June 17, 2011

Federico Garcia Lorca & The Duende

What is the source of power in poetry?  What leads one to write it, or causes one to seek it?  Some writers, like Harriet Beecher Stowe who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin report that the writing was given to her by God; she merely wrote it down.  Is there a divine source?   

Federico Garcia Lorca has found it in the duende, a dark spirit that is neither angel or muse.   Who has duende in American culture?  Billie Holiday.  Edward Hirsch, poet and essayist, writes of several poets and artists who have a dark and arresting intensity, whose work breathes life and death, and by whom we are transfixed.   

Lorca said, "Seeking the duende, there is neither map nor discipline. We only know it burns the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts, rejects all the sweet geometry we understand, that it shatters styles and makes Goya, master of the greys, silvers and pinks of the finest English art, paint with his knees and fists in terrible bitumen blacks, or strips Mossèn Cinto Verdaguer stark naked in the cold of the Pyrenees, or sends Jorge Manrique to wait for death in the wastes of Ocaña, or clothes Rimbaud’s delicate body in a saltimbanque’s costume, or gives the Comte de Lautréamont the eyes of a dead fish, at dawn, on the boulevard."

This is not a spirit who brings gifts; Lorca puts it in the terms of a battle:  

" With idea, sound, gesture, the duende delights in struggling freely with the creator on the edge of the pit. Angel and Muse flee, with violin and compasses, and the duende wounds, and in trying to heal that wound that never heals, lies the strangeness, the inventiveness of a man’s work."   To read his entire text, please click here:


A wound that never heals appears in many mythic stories.  Arthurian legend, Greek myth, Russian myth, Christian stories of stigmata, and many others seem to point to a universal story of suffering.   Perhaps suffering and the writing that springs out of the attempt to heal it will evoke the duende.   The duende, says Federico Garcia Lorca, is the battle pitched between you and death.  It is a wound that won’t heal, a wind that blows over the dead, “a wind with the odour of a child’s saliva, crushed grass, and medusa’s veil, announcing the endless baptism of freshly created things.” From pain, violence or carnage, birth.

Lorca evoked the Duende whenever he did a reading; he called to the spirit for both him and the audience; often it held them with its terrible beauty.

1 comment:

  1. Very Beautifully written, this helped me tremendously understand Lorca.