"In Your Name this Death is Holy":

Federico García Lorca in the Works of Modern Arab Poets


Yair Huri

Ben Gurion University


1. Lorca and the Arab-Andalusian Heritage

The purpose of this article is to explore the image of the renowned Spanish poet Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) as reflected in the writings of several prominent modern Arab poets. This article will attempt to demonstrate how Lorca’s images and writings exercised a towering influence on Arab poets primarily during the 1950’s and 1960’s, and continues to influence contemporary modernist Arab poets in various ways.

More than one reason can be given to explain how Lorca became a prominent figure in modern Arabic poetry. The first reason is connected to the fact that the Arab poets, who employed his images in their works, were eagerly aware of the fact that Lorca considered himself an Andalusian poet par excellence, whose poetry bears strong affinities to classic Andalusian Arabic poetry. In a lecture delivered in Granada on February 19, 1922, Lorca acknowledged these affinities to his audience. The lecture, entitled "Historical and Artistic Importance of the Primitive Andalusian Song Called Cante Jondo," discussed his poems written during that year (and later published in a book titled Poema del cante jondo, "Poem of the deep song", 1931). In the following lines, Lorca lucidly expresses the way he perceives his poetical and spiritual sources:

Just as in the siguiriya [the prototypical song form of the cante jondo…] and in its daughter genres, are to be found the most ancient oriental elements, so in many poems of cante jondo there is an affinity to the oldest oriental verse. When our songs reach the extremes of pain and love they come very close in expression to the magnificent verses of Arab and Persian poets. The truth is that the lines and features of far Arabia still remain in the air of Cordoba and Granada. (al-Ahrām Weekly, 1)

Furthermore, in one of his most famous lectures called The Duende: Theory and Divertissement, Lorca acknowledged that the Duende, the unique inner zeal and the poetic inspiration which characterizes Spanish poetry and Spanish poets, derives exclusively from the cultural heritage that emerged in the Arab peninsula and from the ecstatic prays of the mystical Muslims:

In all Arabian music, in the dances, songs, elegies of Arabia, the coming of the Duende is greeted by fervent outcries of Allah! Allah! God! God!, so close to the Olé! Olé! of our bull ring that who is to say they are not actually the same, and in all the songs of southern Spain the appearance of the Duende is followed by heartfelt exclamations of God alive!- profound, human tender, the cry of communication with God through the medium of the five senses and the grace of the Duende…

In the lines that follow this explanation, Lorca maintains that the poetry written by Andalusian Arab poets in the Middle Ages (like the poetry of Ibn Sa‘id al-Maghribī, 1214-1286), who assembled an anthology of Andalusian poetry which was translated into Spanish), bears striking resemblance to the cante jondo, the traditional Andalusian song. These songs combined intensely emotional yet stylistically spare poetry on themes of sacrifice, pain, suffering, love and death with a primitive musical form that bears traces of the poems written by Arab poets during the Moorish occupation of Spain (714-1492). During this period of time, Moorish influence had been assimilated into every facet of Andalusian life (Harrison Londré, 15). Lorca’s acknowledgement of the Arabic culture of Spain as one of the essential components of his poetic world has blossomed into fruition in one of his last poem collection, Diván del Tamarit ("Diván of the Tamarit", 1934). The book, a cycle of poems written in tribute to Granada's old legacy, explicitly derives from the poetic heritage of the Arab-Andalusian poets of ancient Granada (whom he had read in translation) and from the Islamic tradition developed in Granada over a period of approximately 800 years.

Granada, the city of his upbringing, also played an essential role in forming his keenest sensibility to Arabic culture. In a study of Lorca’s life and poetry, Felicia Hardison Londré indicates that Lorca was enchanted with Granada because of its refined stamp of Arabic culture left from the Moorish occupation: flowing water in innumerable public fountains, narrow streets creating shady respites from the glaring Andalusian sun, private patios heavily perfumed by lush vegetation, and, above all, the delicately filigreed arches of the fourteenth-century Alhambra Palace on a hill near the heart of the city. Granada is the subject of Lorca’s most lyrical prose and poetry as well as the settings of one of his last and best plays, Doña Rosita la soltera ("Doña Rosita the Spinster"). Londré asserts that Lorca stalwartly believed that the sensuous and mystical Arab ethos represented in the flowering of Spanish culture, was unfortunately repressed by the puritanical strictures of triumphant Catholicism.(Harrison Londré, 4)

Another factor that contributed to Lorca’s status as a heroic figure in modern Arabic poetry is undoubtedly related to his social awareness, which is reflected both in his poetic and discursive works, an awareness which perhaps led to his assassination by the infamous fascist "black squads". We would argue that Lorca’s death possessed a fantastic aura about it in the eyes of leftist Arab poets during the 1950’s and the 1960’s, because of the fact that he was perceived as a true revolutionary poet, who did not side with any political party or establishment, and was willing to make the ultimate personal sacrifice for his socialist and liberal views. (Harrison Londré, 36)

Indeed, as Londré points out, there is no doubt that Lorca was antifascist. His last works indicate increasing willingness to treat social issues in art. However, it remains clear that Lorca never aligned himself with any political group or party. A month before his death Lorca told a friend:

I will never be political. I am a revolutionary because there are no true poets that are not revolutionaries. Don’t you agree? But political, I will never, never be […] I am on the side of the poor. (36)

