Lorca: “Deep Song” (1922)

In a lecture in 1922, Lorca discusses the Oriental and European origins of “deep song” and how it has affected contemporary music. He then goes on to discuss its poetry. I originally picked this book up because of his role in surrealism, as he is the “Andalusian Dog” referenced by the film’s title, he was hated by Dali  and Bunuel, as they thought he was a hack. Honestly, I don’t enjoy his poetry. But I do enjoy his lectures and his inspirations. He’s another example of that last generation of poets and artists who actually had educations to speak of, before the horrors of WWII led to the horrors of widespread undergrad degrees.

I remember where I was sitting when I began reading this. At the bar at Amherst Coffee, by the window. Perhaps not. Perhaps that’s only where I met Marta. I was reading, though, that’s true. I’d been to the Moan and Dove the night before, speaking to the bartender, and when I wound up sitting next to him at  Amherst Coffee the next night, I asked Marisa for whatever he was having. A glass of scotch. We continued talking, I continued pretending to sip mine. And as soon as he left I gasped that I couldn’t drink anymore of this horrid stuff. She said “of course not! you need ice in there!” And from across the bar, Marta leaned over and asked if I wanted to taste her drink. I’d never met her before, but that embodies my entire experience with her, I suppose. That’s how she lives her life. And fortunately, I’d been reading Lorca and had fallen in love with the anonymous verses he includes in his lecture. I was interested in Spanish now, and here, before me, a girl, a poet from Asturias. It was winter and where I lived we had no heat, so she brought me back to her room at the top floor of one of Amherst’s mansions, dimly lit with string lights, where she had a space heater she’d borrowed from someone, and she put it in a paper bag, and with that I went home and would secretly plug it in at night and hide it under my bed (my bed was actually a table) during the day because my landlords didn’t allow space heaters. Anyway, as this poetry taught me how to mourn, so Marta taught me how to rejoice, how to live, and I can only conclude that my emotions were all born in Spain.

The poetry, even in translation, crushed me. I’d never read anything that affected me so deeply upon a first reading.

The moon has a halo;
my love has died.

Its focus is continually on unrequited love, and lost love, and death. But, I encourage you to read on through the rest of these fragments given by Lorca. And then consider the difference between the Andalusian deep song’s treatment of the subjects, and its treatment by Byron in his first volume of poetry and its stylized flowery mush, or Petrarch, both before and after Laura’s death, which, even as sonnets, seem painfully bent on avoiding any truth.

The difference is of personality, perhaps. The deep song verses are universal, they speak of the heart’s greatest longing, that which Byron and Petrach sought to expose or imply, but which for them, as for most, translation is feeble at best, or perhaps impossible at best, as it should never be attempted after years of translating Latin verse. The beauty and greatness is that it exposes the truth of life so elegantly because it does so concisely.

Cry, keep crying, eyes,
cry if you have cause.
It shouldn’t shame a man
to cry over a woman.

And how does Byron treat such pain over a woman? Like so:

When I dream that you love me, you’ll surely forgive;
Extend not your anger to sleep;
For in visions alone your affection can live,–
I rise, and it leaves me to weep.

Okay, well, I can read it, but I don’t feel it. And here’s another, from Petrarch, (who I really hope is burning in hell right now.)

Shouldn’t a fire reasonably be quenched
by all the water that my eyes pour forth?

Love–and I clearly should have sensed this sooner–
wants me distempered by a paradox, 
and uses snares of such variety
that when I most believe my heart is free
he most entraps it with that lovely face.

How am I supposed to give a fuck, Petrarch?! Onward, as I can only rail on for so long about him. Tu Fu. Let’s consider what the orient can teach us, and see how it makes us feel:

Wavers. No word from those I love. Old.
Sick. Nothing but a lone boat. And
North of frontier passes–Tibetan horses. . . .
I lean on the railing, and tears come.

So, not the sorrow of heartbreak by a woman, but sorrow expressed concisely, in a way that we can understand even if we are not old, sick men. In the deep song examples, one of how it feels to be alone:

Only to the Earth
do I tell my troubles,
for nowhere in the world
do I find anyone to trust.

Finally, before moving on to the real treats, let’s look at a snippet by Tagore, from a land that Lorca says sent away the Gypsies in the first place, and which I’ve read was populated first by Persians, which will lead us back to verses from the Middle East in a moment:

There seem to be people all around me,
I can’t speak my heart in case they hear me.

Weeping is wasted here, it is stopped by walls,
My weeping always comes back to me.

