Frederico Garcia Lorca’s “romance de la pena negra” was published alongside various similar poems in the book entitled “Romancero Gitano” or commonly known as the Gypsy Ballads.
The poems therein focused on the character of the gypsy which acted as a representation of the instincts and passions unbridled by the trappings of morality, society, cultural training and distinction. This particular distinction accorded to gypsies is not unique to Lorca but rather can be seen in other famous work such as The Hunch Back of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo where the female character Esmeralda is represented as being outside the normal trappings of society, being the embodiment of passion and freedom. Another similarity between the two works can be seen in Lorca’s representation within the various poems of the supposed “omnipresence of sexual instincts” (Edkins 238 – 239) which are always threatened by repression yet break free nonetheless often times leading to a sudden and climactic death.
As you may recall, the character of Esmeralda also died towards the end of the novel. This is indicative of a style that shows how the release of unbridled passion is usually looked down upon by society and is met by an ignominious and sudden unfortunate ending in most cases. While the poem “romance de la pena negra” does not end in the death of the character it does appear to end negatively. As such, based on the comparison of the works of Lorca with other similar kinds of literature using the same type of literary pattern this paper will attempt to examine whether freedom and passion for Lorca, despite the overtly sexual content of his work, are aspects which should be controlled lest they result in an ignominious end.
Examination of Ballad Structure and use of Dramatic Imagery
This particular work of Lorca utilizes an 8 syllable line rhyming structure prevalent to many poems produced in that era. Due to the simplicity of the structure the poem is easy to read and as such the dramatic imagery that it imparts becomes that much more impressive. The one criticism I have of various poetry styles that attempt to use dramatic imagery is that at times they use overly complicated structures or monosyllabic structures which are hard to understand or comprehend immediately. For example the poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” is considered to be the masterpiece of 20th century writer William Carlos Williams, supposedly written in five minutes when he was caring for a sick child that eventually died.
In this case instead of the various lines being measured by syllables they are instead measured by words with each stanza in the poem having three words with a single line coming after that with just a single word. Though this particular type of poem is attempting invoke a type of dramatic imagery through simplicity its overall style is so far from the norm that most people find it hard to comprehend the meaning of the poem let alone see any form of imagery resulting from it. On the other hand the styles utilized by Larco are far more reminiscent of traditional poetry styles and thus can easily be interpreted and understood. This in itself could be considered an intentional aspect of the poem done by Larco in order for the imagery he was trying to portray to appear more easily.
Repeated reading of the poem invokes two distinct forms of imagery to describe Soledad Montoya, the first taking the form of a river flowing down a mountain, the second being the imagery of a woman traversing the mountain steppes with her clothes undone and her hair all around her face.
When researching the words “Soledad Montayo” nothing truly definite came about that accurately describe who or what it was. The reasoning behind its usage can thus be attributed to artistic license where the author wanted it to mean something for a specific reason with which many interpretations can be derived.
First Imagery: The Raging Mountain Stream
While this particular interpretation of the imagery invoked by the poem is far from traditional interpretations the fact remains that if an individual were to try to interpret the poem from a literal context many would assume that the few beginning stanzas were describing a river. For example the lines “down the dark mountain comes Soledad Montoya” (Edkins 238 – 239), if placed in the context of a geographic location most people would think it refers to a river.
This interpretation is further justified by the succeeding lines “Yellow copper, her flesh, smells of horses and dusk” (Edkins 238 – 239), it is a well known practice in various agricultural parts of Spain to take horses out in order to let them drink from the river. Since it takes a while for the water to flow down a mountain the water that drips down from the time of dusk reaches the horses by the time of dawn. The yellow color is attributed to the light of the sun striking the water’s surface giving it a slight golden sheen. This final line from the poem solidifies this line of reasoning “Soledad of my sorrows, a stampeding horse ends up in the sea and is swallowed by the waves” (Edkins 238 – 239).
