Marina Ortrud M. Hertrampf (Regensburg)
Poetic Interplays: García Lorca's Poema del Cante Jondo and Romancero Gitano and Helios Gómez's Poemas de lucha y sueña
This article presents a dual perspective on mutual influences: On one hand, the essay analyses the influences of gitano ('gypsy') folklore and the stereotypical images of gitanos in Federico García Lorca's famous poetry collections: Poema del Cante Jondo (Poem of the Deep Song), written in 1921 and published in 1931, and Romancero Gitano (Gypsy Ballads), published in 1928. On the other hand, the article studies both the influences of Lorca on the Romani poet Helios Gómez and the cultural and aesthetical particularities of Romani writing that one finds in Gómez's verses, written between 1942 and 1956. Therefore, our theoretical approach is one of comparatist or rather literary imagology..)
As a young man Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) was strongly influenced by Spanish folklore. As AndalusianPayo, he was especially fascinated by the art of flamenco and cante jondo, which is considered an originally Calé tradition and which over the centuries had become integral part of Andalusian identity due to the co-habitation of Calé and Payo in Andalusia.1 In 1921, Lorca began to write his Poema del Cante Jondo (Poem of the Deep Song), which, however, was not published until 1931. The following year, he joined the composer Manuel de Falla in order to promote the Concurso de Cante Jondo, a festival dedicated to the enhancement of flamenco performance.
Lorca's Poema del Cante Jondo shows how much Lorca was impressed by flamenco, especially by the siguiriya, which is one of the oldest forms of flamenco canto, and is characterised by its deep, expressive and rough style full of tragic pain and its slow pace (cf. Leblon 2001: 29). Still strongly influenced by the romantic sense for pantheistic mysticism and the idea to return to the roots of being in order to grasp a hint of the eternal and universal truth, Lorca seeks poetic ways to approach the deepest powers of the human soul and the hidden spirit. For Lorca, as in Calé vision, this universal truth emerges right from the Andalusian soil and is reflected in Andalusian landscape with its dry earth, its hills and olive trees. In his conference talk "Teoria y juego del duende" ("Theory and Play of the Spirit of Soil") Lorca speaks of the "duende", which is an important aspect in Calé spirituality, too.2
In fact, Lorca, who befriended many gitanos, refers to the most famous Calé flamenco singer of thistime, Manuel Torre (1878-1933), when Lorca describes the essence of el duende:
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In several poems in the collection Poema del Cante Jondo Lorca tries to imitate the energy of flamenco performances that call forth the duende, the spirit of time, by using the characteristic cry "¡Ay!" ("Ah!"), which traditionally opens the siguiriya. Calé often associate this cry, with the way in which the wind blowing over Andalusian land bridges the gap between past and present and links birth, life and death. In his conference talk on "El cante jondo" ("The Deep Song") Lorca concretises these connections:
The poem "El grito" ("The Cry") illustrates well the quasi mystical effect of the grito on nature. In the first stanza the narrator says that the cry forms an elliptic sound effect that spans from mountain to mountain:
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While the second stanza shows an almost surreal chromaticity of the Andalusian landscape, the third stanza expresses the musical impact of the grito in a metaphorical way: the outcry changes the wind into music. The reference in the last stanza to cave men with oil lamps demonstrates the dissolution of chronological events due to the evocation of the duende. As will surface later on, the same leitmotifs (wind, silence, cry, chant, olive trees, darkness and light, death) appear in Gómez's poems.
In Poema del Cante Jondo Lorca works very closely with Calé thinking and imagery; he does so, however, without any romanticizing idealisation of Romani culture. Being a homosexual anti-bourgeois artist, Lorca himself felt excluded from the Spanish majority society and identified strongly with the gitanos, who were socially and economically marginalised by the majority society even though they were linguistically fully integrated. Apart from feeling socially alienated and oppressed, Lorca felt familiar with the way in which gitanos coped with repression and suffering: Like the gitanos, the anti-establishment artist Lorca was capable to use bad experiences as inspiration and aesthetic stimulators for poetic productions.
