Apples Falling
Surrealist imagery in Lorca’s Poet in New York
by Andres Lombana




The avant-garde movement, in Europe like in Spain, constitutes a stage of enormous interest, a bubbling up of experiences that suppose a rupture and leads to one fecund renovation of the concept of literature and the poetic language.  In Spain, the avant-garde was translated to very original, universal and renovated formulas.  The poets of the “Generation ‘27” largely nourished themselves from avant-garde movements and, without becoming orthodox in their affiliation, contaminated their writing with the innovations of diverse “-isms”.  A wonderful example of this process is the presence of the surrealist imaginary in the writing of the Poeta en Nueva York [Poet in New York] from Federico Garcia Lorca. 


Making evident the new sensibilities and aesthetic directions, is without any doubt the greatest profit of the avant-garde.  This new sensibility attacks decidedly the expired modern feeling based on Cartesian (cogito ergo sum) and Kantian (universal reason) individualism. Hence, it attacks the concept of the romantic “I” (as center and measurement of all things).  This new sensibility of the “I”, is influenced strongly by the theory of relativity and its scientific verification that things change in relation to the point from which they are being viewed.  When the world is no longer conceived as individual perception, it is possible to imagine it as fragmented.  When the subject is debilitated, it is the object that acquires the central characteristics.  The objectivization of the man and the subjectivization of the object are the dynamo of the new avant-garde aesthetic. Thanks to them, the avant-garde succeeds in it intense creative exploration and search of new forms.


The appearance, appropriation and reformulation in Spain of the different avant-garde currents were developed in a society that was in crisis, political crisis overall, but also economic, and social.  On the one hand, Spain had not had a process of industrialization like the other countries of Europe and North America; it was forced to confront conflictingly a "delayed modernity". On the other hand, the loss of its American colonies in 1898 affected terribly its national identity.  At the beginning of the 20th century the "sociological modernism" of the Republic, characterized by a democratic parlamentarism, raised the temperature of this contradictory and unstable political and social climate.  In addition, although Spain was not involved directly in the World War I (1914-1919), the echo of the war, with all his brutality and violence, did have an effect on it. 


However, because the writing of the Poet in New York is the central subject of this research, it is advisable to consider the special way in which the surrealist “-ism” influenced in Spain.  First of all, it must be clear that, at least in literature, the Spanish Surrealism is not orthodox:  the Iberian poets never arrived at the ends of pure unconscious creation. Thus neither practiced "automatic writing", nor affiliated themselves with the dogma of the "Surrealist Parisian School" presided over by “the Pope”, André Breton.  Nevertheless, Juan Larrea and several other poets from the “Generation ‘27”, at a certain moment in their evolution, were strongly marked by Surrealism (e.g. Alberti in Sobre los angeles [On angels], Lorca in Poet in New York, Aleixandre in Espadas como labios y la destruccion del amor [Swords like lips and the destruction of love]. The great profit of these poets, in their surrealist incursion is that of having released the image, untying it from logical bases, and with it, the prodigious enrichment of poetic language.  The surrealist contamination means, in addition, that the crisis of the ideal of "purity" and "dehumanization" had prevailed during these years.  The human and even the sociological and political, have penetrated literature again by the channels of surrealist expression.


In the following paper I will discuss the conformation of a surrealist visual imagery constituted by natural and cultural symbols (basic material to compose surrealist works of art). Taking a closer look at Poet in New York, I will suggest that Federico Garcia Lorca’s writing develops in this book the montage technique and reiterates some of the common symbols from surrealist imagery. The montage of these symbol-words, apparently disordered, has a deep thematic coherence and a structured poetic logic. The unity of the book can be seen through the thematic obsessions of violence, brutality, chaos and horror, which are expressed by the creation of images such as that of a nightmare.



1. The conformation of a surrealist visual imagery


This paper will attempt to speak about the existence of a visual imagery of surrealist type, to make reference to the set of images, powerfully visual, used in the different artistic creation fields -cinema, literature, painting, sculpture, photograph- by where the Surrealism is strained.  This imagery finds its force in the symbolic and numinous character of its images and as well in the way in which these are related to each other, in the manner in which they are assembled, mounted, adapted and un-adapted. 


The conformation of this imagery as a historical process is not limited to the beginnings of the 20th century, the height of the avant-garde, or to the period between the two great international wars. Rather, the conformation of this imagery goes back to the prehistoric times, in which the primitive man painted the hunting of animals in Altamira, and passes through the blood tragedies and the mythology of the Greeks, through the locus amaenus of the Romans, through the crucifixion of Christ, the stills of the alchemists, and the symbology of Lautréamont and  Rimbaud. Finally, in 1900 the imagery arrives to the avant-garde movement’s field with a great archive of images ready to be mentioned, to be reiterated in a way never done until then.  This new way goes directly towards the creation of a “surreality”, an absolute reality that results from the intersection of dreams with wakefulness.


1.1. Symbols


It seems opportune, at this point of the research to remember the influence that the psychological theories developed by Freud and Jung have had on Surrealism.  Let us remember that to a great extent, it is the height of scientific research on the operation of the psyche and the process of dreams which has influenced the basic rules of the surrealist avant-garde such as the exploration of the unconscious and the liberation of repressed instincts.  This exploration fulfills its objective when it brings to light symbols that express the collective unconscious of humankind.