During this period, when asked about the reasons that have driven him to leave Madrid and return to Granada, he answered:

I’m going because they keep mixing me up with politics, which I don’t understand, nor do I want to know anything […]. I am everybody’s friend, and all I want is for everybody to be able to eat and work. (36)

In two different interviews Lorca expressed a similar view regarding the role of the intellectuals in Spain vis-à-vis the poverty in Spain:

I will always be on the side of those who have nothing, of those to whom even the peace of nothingness is denied. We- and by we I mean those of us who are intellectuals, educated in well-off middle-class families- are being called to make a sacrifice. Let’s accept the challenge. (Gibson, 34)

The day when hunger is eradicated there is going to be the greatest spiritual explosion the world has ever seen. We will never be able to picture the joy that will erupt when the Great Revolution comes. I’m talking like a real Socialist, aren’t I? (54)

Lorca further elucidated his view regarding the role of art in the last interview published before his death. In this interview, Lorca ardently attacks the artists who believe in the notion of ‘art for the art’s sake":

The idea of art for art’s sake is something that would be cruel if it weren’t, fortunately, so ridiculous. No decent person believes any longer in all that nonsense about pure art, art for art’s sake. At this dramatic point in time, the artist should laugh and cry with the people. We must put down the bunch of lilies and bury ourselves up to the waist in mud to help those who are looking for lilies. For myself, I have a genuine need to communicate with others. This is why I knocked at the doors of the theatre and why I now devote all my talents to it. (Gibson, 55)

Londré indicates that in an interview on February 9, 1936, Lorca made a direct link between his admiration for Arab culture and his opposition to the ruling regime in Spain and expressed an attitude that was probably as much responsible for any hostility toward him in Granada as any political label that may have been pinned to him. In that interview, Lorca straightforwardly stated his view regarding the fall of Moorish Granada to Catholic Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492:

It was disastrous event, although they teach the contrary in schools. An admirable brand of civilization, of poetry, of architecture, and delicacy unique in the world- all were lost, to be replaced by a poor, craven town, a ‘wasteland’ now dominated by the worst bourgeoisie in Spain. (37)

Another significant factor in forming the myth of Lorca as an "Arab" poet, is the Fuente Grande ("The Great Fountain") near Granada, the place were he was taken to be buried. In an outstanding research on Lorca’s assassination, Ian Gibson points out, that the Fuente Grande has an intriguing history. The Arabs, noting the water-bubbles which rise continually from the depths of the spring, called it Ainadamar (the Spanish pronunciation of the Arabic name ‘Ayn al-Dam‘, "The Fountain of Tears"), a name by which the pool is still known in the present day. Ainadamar was apparently more vigorous in the past than it is now. The water is abundant and excellent to drink and the Arabs, always skilled in matters of irrigation, decided to construct a canal to carry it to Granada. (Gibson, 163)

The Arabs admired the loveliness of the spring’s surroundings, and a sizeable colony appeared near the pool. No vestiges of the villas remain above ground, but several compositions by Arab poets in praise of Ainadamar’s beauty have survived, most notably one by Abū al-Barakāt al-Balafīqī (d. 1372). Al-Balafīqī was an Andalusian judge, historian and a poet born in Almería. He also was one of the literary men who adorned the Granadine court at the zenith of its splendour in the fourteenth century. In the poem, al-Balafīqī refers to Ishāq al-Mawsilī (d. 850), the most famous of all Arab musicians, while expressing his longing to the landscapes surrounding Ainadamar:

Is it my separation from Ainadamar, stopping the pulsation of my
Blood, which has dried up the flow of tears from the well of my eyes?
Its water moans in sadness like the moaning of one who,
Enslaved by love, has lost his heart.
Beside it the birds sing melodies comparable to those of
The Mausilīt, reminding me the now distant past into which
I entered in my youth; and the moons of that place, beautiful as
Joseph, would make every Moslem abandon his faith for that of love. (163-164)

Gibson maintains that it seems appropriate that the Fuente Grande, praised in the past by the Islamic poets of Granada, should continue six hundreds years later to bubble up its clear waters only a few hundreds yards from the unacknowledged resting place of Granada’s greatest poet.(164) Few Arab poets, as we will see, refer to this fact in their works to further portray the image of Lorca as an "Arab" poet who was killed on the very ground which Arab Andalusian poets used to pray.


2. Lorca and Committed Arabic Poetry.

The Arab defeat in 1948 war and the fierce struggle of Arab peoples against Western colonialism during the fifties became a turning point for modern Arabic poetry. The despair and demoralization caused by the political events profoundly affected the collective Arab consciousness and drove the majority of the Arab poets during this period to bring about a new vision regarding the role of art in general and the role of poetry in particular. (Hourani, 396-397)

The Arab poets who aligned themselves to the leftist circles in the Arab world felt that their poetry should be dedicated to the national struggle, played an active role in revitalizing Arab society, and help construct a new Arab nation. These poets ardently rejected, often with decisive aversion, the poetics of their predecessors, be it the poetics of the neoclassicists who aligned themselves with the ruling regime, the ivory tower position of the symbolists, or the introverted and often over sentimentalized vision of the Romantics. Early enough, almost every prominent Arab poet during this period employed his poetry for the benefit of the national struggle. From this time forth, and for almost two decades to come, the Arabic word iltizām ("commitment", a translation of the French term engagement, which was coined by Jean Paul Sartre) became one of the most significant terms in the Arab critic’s vocabulary. (Badawi, Short History 8) Moreover, in the eyes of these Arab poets, the ultimate proof for the artist’s commitment was his willingness to die during the national struggle for freedom and independence.