Furthermore, Lorca considered
the Calé culture as intrinsically tied to Andalusian culture, which at the same
time includes many elements of Jewish and Arab culture
Although Lorca's lyrical oeuvre is a declaration of his deep love for Andalusia, he lived and worked mainly in Madrid, where he studied law and literature. At the Residencia de Estudiantes (Student Residence) in Madrid he befriended the pioneers of the Spanish avant-garde, Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, who – before their dispute and separation in 1929 – greatly influenced him. Lorca was part of the so-called Generación del 27 (Generation of '27), a very influential group of poets that arose in Madrid's literary circles between 1923 and 1927.7 The poets of the Generation of '27 cultivated a wide variety of genres and styles that comprised a literary school that could be neatly categorized by style. However, what bound the group together was the aesthetical desire to bridge the gap between European avant-gardes and, on the one hand, Spanish popular folklore, and, on the other hand, classical literary tradition. The poets of the Generation of '27 were deeply fascinated by the baroque poetry of Luis de Góngora, whose lyric poetry was widely ignored by official academic circles because of its complicated style characterized by a lot of dark metaphors, called culteranismo.8
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In fact, the birth of the group marked the tricentennial of Góngora's death, which was celebrated at the Ateneo in Seville in 1927. At this event, Lorca held a lecture called "La imagen poética en don Luís de Góngora" ("The poetic image in Sir Louis de Góngora's work"). The study of the Siglo de Oro (Golden Age) baroque poetry is very important for Lorca's early poetry and will remain influential for Gómez' poetry, too, as will be discussed later. The reanimation of the genre of the romance, a type of (originally sung) folk ballad, whose origins go back to the Spanish Middle Ages epitomizes this influence. In fact, Lorca's collection of romances was the first romancero (a collection of folk ballads) in the 20th century. This revival, however, is far from being an unoriginal anachronism: Lorca is audacious enough to break the traditional form of the romance by blending it with the copla andaluza, a type of popular song that flourished in the 1920s and 1940s. Thus, many poems of Lorca's romances collection have stanzas and refrains. This same tendency to deconstruct tradition and convention appears in the poem's meter, speaker's perspective, and imagery. The traditional metrical system consists of octosyllables in assonant couplets; Lorca uses this meter but feels free enough to break this mould whenever he wants. Regarding the speaker's perspective, Lorca often uses a lyrical "I" instead of the traditional anonymous speaker, as in "Romance de la pena negra" ("Ballad of the Black Sorrow"). This lyrical "I" even engages in dialogue with a protagonist within the poem, thus stressing the oral and dramatic character of the poem.9 Lorca's metaphors tend to be dark, even surrealistic. Therefore, the nature of Lorca's romancero is a hybrid and innovative one.
Let us have a closer look at some poems of Lorca's Romancero Gitano (Gypsy Ballads) that became his best-known book of poetry in the Hispanic world and beyond. In contrast to the poems in Poema del Cante Jondo, the poems in Romancero Gitano mark Lorca's shift to avant-garde poetry. At first reading, the imagery seems popular and familiar – sometimes even stereotyped as far as the gitano world is concerned, as in motives such as graceful women, dance, music, horses, fortune-telling, virginity cult, cosmic visions, archangels, etc. – but at the same time the imagery is hermetic and strange and shows clear traits of surrealistic aesthetics. In an essay on Romancero Gitano Lorca emphasizes: "[…] the book is an altar of Andalusia with Gypsies, horses, archangels, planets […]" but it is: "an anti-picturesque, anti-folkloristic, anti-flamenco book" (Lorca 1975: 1084)10. The aforementioned "Romance de la pena negra" illustrates the strange mixture of tradition and innovation, of stereotype and mystery. In this poem the lyrical "I" reports on Soledad Montoya, a poor and, as her telling name indicates, lonesome and excluded gitana from the mountains, with whom he fell in love. The imagery hints at almost all the clichés concerning the world of the gitanos, which, concurrently, become strongly alienated by dark metaphors:
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In comparison to the Cante Jondo poems, most of the long poems of the Romancero gitano are much more political without being propagandistic or fomenting. They illustrate the growing polarisation between the dominants – Spanish men according to the ideology that claims purity of blood (limpieza de sangre) as the main marker for ethnicity – and the dominated – members of minority groups within the Spanish society, such as homosexuals, artists, or gitanos, who are affected by the acerbic "black sorrow," as is Soledad in the poem "Romance de la pena negra" (cf. Crosbie 1982: 88).