One well known fact is that all rivers inexorably flow from mountains to the sea, the flow of water increases depending on the breadth and depths of the water making it seem at times like the stampeding hooves of horses. While this interpretation is largely literal it does make quite a bit of sense when compared to stanzas used to show the correlation between the poem and the river. The use of personification in various parts of the poem could be interpreted as the river speaking, an occurrence that is not unique in the realm of poetry where the use of personification has been attributed to far stranger objects.
Second Imagery: Woman traversing the mountain steppes on her way home
The second and most widely accepted imagery attributed to the poem “romance de la pena negra” is that of a mountain girl in Spain coming down from the mountains with a disheveled appearance who had tried to look for her forsaken lover. An attempt to translate the words “Soledad Montoya” using Google Translate shows that the word “Soledad” could be interpreted as “solitude”, to contextualize this word to better fit the poem the translation would be “lonely Montoya”. Based on this it can be assumed that the character of Soledad Montoya is someone that is lonely.
The gender is defined from the following line: “smoky anvils, her breasts wail rounded songs, braids trailing the ground, my body and clothes, my linen camisoles” (Edkins 238 – 239). The use of breasts, braids and linen camisoles is indicative of the physical traits seen in women and unlikely to be utilized by men as such the character in poem can be described as a lonely woman when adapting the use of the word “Soledad” to indicate loneliness. Another factor to take into consideration is the title of the poem itself “romance de la pena negra”, a literal translation of this results in the phrase “ballad of the black grief”. When taking the title of the poem into consideration and the interpretation of the word “Soledad” to mean loneliness the resulting characterization is that of a lonely woman that is grieving. To this end it must then be asked what the woman is grieving about, the following lines shed light on answering this particular question: “do not remind me of the sea, for the black grief is born under the rustling of the leaves in the lands of the olive tree” (Edkins 238 – 239). Three particular details must be noted here, for one the poem obviously takes place in the setting of a mountainous region, secondly the character specifically mentions the sea as the source of her grief and finally the phrase “lands of the olive tree” (Edkins 238 – 239) indicates a place far away.
One assumption that seems the most likely is that the origin of her grief is someone who left on a ship on the sea to go to the land of olive trees. An examination of various literary contexts specifically mentioning the phrase “the land of the olive trees” indicates the area to either be in Italy or somewhere near Greece or the Mediterranean. Since the setting of this poem is assumed to be in Spain this indicates that that the lover of Soledad went away to the land of olive trees. Thus the plot of the poem becomes obvious, the character “Soledad Montoya” is walking through a mountainous region after seeing her lover leave on a ship on the way to the land of olive trees. Her loss creates loneliness and sorrow emphasized by the lines “what a pitiful grief, you weep drops of lemon, bitter lips, sour with waiting, how heavy is my grief” (Edkins 238 – 239).
Interpreting the Context of the Second Imagery
Earlier it was stated that within the various poems in “Romancero Gitano” there existed the supposed “omnipresence of sexual instincts” (Edkins 238 – 239) which are always threatened by repression yet break free nonetheless often times leading to a sudden and climactic death. The character of the gypsy acted as a representation of the instincts and passions unbridled by the trappings of morality, society, cultural training and distinction which is an ever present aspect of the various poems thus it can be assumed that such aspects also exist within “romance de la pena negra” as well.
As mentioned earlier the work of Lorca tended to focus a lot on freedom and unbridled sexual instincts however in several poems the result of such exuberance has always ended in sorrow. The same can be said of the situation in “romance de la pena negra”, the character of Soledad Montayo can thus be assumed to be the personification of the sexual qualities Lorca liked to imbue in his poems. Stanzas such as “yellow copper, her flesh smells of horses and dusk, smoky anvils, her breasts” seems to bring forth the imagery of a truly spectacularly beautiful woman who embodied the freedom and sensuality associated with gypsies. In the poem itself there are actually two voices, that of Soledad and another that asks her who she seeks and tells her to clean her body, as such it can be assumed that this individual is a parent possibly the mother of the character herself. As such in this poem we are privy to the scene of a mother comforting her daughter after she had lost her love. Another interpretation of the poem using the same context can be that Soledad Montayo was taken advantage of with the word Solidad taking on the meaning of “sorrow” instead of loneliness. For example these are several curious lines in the poem that need to be examined more closely: “tormenting pain! turning jet black, my body and clothes, my linen camisoles! my thighs of red poppy!” (Edkins 238 – 239).
