The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet Federico Garcia Lorca Ascends to Hell – Carlos Rojas (translated by Edith Grossman)

The faithless wife
So I took her to the river
believing she was a maiden,
but she already had a husband.
It was on St. James night
and almost as if I was obliged to.
The lanterns went out
and the crickets lighted up.
In the farthest street corners
I touched her sleeping breasts
and they opened to me suddenly
like spikes of hyacinth.
The starch of her petticoat
sounded in my ears
like a piece of silk
rent by ten knives.
Without silver light on their foliage
the trees had grown larger
and a horizon of dogs
barked very far from the river.

Past the blackberries,
the reeds and the hawthorne
underneath her cluster of hair
I made a hollow in the earth
I took off my tie,
she too off her dress.
I, my belt with the revolver,
She, her four bodices.
Nor nard nor mother-o’-pearl
have skin so fine,
nor does glass with silver
shine with such brilliance.
Her thighs slipped away from me
like startled fish,
half full of fire,
half full of cold.
That night I ran
on the best of roads
mounted on a nacre mare
without bridle stirrups.

As a man, I won’t repeat
the things she said to me.
The light of understanding
has made me more discreet.
Smeared with sand and kisses
I took her away from the river.
The swords of the lilies
battled with the air.

I behaved like what I am,
like a proper gypsy.
I gave her a large sewing basket,
of straw-colored satin,
but I did not fall in love
for although she had a husband
she told me she was a maiden
when I took her to the river. 

Poets.org tells us that Federico Garcia Lorca is one of the most important Spanish poets and dramatists of the twentieth century. Born in 1898 a few miles from Granada he travelled to Madrid in 1919 where he remained for the next fifteen years, writing the scandalous play “El Maleficio de la mariposa” and the collection of poems “libro de poemas” in 1921 based on Spanish folklore, infused with popular themes such as Flamenco and Gypsy culture. Joining the group of artists known as “Generacion del 27” along with Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel, he was of course exposed to surrealism. He moved to New York City in 1929 but returned to Spain after the proclamation of the Spanish Republic. Returning to his country home in 1936 at the outbreak of civil war he was arrested by Franquist soldiers and after a few days in jail he was taken to “visit” his brother-in-law, whom the soldiers had murdered, at the cemetery he was executed.
Carlos Rojas’ novel “The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet Federico Garcia Lorca Ascends to Hell” starts with “the Spiral” where we join the poet in hell. He is in a theatre where all his living memories are played out, but he cannot sleep, nor can he participate:
The magic of free will in hell incarnates those memories on stage. Still, the flashes from the past are always painted, not live. If I go up on the boards, so often confused by their apparent veracity, they vanish immediately at my approach. As a fata morgana flees before you tread on it, or vampires turn to ash at dawn. The proscenium and set are empty beneath the arch and raised curtains. The light from the transoms, which recalls amber or alabaster, illuminates only my shadow on stage. The useless shadow of a dead man, alone in eternity with the mirage of his memories.
Each theatre represents a dead person reliving their living past, Lorca can move between theatres in the eternal spiral, some show events to him, others are simply empty. Hell is within us, our own memories. The eternal existentialist angst, the struggle to make sense where there is none:
PREPARE FOR YOUR TRIAL.
I don’t know whether I’m accused of having been born or having been murdered. I sense only that, whoever my judges may be, if I’m acquitted I’ll sleep in forgetfulness and be free of my memories.
PREPARE FOR YOUR TRIAL.
As soon as they appeared, those words on the window faded. They might have been fleeting, but I had no doubt I had seen them. How I would prepare for a trial, alone and not knowing the charges, struck me as grotesque and senseless. The absurdity of the situation filled me with an unexpected hilarity no less irrational than this supposed trial of mine. Twisted over an arm in my orchestra seat, I laughed wildly, like a madman, a mad dead man, my palms at my temples. I stopped laughing when I realized that if life and reason were expectations lost in the firmament, this other universe too, the one of our spiral, could be just as pointless, just as alien to human consciousness. Therefore, once everything had been taken into account, I was still under the same constraints. I was being exhorted to prepare for a trial but not being told what crimes I was charges with. At the same time, by means of a design as obvious as it was inexplicable, I was infused with the certainty that acquittal would represent eternal forgetfulness, the limitless freedom of sleeping with no dreams and no memories.
Characters from the surrealist age come and go at will, we have a character (Rojas himself?) who interviews Lorca’s arrester, there he reveals his dream of Lorca in hell in a spiral of theatres, reliving his life, and the paradox is Lorca is watching this discussion!!! We have a section where a mysterious aged man appears in Lorca’s hell and explains that it can’t be hell as that is on earth. He goes on to divulge that Lorca is only part of his dream, he is Lorca in old age dreaming of the Lorca who caught a train to Granada, being arrested and executed, but of course this is solitude in hell:
The old man was becoming blurred, as if someone were erasing him with a fingertip, taking away volume, outlines, and profile. Eventually he disappeared without leaving a trace or vestige in the theatre or his seat. Alone again, he looked around him. The stage became a dark emptiness, the proscenium open to infinity, like the mouth of a tunnel excavated in the middle of the firmament. He heard or thought he had imagined the sound of footsteps in the vicinity of the corridor and the alabaster lights. Immediately he became aware that he was isolated and abandoned or abandoned and isolated on that spiral, where the dead were blind or invisible to one another. His doubles, the phantoms, having disappeared, the notion of his insignificance oppressed him. Eternity was the greatest of sarcasms, an illogicality more absurd than perishable life. In this untransferable theatre before his trial, he was nothing but a spectator of his past in an endless succession of shades condemned to the same wakefulness. Perhaps the first of them, his most distant ancestor, saw on the stage memories of a recent time he had experienced when still a gorilla or an amphibious fish, with the eyes of a man, in the dark jungles of the beginning of the world.
Our novel itself becomes part of Lorca’s story, four chapters:
He would also have to write down the action and divide it into another four acts whose names were revealed to him, as obvious as his life or his death: THE SPIRAL, THE ARREST, DESTINY, and THE TRIAL.
These are the four chapters of our book, later they become a musical piece (a sonata?) in four movements.
As Lorca is being taken to his execution the construction of the novel changes, there are no sentences, no paragraphs, no punctuation. The style becomes a rush, a blur as he heads to finality. We also learn of the dedication in the front of the novel “For Marina and Sandro Vasari, with gratitude of C.R.” the novel becomes a novel of itself. Yes it is all so surreal…

“my novel, we’ll call it that in order to call it something, represents absolutely nothing.”

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