Poets' Picks 2010
Federico García Lorca: "The Poet Speaks to His Beloved on the Telephone"
Selected by Francisco Aragón
National Poetry Month 2010

Letter from the Editors

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Francisco Aragón's Poetry Month Pick, April 8, 2010

"The Poet Speaks to His Beloved on the Telephone"
by Federico García Lorca (1898-1936)
translated by Francisco Aragón

Your voice watered the dune of my chest
in that sweet wooden booth.
South at my feet it was spring,
north near my face flowered a fern.

In that narrow space a radiant pine
sang, though with no seed nor dawn.
And my cry hung for the first time
a wreath of hope on the roof.

Sweet and faraway voice flowing for me.
Sweet and faraway voice tasted by me.
Faraway and sweet voice, muffled softly.

Faraway, like a dark wounded deer.
Sweet, like sobbing in the snow.
Faraway, sweet: lodged in the marrow!

El poeta habla por teléfono con el amor

Tu voz regó la duna de mi pecho
en la dulce cabina de madera.
Por el sur de mis pies fue primavera
y al norte de mi frente flor de helecho.

Pino de luz por el espacio estrecho
cantó sin alborada y sementera
y mi llanto prendió por vez primera
coronas de esperanza por el techo.

Dulce y lejana voz por mí vertida,
dulce y lejana voz  por mí gustada,
lejana y dulce voz amortecida.

Lejana como oscuro corza herida,
dulce como un sollozo en la nevada,
¡lejana y dulce, en tuétano metida!

El poeta habla por teléfono con el amor by Federico García Lorca
copyright ©Herederos de Federico García Lorca.
English Translation by Francisco Aragón
copyright © Francisco Aragón and Herederos de Federico García Lorca
from Obras Completas (Galaxia / Gutenberg, 1996 edition.
All rights reserved. For information regarding rights and permission
please contact lorca@artslaw.co.uk
or William Peter Kosmas, Esq.
8 Franklin Square London, W14 9 U U, England

* Francisco Aragón Comments:
In December of 1983, from Granada, Spain, eleven sonnets were anonymously mailed to a select group of literary and cultural critics—each booklet bearing the inscription: “This first edition of Sonnets of Dark Love has been published to recall the passion of the person who wrote them” (Garlinger, 726). The print run numbered 250. Shortly thereafter, the heirs of Federico García Lorca relented, finally allowing the “official” publication of these eleven poems. They appeared in March of 1984 in ABC, a national daily—but with the word “dark” struck from the title: there was no documented proof, it was argued, that Lorca had intended to include this adjective. There were, however, anecdotes to suggest otherwise, including Pablo Neruda’s testimonial: “The last time I saw him, he took me to a corner and, as if in secret, recited six or seven sonnets by heart that continue still in my memory as exemplary sonnets, of an incredible beauty. It was an entire book that no one knew. He called it Sonnets of Dark Love” (Eisenberg, 264, 265).

In 1986, sitting across from Professor John K. Walsh’s desk at UC Berkeley, I thumbed through photocopies of these very sonnets, along with Walsh’s first English drafts. He soon took me under his wing as his “co-translator.” The following year found me in Madrid devouring Ian Gibson’s two-tome Lorca biography. Upon finishing, I looked him up, wrote to him, and he agreed to meet me in the Café Gijón. In 1990, Walsh, who had been my major advisor, died just before our work appeared in Christopher Maurer’s edited volume of Lorca’s Collected Poems.

Since then, work on these sonnets, by both scholars and translators, has been ongoing. I have a soft spot for them: they introduced me to the poet from Granada. The version of “The Poet Speaks to His Beloved on the Telephone” offered here is a new translation—marking the publication of Glow of Our Sweat (Scapegoat Press, 2010), in which it appears. It is a volume I dedicate to the memory of Walsh: Jack became a crucial mentor and dear friend during my college years. Though his specialty was medieval literature, he is acknowledged as one of the few scholars who pioneered exploring the homoerotic in Lorca.