While emotions associated to grief can cause pain the next set of words “turning jet black” add a rather curious detail to the poem. While it can be assumed that the term “turning jet black” could be assumed as her heart turning black as is seen in numerous poems about lost love there is no specific mention of the heart itself. Rather turning jet black could be associated with apparent injuries that are turning jet black which are causing her pain. What must be understood is that Lorca enjoyed adding overtly sexual references to much of his work and as such it would not be surprising to see an aspect of that reflected in this poem. The tormenting pain, the injuries turning jet black and a specific reference to her thighs being red could be indicators of an apparent sexual assault.
Many version attempting to interpret the poem of Lorca always seem to depict Soledad Montoya in rags, another interpretation could be that her dress was ripped as a result of being assaulted. In keeping with the ignominious end several gypsies in the poems of Lorca met, in this instance it could be that Soledad Montoya was with her love who was headed to the land of olives yet refused to give herself to him, as a result he overpowered her, raped her and left. This would explain why the parent in the concluding stanzas of the poem told Soledad to clean her body. As such this shows how Soledad Montayo who embodied the freedom and passion of the gypsies found herself reaching a bad conclusion as a result of her passions. On the other hand another interpretation of a less sexually charged nature can state that her loss was merely that of losing her love.
An examination of the life of Lorca at the time of this poem’s creation showed that at the time he was passionately involved with Salvador Dali yet they could not go public with their relationship due to the inherent problems with the views on homosexual behavior at the time. As such the message of the poems which indicate that passions and freedoms should be controlled lest that person meets an ignominious end could be a reflection of the thoughts of Lorca at the time who could not let knowledge of his relationship and his apparent homosexuality go public due to the social ostracization that would follow.
Based on historical revelations on the hidden life of Lorca it can be seen that the messages in some of the poems in which love and passion allowed to reign free met ignominious ends was the result of Lorca’s own reasoning that he should not reveal who he was to the public. His poems acted as a reflection of this own thought process similar to what Oscar Wilde accomplished in his literary masterpiece “The Picture of Dorian Gray” where the characters of Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian Gray and Basil Halward all acted as reflections of the author’s own persona. In the case of Romancero Gitano the poems contained therein could be considered more of an interpretation of the author’s thought processes and logical thinking rather than a true reflection of personality.
Edkins, Anthony. “Gypsy Ballads (‘Romancero gitano’).” Modern Language Review 87, no. 1 (January 1992): 238-239. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed March 30, 2011). Gatto, K, ‘Federico Garcia Lorca’, Critical Survey of Poetry, Second Revised Edition, 2003, pp. 1-6, Literary Reference Center, EBSCOhost, viewed 30 March 2011. Greenfield, Sumner M.
“Garcia Lorca, Federico.” Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature (February 1980): 285-286. Literary Reference Center, EBSCOhost (accessed March 30, 2011). “The Book of the Dead Man (The Red Wheelbarrow).” Boulevard. 109-110.
OpoJaz, Inc., 2010. Edkins, Anthony. “Gypsy Ballads (‘Romancero gitano’).
” Modern Language Review 87, no. 1 (January 1992): 238-239. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed March 30, 2011). Ibid “The Book of the Dead Man (The Red Wheelbarrow).” Boulevard. 109-110.
OpoJaz, Inc., 2010. Ibid Gatto, K, ‘Federico Garcia Lorca’, Critical Survey of Poetry, Second Revised Edition, 2003, pp. 1-6, Literary Reference Center, EBSCOhost, viewed 30 March 2011. Gatto, K, ‘Federico Garcia Lorca’, Critical Survey of Poetry, Second Revised Edition, 2003, pp.
1-6, Literary Reference Center, EBSCOhost, viewed 30 March 2011. Greenfield, Sumner M. “Garcia Lorca, Federico.” Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature (February 1980): 285-286. Literary Reference Center, EBSCOhost (accessed March 30, 2011). Ibid