Lorca's political positioning appears much clearer in "Romance de la Guardia Civil Española" ("Ballad of the Spanish Civil Guard"), where he criticises suppression and arbitrary violence against gitanos. The lyrical "I", who is attracted by the "Gypsy City" ("ciudad de los gitanos"), finally identifies with the gitanos, who are persecuted by the Guardia Civil and whose city is destroyed. In a strange metamorphosis of poetic imagination and reality the shiny gitano town becomes part of his forehead – that is, it continues to exist in his imagination:
Lorca takes a clear stand on "Gypsies" and the "Gypsy city." Although he condemns all kinds of suppression of and violence against minority groups, he reveals himself as an ardent advocate of the Calé, the Andalusian gitanos, whom he defines as the 'true' ("verdaderos") gitanos. He thus clearly separates Spanish Calé from other Roma groups such as Sinti, Kalderash, Manouche, etc. With the Calé as prototype of Andalusian culture in mind, Lorca distances himself from stereotyped images and prejudices against gitanos:
But Lorca's view is far from one of idealisation or generalisation: When Lorca identifies with gitano thinking and culture and when he writes about them, he only thinks of those Andalusian Calé artists with whom he is familiar (cf. Josephs/Caballero 2007: 92). He proclaims: "From Jerez to Cádiz there are ten families of the most inscrutable pure caste that harshly protect the glorious tradition of the flamenco art" (Lorca in Rodrigo 1975: 320)14.
Lorca was deeply fascinated by gitano culture and literature (cf. Salgado 1990: 12), he tried to assimilate central motives of the gitano world in his works without reducing them to Payo clichés and engaged in fighting discrimination against the gitanos (cf. Bogdal 2013: 370).
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But when literary critics classified him as "Gypsy poet" he felt those critics discredited him, and he tried to distance himself from 'real' gitano poets because he was afraid to lose his literary reputation. Gitanos were generally considered as uneducated people without written literary tradition. Thus, in a letter to the poet Jorge Guillén Lorca wrote in 1927: "My myth of gypsyness begins to bother me a bit. People are wrong as far as my life and my character are concerned…Furthermore this gypsyness makes me seen as uncultivated and uneducated as well as a wild poet […]" (Lorca in Salgado 1990: 12)15. One year later, in an interview with the literary critic Ernesto Giménez Caballero, he stressed: "I am not a Gypsy. […] My gypsyness is a literary topic. Nothing more." (Lorca in Salgado 1990: 9)16 Indeed, Lorca never again wrote on gitanos. A 'real' gitano writer like Gómez nevertheless admired Lorca who was assassinated in 1936.
Helios Gómez's Poemas de lucha y sueña
Although gitano poetry – generally reduced to uncultivated, popular oral literature – was widely ignored by official academic circles in Spain's first half of the 20th century17, Helios Gómez used to proclaim proudly: "I am a Gypsy" ("Yo soy gitano", Tjaden 1986: 29).18 This attitude illustrates the unbroken revolutionary militancy of Gómez (1905-1956), who was an anarchist-communist in Seville and Barcelona from the 1920s on.19 Apart from his political engagement, he was undoubtedly one of the most emblematic representatives of Spanish graphics in the first half of 20th century. Due to his revolutionary activities he had to leave Spain. During his exile he took part in the avant-garde circles of European capitals. Back in Spain, Gómez continued his fight for freedom, equal rights, and justice and got in trouble with Falangist authorities several times. All in all, he was imprisoned for more than eight years. It was during these discouraging years in jail that he turned to literature. Until his death in 1956, only two years after his release from prison, he composed a wide variety of mainly poetic texts. Among other poetic texts he wrote the collections Credo del sur. Sonetos y romances (Credo From the South. Sonnets and Romances, 1946), Poemas (Poems, 1947–1950), and Poemas sueltos (Poems on the Prowl). His complete poetic works were published in 2006 under the title Poemas de lucha y sueña – Poems of Fight and Dream (cf. Carballés 2009: 45). In general, the imagery of his poems is much clearer and therefore easier than Lorca's often dark metaphors but we find the same leitmotifs concerning gitano or Andalusian culture: songs, cries, moon, blood, sand, wind. It might astonish the reader that Gómez's self-image follows much more the famous Payo clichés of Romani life than Lorca's presentation from the outside of the Romani culture group. A mystical form of Christianity plays an important role in Gómez's poetry, too. Many poems attach significance to God as well as the dark-faced Virgin Mary, biblical characters, or archangels. In fact, in many romances Gómez tells the woebegone story of marginalisation, discrimination, persecution, and expulsion of his people from an insider's perspective. But – very much in contrast to other Calé poetry like that of José Heredia Maya or Pedro Amaya20 – not all of Gómez's poems approach autobiographical themes gitano themes; some are general laments on poverty or, as in the long poem "Erika", on lost love. Others serve to testify his revolutionary impetus, as in "Sevilla, novia asesinada" ("Seville, murdered fiancée").
Considering that the case of Spain's Roma differs from other Roma populations in Europe – Spain's Roma are an integral part of Andalusian culture, they are for the most part sedentary, and they rarely speak Caló, the Calé variant of Romani language (Romanés) –, it is not astounding/remarkable/surprising that Calé literature is quite close to literature by the Spanish majority population.