The new revolutionary tendency unavoidably drove the Arab poets to seek out poetic inspiration outside their own poetry and to derive some benefit from the experience of Western revolutionary poets acquired during the last centuries. They most commonly referred to the poetry of the Russians Vladimir Mayakovsky and Boris Pasternak, of the French Louis Aragon and Paul Eluard, of the Turkish Nāzim Hikmet, of the Chilean Pablo Neruda, and even the poetry of Germans, like Friedrich Schiller and Wolfgang von Goethe (especially the poetry that was written during the revolutionary "Sturm und Drang" period). Their poetry was held in utter admiration by the leftist. Arab poets who considered it the definitive role model for their poetic work. (Badawi, A Critical Introduction 204-223)

Above all these figures stood the figure of Federico García Lorca. Admiring his extraordinary biography and poetry, many of the leftist Arab poets fell under his influence and regarded him as the ultimate symbol of personal sacrifice. The renowned Iraqi poet Badr Shākir al-Sayyāb (1926-1964), one of the prominent leftist Arab poets during this period, dedicated to the Spanish poet a poem entitled "Garcia Lorca." This poem is included in the volume called Unshūdat al-Matar ("Hymn to Rain", 1960). The poem begins in these lines, in which al-Sayyāb refers to specific motifs in Lorca’s poetry:

There is a glow in his heart
The fire in him feeds the hungry people
From his hell, the water is boiling:
His flood purifies the earth from its evil… (333-334) (1)

In order to place emphasis on Lorca’s socialist views and praise his humanistic fervor, al-Sayyab refers to the image of the poet portrayed in Lorca’s poems. The first poem is one of Lorca’s best-known poems in which he elucidates the way he perceives the ideal poet. In one of his most famous statements, included in his introduction to his poem collection called Libro de poemas, Lorca defines the poet as a person full of vivacity and natural inner vim, who can purify the corrupted society from its evil using merely his poetic talent: "Yo tengo el fuego en mis manos," "I hold fire in my hands." (Libro de poemas, 4)

As to the second metaphor, the glowing heart of the poet which spreads light wherever he roams, we discover that al-Sayyab again refers to Lorca’s early poetry and specifically to his famous poem entitled "Balada de la placeta" ("Ballad of the Little Square"), which is also included in Libro de poemas ("Book of Poems", 1919). The poem consists of a dialogue between the "poet" and the "children," which takes place in the town square. In this dialogue, the poet is asked to describe himself and the way he wanders the earth to spreads his "prophecy" to his people:

The children:
Who showed you the road there
the road of the poets?
The fount and the stream of
the song of the ages
The children:
Do you go far from
the earth and the ocean?
It’s filled with light, is
my heart of silk, and
with bells that are lost,
with bees and with lilies,
and I will go far off,
behind those hills there,
close to the starlight…

The ideal revolutionary poet in the eyes of al-Sayyab enthusiastically contributes to the people’s political and social struggle by writing committed poetry. The poet, according to the notion expressed by al-Sayyab, cannot remain in an ivory tower, physically isolating himself from the masses that suffer from poverty and hunger. This becomes even more noticeable when we discover that al-Sayyab refers again to another poem entitled Santiago, Balada ingenua ("Santiago, Innocent Ballad") also included in Libro de poemas. The poem portrays the image of Santiago, the legendary poet-prophet, who wanders the earth accompanied by a battalion of nocturnal knights. His role is one: to feed the hungry and the poor amongst his people:


- "When Santiago passed my door
my two doves spread their wings…
indeed, he was pleasant, an angel of God".
- "Tell us, good woman, tell us more
where did the magnificent wanderer go?"
- "He disappeared behind these mountains,
with my white doves and my dog.
But he left me the house
Filled with jasmine and roses
The unripe bunches in the vineyard
have ripened and in the next day
I found the barn filled with all good things.
These are all the deeds of the Apostle. (Libro, 65)


It seems that what best captures the spirit of al-Sayyab’s notion regarding the role of the artist is his introduction to his poetry collection Asātīr (“Legends”, 1950). In the introduction, al-Sayyāb soundly expresses his view regarding the role of the poet in times of national and social struggle and obliquely attacks the notion of "art for art’s sake". It is almost impossible not to detect their striking resemblance to Lorca’s view regarding the role of the poet: "I am among those who believe that the artist has a debt to pay to the poor society in which he lives […] If the poet truthfully wishes to sincerely express all aspects of life, he has to express society’s pains and hopes without being driven to do so by anyone"(101-102).