Oh. Simply. We’ve been there. This is something felt. And now compare this to the anonymous deep song:

You will knock at my door.
Will will never get up to answer,
and you must hear me cry.

Both touch me, both treat the experience of anguish in such a way that we’ve lived, in a way that, in a sense, we live every day to some extent.

It doesn’t matter to me
if a bird in the poplar grove
skips from tree to tree.

Ah, I have lost the road
on this sad mountain.
Ah, I have lost the road.
Let me bring the sheep
for God’s sake into your cabin.

In the dense fog
I have lost the road.
Let me spent the night
in the cabin with you.
I lost the road
in the mountain mist.
Ah, I have lost the road!

Out in the sea
was a stone.
My girl sat down
to tell it her pains.

Every morning I go
to ask the rosemary
if love’s ills can be cured,
for I am dying.

I climbed up the wall.
The wind answered me:
“Why so many little sighs
if it is already too late?”

The wind cried
to see how big the wounds were
in my heart.

I fell in love with the air,
the air of a woman,
and since a woman is air,
in the air I stayed.

I’m jealous of the breeze
that blows on your face.
If the breeze were a man,
I would kill him.

I’m not afraid of the galleys.
If I had to row, I’d do it.
I’m only afraid the wind
that blows out of your bay.

At night I go to the courtyard
and cry my heart out,
to see I love you so much
and you love me not at all.

When you see me cry,
don’t take away my handkerchief,
for I am in deep pain,
and crying I feel better.

If my heart
had windowpanes of glass,
you’d look inside and see it
crying drops of blood.


The turtledove that with her complaints
keeps me from sleep
has a breast that burns like mine,
with living fire.

Ibn Sa’id:

To console me my friends say
visit your mistress’s tomb.
Has she a tomb, I ask,
other than in my breast?


Even if she did not love me,
I would trade
the whole globe of the earth
for one hair from her tress.


My heart has been ensnared
in your black tresses since childhood.
Not until death
will a bond so wonderful be undone.

If I should happen to die,
I order you,
tie up my hands
with your black tresses.


I weep endlessly: you are gone.
But what use is all my longing
if the wind will not carry my sighs
to your ears

I sigh into the wind,
Ay, poor me!
But nobody catches my sighs!


Since you stopped listening
to the echo of my voice,
my heart has been plunged in pain.
It sends jets of burning blood
to my eyes.

Whenever I look at the place
where I used to court you,
my poor eyes begin
crying drops of blood.

It was a love
I must not remember,
for my poor heart is weeping
drops of blood.


Note: I don’t know anything about Communism, Socialism, China, or Russia. Seriously.

Certainly I fell in love at once with the poetry of Li Po and of Tu Fu, but aside from that very little has struck me in Chinese history as memorable, just the endless succession of names and dynasties, it struck me quite the same ten years ago as it does now. Durant expresses precisely this, at an ideal moment commenting that ‘it is part of the bathos of distance that our long removal from alien scenes obscures variety in places and men, and submerges the most diverse personalities in a dull uniformity of appearance and character’ (Our Oriental Heritage, 724).

I was once told that Russia fell into the hands of Communism so easily not because it was weak, but because it had been communist all along, that historically Russia was a communist land. I don’t know if this is true. So I’ve had my eye out for indications that something in the Chinese character is similar, that there’s some governing philosophy that’s held sway the Chinese mind for thousands of years. Confucianism seems to be the philosophy they continually fall into. And I don’t feel like looking into the parallels, if there are any, right now, because that’s not why I began writing this.

“Above all, Chinese architecture suffered from the absence of three institutions present in almost every other great nation of antiquity: an hereditary aristocracy, a powerful priesthood, and a strong and wealthy central government. These are the forces that in the past have paid for the larger works of art–for the temples and palaces, the masses and operas, the great frescoes and sculptured tombs. And China was fortunate and unique: she had none of these institutions” (741).

“The general impression left by Chinese architecture upon the foreign and untechnical observer is one of charming frailty. Color dominates form, and beauty here has to do without the aid of sublimity. The Chinese temple or palace seeks not to dominate nature, but to cooperate with it in that perfect harmony of the whole which depends upon the modesty of the parts. Those qualities that give a structure strength, security and permanence are absent here, as if the builders feared that earthquakes would stultify their pains. Those buildings hardly belong to the same art as that which raised its monuments at Karnak and Persepolis, and on the Acropolis; they are not architecture as we of the Occident have known it, but rather the carving of wood, the glazing of pottery and the sculpture of stone; they harmonize better with porcelain and jade than with the ponderous edifices that a mixture of engineering and architecture gave to India, Mesopotamia or Rome. If we do not ask of them the grandeur and the solidity which their makers may never have cared to give them, if we accept them willingly as architectural cameos expressing the most delicate of tastes in the most fragile of structural forms, then they take their place as a natural and appropriate variety of Chinese art, and among the most gracious shapes ever fashioned by men” (744).