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Gòmez was part of the Spanish and European avant-garde circles. Thus, it is not astonishing to find mutual influences and intertextual references to Lorca, for instance. While most non-Spanish Roma poets opt for song texts and write in Romanés, Gómez – apart from very few words or expressions – only writes in Spanish. When the code switches to Caló, as in the romance "No hables mal de los gitanos" ("Don't speak bad of Gypsies"), he strengthens his argument that gitanos are not inferior to Payo people – the Caló words in the poem are, by the way in italics, and translated by the author. The best example of the way in which he elevates the status of the gitanos is when he names famous personalities who have Romani origins:
Continuing the aesthetics of the Generation of '27, Gómez also refers to traditional Spanish genres such as the sonnet or the romance. In fact, Gómez's poetry shows even more parallels to Lorca's: both authors declare their love to Andalusia.
In "Los gitanos" ("The Gypsies") Gómez illustrates Andalusia as the new Promised Land, a new homeland for the Roma expelled from Africa:
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The fact that Gómez speaks of the banks of the Betis instead of the Guadalquivir to name the river that flows through Seville shows that Gómez, like Lorca, is erudite in referring to ancient history, mythology, and literature, and, in this special case, to Greek and Roman geographers who called the Guadalquivir Betis or Baetis.
Much like Lorca, who argues that the Andalusian gitanos are culturally and artistically superior to other Roma, Gómez praises the Andalusians as the epitome of culture. What makes them so special is the métissage of Arab and Romani heritage:
Interesting to note is that Gómez alludes to the limpieza de sangre ideology and at the same time distances himself from the Spanish castizo ("pure blood") by emphasising his ethnic hybridity as well as his affinity to nature (he claims to have "palm tree juice" in his veins). Whereas Lorca goes so far as to claim that gitanos never steal, Gómez' view is more negative or rather much more realistic. Having grown up in Triana, Seville's poor Gypsy quarter, Gómez experienced the constraints of misery that lead to crime. In the above-mentioned poem "No hables mal de los gitanos", the speaker enumerates well-known negative clichés about the Payo – they allegedly rob children and steal, have no morals, are homeless vagabonds, etc. – in order to modify this image by correcting these prejudices and by assigning blame to the majority society:
Gómez's admiring reverence to Lorca as an author who understands Calé myths and beliefs becomes apparent in his homage to him: here Lorca even seems to be one of them. Remarkably, in "A Federico García Lorca" ("To Federico García Lorca") Gómez's imagery highly resembles that of Lorca. In the mystical cosmic vision of the speaker the poet's chant – like the remembrance of Lorca's verses – becomes part of nature:
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I close with the speaker's concluding remark that Lorca's spirit will eternally survive in gitano poetry:
Bernecker, Walther L. (2007): "Von der Repression zur Assimilation: Zigeunerpolitik im Spanien des 20. Jahrhunderts", in: Zimmermann, Michael (Hg.): Zwischen Erziehung und Vernichtung. Zigeunerpolitik und Zigeunerforschung im Europa des 20. Jahrhunderts. Stuttgart: Steiner, 278-295.
Bogdal, Klaus-Michael (42013): Europa erfindet die Zigeuner. Eine Geschichte von Faszination und Verachtung. Berlin: Suhrkamp.
Carballés, Jesus Alonso (2009): "Helios Gómez et la revolution: de la peinture à la literature", in: Études Tsiganes 36: 38-59.
Crosbie, John (1982): "Structure and Counter-Structure in Lorca's 'Romancero gitano'", in: Modern Language Review 77 (1):74-88.
Eder-Jordan, Beate (2009): "La literature romani: une aubaine pour la literature compare", in: Études Tsiganes 36: 146-179.
Gómez, Helios (2006): Poemas de lucha y sueño 1942-1956. Barcelona: Associació Cultural Helios Gómez.
Hertrampf, Marina Ortrud (2011): "Camelamos naquerar: Literarische Stimmen spanischer Roma-Autoren", in: Blandfort, Julia / Hertrampf, Marina Ortrud (Hg.): Grenzerfahrungen: Roma-Literaturen in der Romania. Berlin: LIT, 169-188.
Josephs, Allen / Caballero, Juan (252007): "Introducción", in: Lorca, Federico García: Poema del Canto Jondo. Romancero gitano. Madrid: Catedra, 11-121.
Leblon, Bernard (2001): Flamenco. Heidelberg: Palmyra.