Another Iraqi poet captivated by the myth of Lorca is Abd al-Wahhāb al-Bayātī (1926-1999). As Muhammad Badawi points out, al-Bayyati was clearly influenced by the poetry of all left Western poets mentioned above. However, Lorca’s death became a theme that haunted him in at least two volumes written during the sixties: Alladhī Ya’tī wa la Ya’tī ("What will Come and will not Come", 1966) and even more clearly in al-Mawt fī’l Hayāt ("Death in Life", 1968). (Badawi, Introduction 210) The latter includes a cycle of six consecutive poems dedicated to Lorca and the city of Granada entitled Marāthī Lorca, (“Elegies for Lorca”). In addition to these poems, al-Bayātī dedicates an attention-grabbing poem to the Granadine poet entitled al-Maut fī Gharnāta ("Death in Granada"). In the following lines, al- Bayyati gives a clear expression to the way he perceives Lorca’s death:

The children’s teacher
screamed in Granada:
"Lorca is dying, he died.
the Fascists executed him by night at the Euphrates,
tore his body apart and uprooted his eyes"
Lorca, now without hands, is telling his secret to the Phoenix…
"In your name, this death is holy"…
Here I am, Dying.
Inside the coffin’s darkness
The fox in the graveyard is eating my flesh
and the daggers are stabbing me…
Here I am. Finished.
"In your name, this death is holy" (27-31)

In these lines, al-Bayyati lucidly expresses two important notions, which appear in all those poems dedicated to the Spanish poet. The first notion is that the poet’s death, horrendous as it may be, is perceived as a holy death in the eyes of his people, especially if it occurred amidst his struggle to achieve his cause. Furthermore, because of the fact that Lorca died in such a horrific manner, he is unavoidably transformed into a mythical and timeless figure, like the Phoenix, whose poetry becomes eternal and inspires future generations.

The second and more interesting motif is the identification of Lorca as an "Arab" poet. In these lines, the banks of the Euphrates, al-Bayyati birthplace, replace the banks of Ainadamar, Lorca’s final resting place, which was praised by the Arab poets in the past. Al-Bayyati wholly identifies himself with the Spanish poet and perceives him as an Iraqi poet par excellence --like al-Bayyati himself-- who died while struggling for a propitious future for his nation.

In his poetry collection called Ahlām al-Fāris al-Qadīm ("Dreams of the Ancient Knight", 1964), the Egyptian poet Salāh ‘Abd al-Sabūr (1931-1981) dedicated a poem to the Spanish poet also entitled “Lorca”. Similar to al-Sayyāb, ‘Abd al-Sabūr refers in his poem to Lorca’s poems mentioned above, in which he portrays the image of the poet as a heart-glowing mythical figure, who wanders the earth and feeds the hungry and the poor children amongst his people. These poor children live near the fountain in the town square, and intermittently appear as a dominant theme in Lorca’s poetry (Londré, pp. 2, 60, 73, 129, 143).

A fountain in the town’s square
A shadow and a place to rest for the poor children
Lorca is Gypsy songs
Lorca is a golden sun…
Lorca is a heart filled with glowing light…
In a summer night with no wind
the poet became a legend
The loathsome guards have killed him…
As to the sweet and bitter words,
they flowed like the fountain
that flows in the same place were you died,
the same place the earth bit your mouth
So he could sleep in the bosom of the furious God
and implore him to forgive those stupid guards
who killed the last Son of God. (228-230)

Similar to al-Bayyati, ‘Abd al-Sabūr focuses on two main motifs in his poem. The first is the notion that the death of the poet who struggles for his people resembles the death of a prophet. The death of Lorca, "The last son of God," is obliquely compared in this poem to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, who suffered a horrific death because of his desire to widely spread his prophecy to his people. In the eyes of ‘Abd al-Sabūr, Lorca’s “words”, like all true prophesies, is timeless, unequivocal, and absolute for all those who strive for freedom and a better future. The second motif emphasized by ‘Abd al-Sabūr is Lorca’s death place. The “words” of Lorca, according to the speaker in ‘Abd al-Sabūr's poem, now “flow like the fountain" near the place where he was killed. Ainadamar, the "Arab" fountain, is now the source from which Lorca’s poetry gushes and the place that transforms the Granadine poet into the ultimate and definitive role model for the Arab poet.

Another Arab poet deeply influenced by the image of Lorca and his poetry is the Bahraini poet Qāsim Haddād (b. 1948). We can detect Lorca’s influence in a long poem entitled al-Hajjāj Yuqaddim Awrāq ’I‘timādihi ("al-Hajjaj Submits His Credentials"), included in his poetry collection called Khurūj Ra’s al-Husayn Min al-Mudun al-Khā’ina ("The Departure of al-Husayn’s Head From the Treacherous Cities", 1972). In this poem, Haddād tells the story of Tufūl, an Omani girl who was killed amidst Oman’s national struggle (specifically during the revolts which occurred in the area of Dhofar), and thus became one of the most famous martyrs in the Arabian Gulf:

ufūl, a drop of blood in the eyes of the Gulf,
Became a martyr.
Farewell O beautiful girl, O
Scented rose. You
Will go towards love and I will go toward death. (Lorca) …
Tell us! Is there a bird behind this dry tree?
Is there a grave praying? …
When a little girl slept in Lorca’s blood
and the wild rose has waken up inside of us …
she became a joyful wound
O Lorca,
your songs are now warming
the soil of love in Granada or in the Gulf …
Open a window to the wind. Lorca is a child who desires to die
on top of the eyes of the poor, love-sick people,
In Granada or in the Gulf …
O Lorca,
Here, the fascists murder the poems' necks
Your blood, which has not yet been avenged, warms the hearts of the poets…
The language of your warmth is a blade from which poetry gushes
We will fight
The earth will scamper in Granada or in the Gulf. (2)