This, of course, leads me to think of Spengler’s chapter on mathematics in early civilizations, of Kenneth Clark’s discussion of viking shipbuilding, and Will Durant’s own on prehistoric Greek dwellings–because I think a Western notion of confidence as an overarching thesis may fail here–however, Durant was writing before those banners of Chairman Mao were hung, before the tanks in my memory, of the stadiums and the smog and the mass-production (the slavery that shocks us now has yet always been a component of Chinese civilization), nothing about modern China, not the convents and epidemics of The Painted Veil, and not the drug dens and orgies of The Good Earth, is what I am trying to think of now…I won’t pretend to understand the Chinese character–as much time as I’ve spent trying to understand the British or the French, I still haven’t come to terms with either, they make absolutely no sense to me, I feel as if I’m rolling dice; so much more so, the Chinese.

Concerning its poetry: “we may tire, at times, of a certain sentimentality in [Chinese poetry], a vainly wistful mood of regret that time will not stop in its flight and let men and states be young forever” (713). And concerning its architecture: “drawings . . . show that  through its long history of over twenty-three centuries Chinese architecture has been content with the same designs, and the same modest proportions” (741). And, on poetry, again,

“what we do see is, above all, brevity. . . . But the Chinese believe that all poetry must be brief; that a long poem is a contradiction in terms–since poetry, to them, is a moment’s ecstasy, and dies when dragged out in epic reams. Its mission is to see and paint a picture with a stroke, and write a philosophy in a dozen lines; its ideal is infinite meaning in a little rhythm. Since pictures are of the essence of poetry, and the essence of Chinese writing is pictography, the written language of China is spontaneously poetic; it lends itself to writing in pictures, and shuns abstractions that cannot be phrased as things seen. Since abstractions multiply with civilization, the Chinese language, in its written form, has become a secret code of subtle suggestions; and in like manner, and perhaps for a like reason, Chinese poetry combines suggestion with concentration, and aims to reveal, through the picture it draws, some deeper thing invisible. It does not discuss, it intimates; it leaves out more than it says; and only an Oriental can fill it in. . . . Like Chinese manners and art, Chinese poetry is a matter of infinite grace concealed in a placid simplicity. It foregoes metaphor, comparison and allusion, but relies on showing the thing itself, with a hint of its implications. It avoids exaggeration and passion [I immediately recall that hotel orgy that lasted for days and involved hundreds upon hundreds of people in a major Chinese city a few years ago…], but appeals to the mature mind by understatement and restraint; it is seldom romantically excited in form, but knows how to express intense feeling in its own quietly classic way” (712).

Compare, then, to the poetry of Tagore, whose every word I think is so laden with poetic ambiguity that at times I think his work suffers–in the same way that Vedic architecture so discomforts and sometimes horrifies me.

Not that I live a simple life, not for one heartbeat. But, the whole point is that there is a thread I see running through Chinese history, through its art and philosophy, which is one of simplicity, but when attached to my opinions on Confidence, I think it does have a role, which is that until recently, confidence in China was related to restraint, restraint and nuance performed the role of grandeur and obtuseness we’ve so come to adore. And where is the necessity of living forever? Perhaps as in Judaism, placing the emphasis on living during life rather than on fame and posterity and eternity etc. is what has produced so little in terms of Western greatness. Hm, yes, I do believe in subtlety above all. So I live a life of subtlety when I can, this is true.

art: Impressionism

ever since maya and i began working on our project i’ve been trying desperately to make sense of art. i have a very difficult time giving a proper opinion on works of art, because my sense of beauty is somewhat skewed. when it comes to music all i care about is whether or not the song is catchy–even classical music, if i cannot sing and dance along with the parts, i just don’t care for it. when i think of a scary encounter in a dark alley, i think of ella fitzgerald gliding towards me with violent scatting. when it comes to literature i cannot tell the good from the bad, especially contemporary poetry, which seems to me the ultimate foray back to innocence, and most writers i’ve met seem to work very hard to mask complete ineptitude and habitual good luck. (not that i know a good poem when i see one.) no, in all things, i want a throbbing passion to be amplified, anais nin, astor piazzolla, the interactions between nick and nora charles, truffaut’s jules et jim, the shape of your lips and heat and taste of your mouth, tu fu, françoise sagan, tagore, girls dressing up and dancing for each other, jacques brel, babe: pig in the city, the color of your eyes when you’re being true…if i’m not laughing and crying with joy and anguish, if i’m not breathless and dying to stay awake, then i just don’t care. i just don’t.

