Ghazals and Qasida. While Ghazals are a very well-known form of Arabic, Persian, and Urdu poems, in this a string of two-liners are stringed together through one common meter, Qasidas are monorhyme poems, which could be both elegies or laudatory pieces.

In the end, we must have a taste of Lorca’s spanish ghazals. Gacela de la Muerta Oscura is considered one of Lorca’s finest poems. Below is the poem translated into English by E.A. Melino, of course, it doesn’t retain the meter of the original:

Ghazal of the Dark Death

I want to sleep the dream of apples,

to escape the riot of cemeteries.

I want to sleep the dream of that child

who wished to cut out his own heart on the high sea.

I don’t want to hear that the dead don’t spill their blood;

that the rotting mouth is still begging for water.

I don’t want to hear about the agonies of the grass

or of the snake-mouthed moon

at work before sunrise.

I want to sleep a little,

a little, a minute, a century;

but all should know that I am not dead;

that there is a golden stable on my lips;

that I am the little friend of the West Wind;

that I am the looming shadow of my tears.

Cover me in the Dawn with a shroud,

because she will hurl clumps of ants at me,

and soak my shoes with hard water

so that I might slip her scorpion sting.

Because I want to sleep the dream of apples

to learn weeping that will cleanse me of the land;

because I want to live with that dark child

who wished to cut out his own heart on the high sea.


(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)