Haddad begins his poem by referring in its motto to the end of Lorca’s poem Balada de un día de Julio ("A Ballad on a Day in July") included in Libro de poemas. In the poem Lorca’s speaker approaches a young woman, whose husband was killed in a battle, and tries to "console" her by both glorifying the very idea of death and informing her that he will join her husband soon enough:

Farewell O beautiful girl, O
scented rose. You
will go towards love and I will go toward death…
The blood in my heart flourishes
like an open spring. (Libro, 34)

The unfulfilled love and the embracement of death, two of the most dominant motifs which Lorca’s poetry is consumed with, are employed in Haddad’s elegy for the purpose of setting Lorca as a role model for the poets involved in the national struggle. In Haddad’s eyes, Tufūl and Lorca are now one. Tufūl, the dead little Omani girl is now sleeping “in Lorca’s blood” and becomes the quintessence of the heroic zeal (Duende, as Lorca defines it) expressed in his poetry. Death, according to Haddād’s- and Lorca’s- view, is not something that should be feared any longer. The lethal wound of Tufūl is now a “joyful wound” that propels the revolutionary poets to resist tyranny: The “wild rose,” Lorca’s symbol of death in many of his poems, "has waken up inside of us," as Haddad’s speaker put it. In other words, the desire to die valiantly is now the ultimate goal of the Arab revolutionary poet. Throughout the poem, Haddad’s speaker repeats the phrase "in Granada or in the Gulf" to indicate that death in the Gulf is perceived by him in the manner that Lorca perceived death in Spain. In one of his most famous lectures, in which he describes the Duende, the heroic zeal and the inspiration of the Spanish poet, Lorca regards death in Spain as a desirable event, which glorifies the life of those who died:

In every country death comes as finality. It comes and the curtain comes down. But not in Spain! In Spain the curtain goes up. Many people live out their lives between walls until the day the die and are brought out into the sun. In Spain, the dead are more alive than the dead of any other country of the world: their profile wounds like the edge of a barber’s razor. The quip about dead and the silent contemplation of it are familiar to the Spanish. (3)

Furthermore, Haddad perceives Lorca’s death as a death of an Arab person whose blood has not yet been avenged and must ultimately be avenged. In this long elegy (and also in other poems in the mentioned volume), Haddad refers to numerous renowned figures from Arabic history and literature like ’Imru’ al-Qays, al-Khansā’, al-Jāhiz, al-Hajjāj, ’Asmā’ Bint Abī Bakr and her son ‘Abdallah Ibn al-Zubayr, and even to a literary figure like Shahrazād. Notwithstanding this fact, it seems rather obvious that throughout this elegy, Lorca, a non-Arab figure, captures most of Haddad’s attention as he seeks to present him as a figure fully assimilated into Arabic classical heritage.

Lorca’s glorious myth did not pass over Palestinian poetry written during this period and even decades later. Two of the most renowned Palestinian poets, Mahmūd Darwīsh (b.1942) and Samīh al-Qāsim (b.1939), made use of Lorca’s image and biography in order to call attention to the revolutionary aspects in their earlier poetry. Darwīsh admitted, on more than one occasion, that Lorca’s poetry has exercised a towering influence upon him. Lorca’s lyric intensity, startling metaphors and elegiac poignancy captivated Darwīsh’s imagination when he first started to write poetry. The Palestinian poet also asserted that his poetry in his earlier stages cannot be comprehended unless the reader bears in mind the strength of the influence of the Spanish poet upon him. In his poetry collection entitled Awrāq al-Zaytūn (“Leaves of the Olive Tree”, 1964) Darwīsh dedicates a poem to the Spanish poet called "Lorca" that begins in the following way:

O blood rose, I beg your forgiveness. O Lorca, the sun is in your hands,

a cross wearing the poem’s fire!

The most beautiful nocturnal knights make a pilgrimage to you

and bring you their martyrs, men and women (136-138)


Like other revolutionary poets during the period the poem was written, Darwīsh lays emphasis on Lorca’s view of poetry in times of national struggles. Throughout the poem, Darwīsh recurrently refers to Lorca’s celebrated statement cited above, which compares the poetry written by the committed poet to a "fire" annihilating tyranny and oppression. In the eyes of the Palestinian poet during this period, the revolutionary poet who dies in this kind of struggle unavoidably becomes a martyr, similar to the crucified Jesus Christ, "A cross wearing the poem’s fire," in the words of the poem. Inspired by Lorca’s life story, Darwish expresses an entrenched belief in the power of the poet’s words to change reality for the better. The poet, according to the Palestinian poet, can become an "earthquake," a "water storm," or "blowing winds" if only he dedicates his poetry to the right political cause. Like al-Sayyāb, Darwīsh lays emphasis on both Lorca’s benevolent personality and compassion towards the poor in his country by referring to the image of Santiago, the poet-troubadour portrayed in Lorca’s poems, who wanders the earth and feeds the poor and the hungry.

