Gacela of Dark Death

Federico García Lorca

Gacela of the Dark Death

I want to sleep the dream of the apples,
to withdraw from the tumult of cemetries.
I want to sleep the dream of that child
who wanted to cut his heart on the high seas.

I don’t want to hear again that the dead do not lose their blood,
that the putrid mouth goes on asking for water.
I don’t want to learn of the tortures of the grass,
nor of the moon with a serpent’s mouth
that labors before dawn.

I want to sleep awhile, awhile,
a minute, a century;
but all must know that I have not died;
that there is a stable of gold in my lips;
that I am the small friend of the West wind;
that I am the immense shadow of my tears.

Cover me at dawn with a veil,
because dawn will throw fistfuls of ants at me,
and wet with hard water my shoes
so that the pincers of the scorpion slide.

For I want to sleep the dream of the apples,
to learn a lament that will cleanse me of the earth;
for I want to live with that dark child
who wanted to cut his heart on the high seas.

– Translated by Stephen Spender and J. L. Gili

(from The Selected Poems of Federico García Lorca, edited by Francisco García Lorca and Donald M. Allen, New York: New Directions 1955)

There are several translations of this poem, the one found on the Internet most often being that by Robert Bly, which was posted at World So Wide, for example.

They all fall somewhat flat because it takes the sound of Spanish to carry the foreign hermetic world, the pathos of this poem.

Which is why the original follows here:

Gacela de la muerte oscura

Quiero dormir el sueño de las manzanas,
alejarme del tumulto de los cementerios.
Quiero dormir el sueño de aquel niño
que quería cortarse el corazón en alta mar.

No quiero que me repitan que los muertos no pierden la sangre;
que la boca podrida sigue pidiendo agua.
No quiero enterarme de los martirios que da la hierba,
ni de la luna con boca de serpiente
que trabaja antes del amanecer.

Quiero dormir un rato,
un rato, un minuto, un siglo;
pero que todos sepan que no he muerto;
que hay un establo de oro en mis labios;
que soy el pequeño amigo del viento Oeste;
que soy la sombra inmensa de mis lágrimas.

Cúbreme por la aurora con un velo,
porque me arrojará puñados de hormigas,
y moja con agua dura mis zapatos
para que resbale la pinza de su alacrán.

Porque quiero dormir el sueño de las manzanas
para aprender un llanto que me limpie de tierra;
porque quiero vivir con aquel niño oscuro
que quería cortarse el corazón en alta mar.

(From: Diván del Tamarit, 1936)

About James Steerforth

I am an author of poetry and fiction, translator and painter who loves to have fun with borrowed feathers.
This entry was posted in Literature, Poetry, Stellar poetry, Translation. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Gacela of Dark Death

  1. suburbanlife says:

    James… this is marvellous in translation, but has so much better cadence read in the Spanish, and rolls off the lips and tongue in a most satisfactory way. Thanks for providing both versions!

  2. Xelso says:

    Great Poem. Saw it once in a painting (only the 3rd verse) some years ago a its been on my mind ever since. thank you for posting it so that i could finaly read it all.

  3. Eta says:

    Inmensa=Immense, not intense

  4. Thanks for noticing that, Eta. The translation is correct; this was obviously a copy error.

  5. Pingback: 7 January (1922): Frederico Garcio Lorca to Regino Sainz de la Maza

  6. Stephen says:

    Thanks for posting this! It makes me scratch my head as to how Bly could have gotten “elephantine shadow” from “la sombra inmensa.” Lorca’s poetry, to me, is always about simplicity, so that Bly translation had always confounded me till you set it right.

  7. You’re right about Bly’s elephantine mistranslation 🙂 – that introduces the incorrect notion in the reader that there’s an elephant around the poem somewhere … – Thanks for your appreciation!

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