What I love about this sonnet is that it is the most optimistic of the bunch. I concur with the critic who says that “Lorca uses the sonnet form as a melancholic mould that substitutes for the absent body of the male lover” (Garlinger, 712).  Most of the poems are indeed about longing and, in my mind, a love not quite fulfilled. But in this one the human voice is an oasis of sorts (“Your voice watered the dune of my chest”). The beloved’s voice, like water, quenches this thirsting from a distance. But it also seems to trickle down and spur life, from bottom to top, in that confined space (“South at my feet it was spring, / north near my face flowered a fern.”) And what do we make of  “that sweet wooden booth”? The aforementioned critic believes it is “suggestive of a coffin” from where the speaker “can only be liberated by the lover’s voice” (Garlinger, 716). While it is certainly true that Lorca was preoccupied with death, I prefer to dwell on the notion that the wooden phone booth embodies, on the one hand, the idea of “tree” (standing in for the natural world) while on the other, it also embodies—because it is a “booth”—this notion that the “tree” has been cut down, wrought, carved: in short, acted upon by humans in order to create a physical space for communication between two people separated by distance. Something extraordinary happens in that booth or, for that matter, between two engaged phones: I put my cell to my ear and someone on another continent speaks into his mobile and a human voice is broken up, floats up to tower, a satellite, and back down to earth, re-constituting itself into sounds that enter my ear—sounds the body responds to, recognizes. This, I think, is what the last line of the sonnet is all about (“Faraway, sweet: caught in the marrow!”).

Yet the sonnet itself is also a created space, one fashioned from language (another natural world unto itself): it is like that wooden phone booth fashioned from a tree, except that this squat fourteen-line “word-booth” can become a letter in verse sent to a distant lover, on a piece of paper—another kind of “tree.”

In fact, among the primary sources for these poems are a few sheaves of stationary from the Hotel Victoria in Valencia, Spain on which Lorca, in 1935, scrawled three of these sonnets. He was premiering one of his plays there in November of that year—and awaiting the arrival of one Rafael Rodríguez Rapún, an engineering student who also served as his personal secretary. It is generally accepted that he was the addressee of at least several of these epistles (Garlinger, 712, 713). In a sad coincidence, Rapún would die in battle fighting for the Spanish Republic exactly one year after Lorca himself was shot and thrown into an unmarked grave in his native region of Granada. It was August of 1936 shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. There is near consensus that in addition to his liberal political views, Lorca was targeted for being gay.

In Spain roughly one year ago, Ian Gibson, who turns 71 this month, published his fourth and final book on our subject: Lorca y el mundo gay. He argues that the Andalusian poet’s sexuality, even among eminent scholars, was censored, downplayed or outright denied. In addition to re-visiting Lorca’s later works, which “The Poet Speaks…” is an example of, Gibson went back and re-read all of Lorca’s early poetry. “I discovered an anguished, tortured—gay—love…Those who deny his homosexuality must now shut up or at least question their prejudices. It’s a relief after so many decades of obfuscation and silence, to reveal the truth.” (The Independent, March 14, 2009)

About Francisco Aragón:
Francisco Aragón is the author of the recently released Glow of Our Sweat (Scapegoat Press), a collection of poems, translations, and prose. He is also the author of Puerta del Sol (Bilingual Press, 2005) and editor of the award-winning The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry (University of Arizona Press, 2007). His poems and translations (from the Spanish) have appeared in a range of anthologies and journals. He directs Letras Latinas, the literary program of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He is also the editor of Canto Cosas, a book series from Bilingual Press featuring the work of Latino and Latina poets. He is a member of the Macondo Writing Workshop in San Antonio and on the board of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP). (Visit Francisco Aragón's website and see an interview with Ben Furnish, publisher of Scapegoat Press.)

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