In these lines, we discover yet again that Darwīsh, the Palestinian poet, seeks to portray both Lorca as the most “suitable” role model for his own national struggle and to Spain as his own motherland. Darwīsh forms a direct linkage between the landscapes of the Palestinian lands and those of Granada by using the olive tree as a metonym to these landscapes. The olive tree, one of the ultimate symbols of Palestinian national ethos, is now also a symbol of Spain whose struggle for freedom during the 1930’s is associated with the Palestinian national struggle. Darwīsh has further emphasized the identification he made between Andalusia and Palestine in the last line from his poem Fī al-Masā’ al-’Akhīr ‘Alā Hādha al-‘Ar ("In the Last Evening on This Earth", 1992):

In the end we will ask ourselves: was Andalusia

here or there, on earth, or inside the poem? (10)

Hence, as expected, Lorca is once again portrayed as a poet who lived and struggled on "Arab" lands, a fact which makes him worthy of embodying the definitive role model for the revolutionary Arab poet.

3. Death, Poetic Inspiration and the Influence of Lorca on Later Arabic poetry.

Almost thirty years later, in his poetry collection entitled ’Ahada ‘Ashara Kawkaban ("Eleven Stars", 1992) and especially in his poem Lī Khalf al-Smā’ Smā’ ("I have a Sky Behind the Sky”) Darwīsh returns to tackle the myth of Lorca and the fall of Moorish Granada. However, now it seems rather clear that the Palestinian poet refers to the image of the Granadine poet in a different manner. The heroic zeal and the fervent tone that characterized the young Palestinian poet’s works in the sixties now disappear to give way to a much more submissive and subdued tone. In the eyes of the middle-aged revolutionary poet, death now seems almost desirable and enviable. The death that Darwīsh describes in this poem is not the heroic and valiant death described in his earlier poems. Death now is the death of a poet exhausted by decades of struggle and fight, a poet who came to terms with the fact that not every battle can be won. Now, the poet straightforwardly declares that if he is to die or to be killed, he simply wishes to die in his bedroom while looking at the moon and embracing the image and poetry of Lorca:

I know that time
cannot ally with me twice…
I will shed my skin and my language
some of my love words will fall into
The Poetry of Lorca who will reside in my bedroom
and see what I have seen of the Bedouin moon…
So slowly drive me out
and slowly kill me
under my Olive Tree
with Lorca… (13-14)

The image of the poet portrayed in these lines, a poet whose last wish is to die in his bedroom while leaving the window open so he can gaze at the moon directly derives from the poetry of the Spanish poet. Similarly, the image of the moon as a symbol for death and the image of the olive tree as a symbol of the Spanish/Palestinian lands are all drawn from three of Lorca’s most celebrated poems. The first poem is Despedida ("Farewell") the second is Danza da lúa en Santiago ("Dance of the Moon in Santiago") and the third is Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías ("A Lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejías"). The speaker in Darwīsh’s poem "corresponds" on an intertextual level with these three poems to form the image of the dying poet.

In the first poem, included in his poetry collection Canciones 1921-1924 ("Songs 1921-1924") Lorca presents his "will" and asks his readers to let him die peacefully in his bedroom leaving the balcony open so he will a have a last glimpse of his land’s view. (Collected Poems 517) Lorca’s second poem which Darwīsh refers to is included in his poetry collection Seis Poemas Galegos ("Six Galician Poems", 1935). The poem portrays the full moon as a symbol of death, a sign which immediately appears whenever death surrounds the people on earth. In this poem, Lorca’s speaker again asks everyone who surrounds him to let him die calmly in his bedroom. (Collected Poems, 809-810)

The olive tree, the most desirable death place for the poet in Darwīsh’s poem is also the death place of the poet (and matador) Ignacio Sįnchez Mejķas whom Lorca laments when standing on his grave inside the olive grove. In these last four lines Lorca ends his famous lament for his Andalusian friend:

There will not be born for a long time, if ever,
an Andalusian so open, so bold in adventure.
I sing of his elegance in words that moan,
and I remember a sad breeze through the olive grove. (CP 827)

Now, the "older" Darwīsh, no longer refers only to Lorca’s revolutionary and heroic aura, which characterized his image right after his death. Lorca is now the embodiment of the "philosophical" view stressing the cruelty and inevitability of death, a view which is such a feature in Lorca’s poems and plays. (Londré, pp.39-41, 79-80, 152-153.) Despite its cruelty, the speaker in Darwīsh’s poem now lovingly embraces his imminent death and all he wishes for is the opportunity to die alongside his favorite poet.

But death is not only a desirable event in the eyes of Darwīsh. It is much more than that. Darwīsh’s speaker, who seeks poetic inspiration from the Spanish poet and wishes that some of his words "will fall into the poetry of Lorca", is aware of the fact that Lorca perceives death (and the constant fear of death) an essential precondition to poetry writing. Lorca argued that in order for the Duende to appear inside the poet’s soul, death must always encircle him. The presence of death, according to this notion, is the instigating force that lies behind true poetry.

An echo to this notion can also be found in a poem by the Palestinian poet Samī-al-Qāsim (b.1939). In a poem titled Laylan ‘Alā Bāb Fidirīkū ("Nighttime at Federico’s Door") included in his poetry collection entitled Persona non grata (1986), the speaker reaches Lorca’s home at the town square after being chased by the notorious "black squads".

