A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
The 2013 edition of New Directions’ The Selected Poems of Federico Garcia Lorca only seems to differ from earlier ones in its change of cover. That’s not at all a bad thing. Since 1955 this enduring little book has introduced countless English readers to one of Spain’s greatest writers with translations by the likes of Stephen Spender, W.S. Merwin, and Langston Hughes.
It’s a touchstone in my own reading life. I first discovered the book in high school. My brilliant 2nd year Spanish teacher had great taste in poets—Pablo Neruda, Ruben Dario, Cesar Vallejo, Octavio Paz—and she gave us a short poem or a single stanza to translate every week. But it was a fragment she assigned from Federico Garcia Lorca’s “Somnambule Ballad” that really caught my attention. It led me to track down this very book in the school’s library and made Lorca the first poet I ever truly loved. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that the first two lines were easy to translate: “Verde que te quiero verde./Verde viento. Verde ramas.” The rest of the stanza wasn’t quite so simple, but I remember immediately sensing its strange beauty even before I started flipping through my dictionary. I wish I still had my own version, I’d like to compare it to Stephen Spender’s:
Green, how much I want you green.
Green wind. Green branches.
The ship upon the sea
and the horse in the mountain.
With the shadow on her waist
she dreams on her balcony,
green flesh, hair of green,
and eyes of cold silver.
“Somnambule Ballad” is one of Lorca’s longer poems, from his Gypsy Ballads of 1928. While these longer, later poems are definitely the best in this collection, you won’t find a single piece that doesn’t have similarly beautiful, often surreal imagery and that swooning, melancholy tone.
So if you haven’t read Lorca yet, don’t hesitate to stop by and pick up our copy of The Selected Poems. It’s a must read for poetry fans, but even if you’re only a dabbler in poetry I think you’ll still find Lorca an easy, compelling read.
Review by Matthew