it’s how i choose my friends.

when it came to art, the only artists who really affected me were durer and rodin. there’s something of flaming self-confidence in each of them, you can see it in the way durer painted himself, so handsome and dandy, and in the way rodin sculpted balzac, so great but so monstrous. yes, self-confidence is sexy: last year i found myself falling in love with a girl merely because of her posture, i just Had to know her. recently i attended a play and could not, could not for life of me pay attention because of the way the stage-hand carried himself, the ecstatic arch in his back, the light and sureness of his stride, it contained infinitely more humanity than any of those characters on stage. confidence.

and finally i’m standing in the boston mfa, looking at works of impressionism and just not understanding. why were they condemned or disliked or mocked in their time? why should i be moved? why should i care? and then it struck me: i do care. i care because their subjects have no outlines, i care because they focus on light, i care because they emphasize substance over form. this is serious.

joseph and i got in many fights, generally because i had a difficult time being part of his way of life, which was based on two opposing theories. the first theory was “no expectations,” a result of the turbulence inherent to a poetic lifestyle. the second theory was “be prepared,” which he never stated in so many words, but implied it, mostly because he was an eagle scout. he was always torn between ideals and reality, and because i am nowhere in between, in my absent-mindedness, in my naivety, in my perpetual childhood, we never really got along, though we were usually together. usually sighing over girls who had slighted us. he wrote a story about me, and i kill myself in the end; he made it into my novel, and i sent a plague his way, but i didn’t kill him. we’re so sentimental–how does that concern confidence, applying idealized pasts to a trivial future?

i’ve learned these past weeks that many concepts and terms are false, implying a singular definition, when really there is a whole spectrum represented in each. it’s why i can’t get married. every day things are becoming less absolute to me. there is a gypsy word that means both “tomorrow,” and “yesterday.” “living in the moment” is not one thing–it is many ways of being, and it shouldn’t imply that one has no responsibilities. druids were fierce warriors because they believed that at the instant of one’s death one was reborn as something else. life was eternal, it was valued differently. the ancient greeks and vikings had no measure of time, measures of time were symbolic, these people built with wood. was this a measure of confidence, as opposed to the egyptians, as opposed to those who built new york? how does one’s confidence affect one’s perception of time, and by extension, one’s perception of responsibility? confidence can remove us from the present to the future, but too much confidence for too long, and we forget that there’s a difference between now and later. you’ve noticed the life-cycle of empires?

the idea of “no expectations” sounds delightful. without expectations there is no disappointment: this is the key to everlasting romantic love. it ties directly in with “living in the moment”–which i’ve been taught when i was ushered through the experience of taking ten minutes to eat a grape. nothing has ever tasted so sweet as that grape, never have my senses been so consciously consumed, elevated. tantric. i felt naked–and we held our eyes closed–if i dared try eating like that, breathing like that, with my eyes open, you would see my soul, you would never question love again. but living in the moment also means bowing to one’s present desires, means hurting the people who love you, means following divine instructions that make no sense until later, tumbling isolated into the desert to argue with fire. it means a life of impetuous solitude, means human contact is flickering and sensual, intellectual only on the remotest level–and if you’re fortunate enough to have a short life, then this is ideal. rimbaud continually comes to mind, who lived a poet’s life briefly, and then fled into the very opposite. keats comes to mind, who lived a poet’s life internally, but whose girlfriend wouldn’t sleep with him. jim morrison comes to mind, who grew very fat and repulsive and reminds us that death is lumbering and hideous. how does one possibly live in the moment and die contentedly–i don’t mean peacefully, because i also mean violently, i mean an explosion and the sweetest of kisses.

and that’s what i see when i look at monet and his cronies: everything they paint is a reflection of light, which doesn’t mean all life is superficial. like in shelley’s “mont blanc,” we’re dependent on our senses to reach the essence of things, so yes, light is quite enough, metaphor and personification redundancies. and the movement of light, the minimally three-fold image of a reflection on a lake, a life of colors, running and melding, and yet a perfect picture of what our eyes know to be true, there, that is life in the moment–so dangerous–yet, to me, somehow preferable to stability. a beautiful life–a storyteller’s dream–an explosion.

23 aug 07