The speaker in these lines realizes that he does not have the option to fight the "black squads" and he does not wish to die heroically anymore. Instead, he is facing two options: he can either surrender himself, suffer a horrendous execution and die in an utterly disgraceful manner by the militia soldiers (who already killed Lorca and now he is inside his house "burning in death", in the words of the poem), or he can enter Lorca’s house and hope to peacefully die alongside the Spanish poet’s spirit, similar to the speaker of Darwīsh’s poem. He finally chooses to keep knocking on Lorca’s door in order to ultimately die in his favorite poet’s house in Spain. It seems that Lorca’s notion on death, and death in Spain in particular, influenced al-Qasim to “place” the poem’s events in Spain. In his above-mentioned lecture, Lorca regards death in Spain as a desirable event, which glorifies the life of those who died and again accentuates the notion that death is a necessity for poetic inspiration in Spain:

In every country death comes as finality. It comes and the curtain comes down. But not in Spain! In Spain the curtain goes up. Many people live out their lives between walls until the day the die and are brought out into the sun. In Spain, the dead are more alive than the dead of any other country of the world: their profile wounds like the edge of a barber’s razor. The quip about dead and the silent contemplation of it are familiar to the Spanish [...] Spain is the only country where death is the national spectacle, where death blows long fanfares at the coming of each Spring, and its art is always governed by a shrewd Duende that has given it its distinctive character and its quality of invention.

Loneliness, grief, and frustration of the human predicament, themes which pervade throughout all of Lorca’s works, are referred to in Adunis’ exceptional poem entitled Qabr Min Ajl New York (“A Grave for New York”, 1971). In this poem, Adūnīs gives a long description of his personal impression from his journey to New York, a city which, in his eyes, symbolizes the horror of a totally mechanized and dehumanized lifestyle. In these following lines, Adunis bluntly expresses his feelings of fear, revulsion, oppression and death, which surround him while strolling through the streets of the American metropolis:

New York

A civilization with four legs; each direction is murder
and a path to murder,
and in the distance
the moaning of those drowning.

The clock announces the hour, and I
see what you saw not and know what you knew not.

I move in a vast expanse of cans
crowding like yellow crabs
in an ocean made up of millions of islands-
persons; each is a column with two
hands, two feet and a broken head. And you. (4)

Adūnis’s gloomy depiction of the huge American metropolis as a symbol of death and even some of his specific poetic images derive directly from Lorca’s poetry collection Poeta en Nueva York ("Poet in New York", published posthumously in 1940). This unique poetic work was inspired by Lorca’s nightmarish experiences from his trip to the American metropolis during 1929-1930. In this work, Lorca’s horror at what he saw as the death in life of the modern and mechanized civilization is conveyed by the surrealistic juxtaposing of brutal, tortured images. Reading this cycle of poems, we can detect the poetic source with which Adunis identifies when describing the feelings of both angst and death which lie in the city. In his commentary on "Poet in New-York", Christopher Maurer asserts that in this exceptional work, Lorca condemns all what modern world seems to entail: an anthropocentric point of view; the degradation of nature and the indifference to suffer; the materialistic corruption of love and religion and the alienation of social groups, particularly the blacks. Maurer further points out that Lorca's speaker, who takes a dark lyrical journey through New York, predicts the apocalyptic destruction of urban society. The pain and emptiness mentioned so insistently by the protagonist of this book affect not only him- poet severed from the world of his childhood and stripped of his identity- but also mankind in general, a "world alone in a lonely sky". (24)

Beside the nearly identical tenebrous atmosphere, which permeates the works of both Lorca and Adunis, the Arab poet also derives his poetic imagery from Lorca's work and sometimes uses direct quotations, most notably the depiction of all the objects in the city as "things of weariness", following Lorca’s "bone-tired things". Adunis further derives from Lorca’s work the image of the city covered with ashes, the oppression of the blacks, the ominous sun, the image of the Hudson river as a filthy "sponge", surrounded by death and disturbing melancholy. Even when he wishes to emphasize the contradiction between nature and the cold, dehumanized city, Adunis follows Lorca and pays tribute to the image of the American nature poet Walt Whitman, and sets him as the complete opposite to the materialistic metropolis.

In her above-mentioned study, Londré asserts that in "Poet in New York", Whitman is eulogized by Lorca for the virility and dignity behind his pure sensory appreciation of beauty. Adunis, being aware of Lorca’s keen admiration of Whitman, accentuates the deep contrast between the nature-loving poet and capitalist New York using a word play with Whitman's most celebrated poetic work Leaves of Grass (1835), a collection which is primarily distinguished by an appeal to the readers to abandon all what is materialistic and urges them to be large and generous in spirit:

Brooklyn Bridge! But it's the bridge linking Whitman
to Wall Street, the leaf of grass to the Dollar leaf... (722)

Throughout the years, critics and scholars harshly attacked both Lorca and Adunis for these unique poetic works. Lorca’s poems provoked some reactions of wounded patriotism from American hostile critics when they were initially published, and as for Adunis, some scholars defined his poem as "violently Anti-American" and further suggested that Walt Whitman’s explicit appearance in section nine of the poem elicits a sympathy that is ultimately subsumed by his invective on the American city. (5) I would like to argue that, both Lorca and Adunis did not specifically intend to attack New York or the American way of life. The American metropolis in these works is merely a powerful poetic symbol used by the two poets to call attention to the fear of death and the profound alienation of the human race in the modern era.