López Bueno, Begoña (1987): La poética cultista de Herrera a Góngora. Estudios sobre la poesía barroca andaluza. Sevilla: Alfar.
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Lorca, Federico García (1975): Obras completes. Vol. I. Madrid: Aguilar.
Panebianco, Candido (1984): Lorca e I gitani. Rom: Bulzoni.
Rodrigo, Antonia (1975): García Lorca en Cataluña. Barcelona: Plantea.
Salgado, Félix Herrero (1990): "El gitano en la obra de Federico García Lorca", in: Aula: Revista de Pedagogía de la Universidad de Salamanca 3: 9-20.
Soria Olmedo, Andrés (2007): Las vanguardias y la generación del 27. Madrid: Visor.
Tjaden, Ursula (1986): Die Hülle zerfetzen. Helios Gómez 1905-1956. Berlin: Elefanten Press.
Tjaden, Ursula (1996): Helios Gómez Artisa de Corbata Roja. Txalaparta: Tafalla.
Tjaden, Ursula (Hg.) (1998): Helios Gómez. Valencia: Ivam Centre Julio González.
1 The word "Payo" means "non-Roma". Spanish "gipsies" (gitanos) call themselves "Calé". Important to stress is that in contrast to other Roma groups Spanish Calé became sedentary quite early in the 17th century. Most Calé, however, suffered social marginalisation and always lived and still live in rather precarious conditions (for more details see (Bernecker 2007). Paradoxically, their cultural contribution to the Spanish majority society has undoubtedly been crucial and their artistic capabilities (music, songs, and dance) have been generally highly esteemed. Today, flamenco is seen as "typical" Spanish folklore.2 For a comprehensive study of Lorca's interest in gitano culture see Panebianco (1984). 3 All translations from the Spanish originals by Lorca and Gómez are mine. "Estos sonidos negros son el misterio, las raíces que se clavan en el limo que todos conocemos, que todos ignoramos, pero de donde nos llega lo que es sustancial en el arte. (Lorca 1975: 1068); Es decir, no es cuestión de facultad, sino de verdadero estilo vivo; es decir, de sangre; es decir, de viejísima cultura, de creación en acto." (Lorca 1975: 1068); "Este 'poder misterioso que todos sienten y que ningún filósofo explica' es, en suma, el espíritu de la tierra […]" (Lorca 1975: 1068); "Los grandes artistas del sur de España, gitanos o flamencos, ya canten, ya bailen, ya toquen, saben que no es posible ninguna emoción sin la llegada del duende." (Lorca 1975: 1070)
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4 La siguiriya gitana comienza por un grito
terrible, un grito que divide el paisaje en dos hemisferios iguales. Es el
grito de las generaciones muertas, la aguda elegía de los siglos desaparecidos,
es la patética evocación del amor bajo otras lunas y otros vientos."
(Lorca 1975: 976)
5 La elipse de un
va de monte
Desde los olivos
será un arco iris negro
sobre la noche azul.
Como un arco de viola
el grito ha hecho vibrar
largas cuerdas del viento.
(Las gentes de las cuervas
asoman sus velones.)
(Lorca 1975: 159)
6 Cristo moreno
cavan buscando la aurora,
cuando por el monte oscuro
baja Soledad Montoya.
Cobre amarillo, su carne,
huele a caballo y sombre.
Yunques ahumados sus pechos,
gimen canciones redondas.
Soledad: ¿por quién preguntas
sin compaña y a estas horas?
Pregunte por quien pregunte,
dime: ¿a ti qué se te importa?
No me recuerdes el mar
que la pena negra brota
en las tierras de aceituna
bajo el rumor de las hojas.
¡Qué pena tan lastimosa!
Lloras zumo de limón
Agrio de espera y de boca.
¡Oh pena de los gitanos!
Pena limpia y siempre sola.
¡Oh pena de cauce oculto
y madrugada remota!
(Lorca 1975: 408-409)
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12 ¡Oh ciudad de los
por un naute genovés;
si italiana fue su madre,
fue su patu, calorré. [padre, gitanillo]
Cual Rodrigo de Triana
y los hermanos Pinzón,
gitano fue Hernán Cortés,
gitano y conquistador.
De los poetas del mundo,
fueron Molière y Byron,
gitanos de puro origen
que la fama consagró.
(Gómez 2006: 106)
22 Por el desierto de
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23 La gran síntesis de
No es por mala condición;
Derecho a vivir les niega
Una sociedad feroz.
(Gómez 2006: 105)
25 El llanto amargo
que taladran los
26 Sólo los gitanos