However, despite this gloomy perception of the metropolis, both poets attitude toward it is ambivalent. For Lorca, and especially for Adunis, the city is a place in which the poet discovers a different source of poetic creativity. In her commentary on Adunis' poetry, scholar Ferial Ghazoul points out that the poet celebrates the dissonance of the city, and its assault on the univocal. He puts up with the metropolis, suffocating as it may be, distant from the "first sky" as it may be, because it allows paradox and contradiction, thus triggering creativity. In the case of both Adunis and Lorca, uprooting a poet whether from his village or from his world is putting him face to face with otherness. It is precisely this challenge to his comfortable and static identity that moves the poet to create. (1-2)

It seems that out of all the figures of Western revolutionary poets whose poetry was looked upon in utter admiration by the leftist Arab poets in the fifties and the sixties, Lorca remained the last poet whom Arab poets continued to refer to in their poetic writings during the seventies, eighties and even the nineties. After the disappearance of the revolutionary trend from the center of the poetic arena in the Arab world, prominent Arab poets continued to refer to Lorca's image and works, though in a completely different manner.

Those poets no longer admire Lorca only for his heroic and daring tendencies but rather for his extraordinary views regarding death and the human condition in general. Lorca, who affirms in his works the necessity of death in order to appreciate life’s joys and delights, is now an exemplary role model for those Arab poets who continuously seek comfort and consolation in their works. For them, Lorca became the poet who best expresses the existential dimensions of human condition and one of the important figures among Western poets they can genuinely relate to.

It seems appropriate to end this article in the words of the Saudi author ‘Abd al-Rahmān Munīf, which best capture, in our view, the influence of Lorca’s philosophical view of death as perceived by Arab poets and writers. Commenting on Lorca's Romancero Gitano (“Gypsy Ballad Book”, 1928), Munīf writes:

As in ‘Llanto por la muerte de Ignacio Sanchez Mejias’, Romancero Gitano is replete with striking epiphanic images that powerfully give voice to the life/death duality. One of life's greatest ironies is that life- with the wealth, variety, pleasure and beauty it offers and of which humans must drink to the lees- cannot be discovered except through its opposite, its inseparable paramour, death. Latent in life, lying in wait for all creatures, particularly humans who are possessed of awareness and memory, is death. Even if tragic, even when denied, death has the logic of the inevitable... the last station of this journey, which is not without cruelty and absurdity. (6)



(1). The English translation of the Arabic poems is my own, unless specified otherwise.

(2). See also Yair Huri, “The Queen who Serves the Slaves: From Politics to Metapoetics in the Poetry of Qāsim Haddād,” in Journal of Arabic Literature 34/3 (2003), pp. 252-279.

(3). The translation is taken from www.musicpsyche.org/Lorca-Duende.htm

(4). The translation is taken from: <www.jehat.com/english/adonis-bio-3b.htm>

(5). See for instance: Asselineau, Roger, and Folsom Ed, "Whitman and Lebanon's Adonis." Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 15 (Spring 1998), pp. 180-184.

(6). Cited in al-Ahrām Weekly, No. 381, p.2.



Abd al-Wahhāb al-Bayyātī, al-Mawt fī’l Hayāt. Beirut, 1968.

al-Ahrām Weekly, 11-17/6/1998. Issue No. 381. Culture Section, p.1.

Asselineau, Roger, and Folsom Ed, "Whitman and Lebanon's Adonis." Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 15 (Spring 1998), pp. 180-184.

Badawi, M.M. A Short History of Modern Arabic Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

----. A Critical Introduction to Modern Arabic Poetry. Cambridge University Press, 1975.

Badr Shākīr al-Sayyāb, Asā īr, “Muqqadimat Dīwān Asā īr” in Na½ ariyyat al-Sh‘ r: Marhalat Majjalat Shi‘r Vo.2. Dammascus, 1996: 735-740. 

----. Dīwān Badr Shākīr al-Sayyāb. Beirut: 1971.

----. A Critical Introduction to Modern Arabic Poetry. Cambridge University Press, 1975.

Ferial Ghazoul, "Poetisation of the Metropolis", Al-Ahrām Weekly, Issue No. 512, pp. 1-2.

Felicia Hardison Londré, Federico García Lorca. New York: Ungar Publishing, 1984.

Huri, Yair. "The Queen who Serves the Slaves: From Politics to Metapoetics in the Poetry of Qāsim Haddād,” in Journal of Arabic Literature 34/3, 2003.

Salah Abd al-Sabūr, Dīwān Salah Abd al-Sabūr. Beirut, 1971.

Salma Khadra Jayyusi, Modern Arabic Poetry: An Anthology. Columbia University Press, 1987.

Lorca, Federico García. "Balada de la placeta".


----. Collected Poems. Christopher Maurer (ed.). New York: Farads, Straus and Giroux, 2001.

----. "The Duende: Theory and Divertissement". www.musicpsyche.org/Lorca-Duende.htm

----, Libro de poemas. Buenos Aires: Losada, 1968.

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Hourani, Albert. The History of the Arab Peoples. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Mahmūd Darwīsh, A ada ‘Ashara Kawkaban. Beirut, 1992.

----, “al-Shi‘r Kal-Jins la Yu‘ānad. Mukābadatuhu wa Qasriyyatuhu Taurāni Bihi ", al-Itijāh al-’Ākhar, Vo. 54, 3.3.2002.

Samīh al-Qāsim, Persona non grata. Akko, 1986.

Qāsim Haddād, Al-‘A’māl al-Shi‘riyya. Beirut, 2000.