It is not preposterous to have as a frame of reading for surrealist imagery the conception of symbols that Jung argued in his book Man and his symbols.  For Jung, the psyche is, first of all, imagination. It is image, and inside there is a kind of mythological and poetic matrix, the mythological collective unconscious, which makes use of dreams to express, by means of symbols, non-conscious phenomena.  Even the Ego, the “I”, emerges from this unconscious matrix (211-212). 


According to Jung, man produces symbols spontaneously in the form of dreams. Symbols are the clear materials, the visible components of dreams. The psychic energy of the dreamy language is extremely powerful because it leaves to the light the instinctive part of human beings. It wakes up the intuition and it allows the development of the instinct’s language (36).  One can see the coincidence of these expositions with the surrealist desire of giving expression to the dream’s reality making it agree with conscious reality. 


Jung distinguishes two classes of symbols. There are natural symbols that come from the unconscious contents of the psyche, and which represent an enormous number of variations in the essential archetypical images [1].  The sign of some of them can still be traced to the most archaic roots (e.g. ideas and images that we find in the oldest stories and in more primitive societies). There are also the cultural symbols that have been used to express ‘eternal truths’ and are still used in many religions.  They became collective images adopted by civilized societies (81-82).  


These symbolic images are the psychological inheritance of humankind that is preserved and transmitted in the collective unconscious of all men.  The surrealist visual imagery makes as much use of the natural symbols, as of the cultural ones, allowing the expression of archetypical motifs such as of father, of love, of mother, of creation, of lost paradise and of hell. 


1.2. Composition  and montage


A surrealist work of art (e.g. a poem, a painting, a film, a photograph, a sculpture) is always characterized by the particular way in which its parts (symbols, images, words, objects) are assembled, mounted, chained, juxtaposed and mixed.  The peculiarity of this composition consists in that elements pertaining to different layers of the reality are located in a no-man's land where they had never been before. These originate a new reality, a “surreality”.  The surprise and the strangeness of the absurdity of this coincidence, force the spectator and the reader to intuit the meaning of these symbols by means of association procedures different from those of reason. 


Juan Larrea, one of the most active surrealist Spanish poets, argues that this peculiar way of assembling takes place in a plot of contradictions corresponding to the state of decay of the western world. In one of the conclusions of his article “El surrealismo entre viejo y nuevo mundo” [Surrealism between the old and the new world], Larrea states that Surrealism wants to revolutionize this world,

participating in many of the defects it tries to  condemn... Its exact position seems to correspond to the tactically important point which is located between two series of terms:  between antithesis and synthesis, between appearance and essence, unconsciousness and consciousness, subject and object, antimyth and poetry, darkness and light, dream and wake, infrareality and reality, etc [my translation]. (48) 


This position, although operated by all those who sometimes participated in the surrealist tendency, is neither so novel nor unique to the 20th century. Homer had narrated the existence of monsters and fabulous beings like the Cyclops, the sirens, and the Old Man of the Sea. Ovid had rewritten in Latin about the possibility of metamorphosis. And not to long ago, a 15th century painter like Hieronymous Bosch (c. 1450-1516) painted that acute tactically important point between dream and waking.  We can see this in his composition of "Hell" from his well-known triptych, The garden of the delights (1504).


In this painting, the approach of distant realities jumps out at us from numerous monsters such as the tree-man located at the center, the bird-man who has in his beak the legs of a human, from the pair of ears crossed by a knife, from a giant vihuela, and from a pig with the attire of a nun.  The surprise and the strangeness that these images cause us, the unusual perspective, and the illogical and absurd accumulation, show us that the surrealist montage is not the privilege of the 20th century avant-garde. In any case, we are not going to deny that it is the avant-garde who have systematically developed specific techniques and sophistications never before made.

The mass media and transportation revolution definitively mark the high degree of sophistication and technique reached by the surrealist avant-garde.  Modern inventions like the motor, the cinematograph, photography and the newspaper, exert influence in the way to compose and to montage.  As “the Pope of Surrealism”, André Breton, asserts,

In painting, Surrealism started from the conviction that when entirely new factors were raised in the psychic life (due to psychoanalysis, Gestalttheorie, relativism) and certain modern technologies were improved (e.g. photographs, cinema), the persistence to reproduce what is seen with the eyes expired...[my translation]. (Magia cotidiana, 8) 


In poetry, the composition is located at the height of  new technical features which make use of more synthetic and quick languages like that of the telegram, the newspaper headline, the cinematographic transition (e.g. fade in, fade out), and the photographic objective  (e.g. perception fidelity, literal perception). The case of the newspaper is very interesting; when different events are joined under the light of the same date in the calendar, it does not do more than to anticipate the technique of collage composition. 


In general one can say that for all the arts influenced by Surrealism, fragmentation or segmentation is what characterizes the montage process.  In painting, cinema or poetry, the artists and poets explore the confusion of the human with the objective through dummies, dolls, and the diverse mutilations of the human body (e.g. legs, hands, mouth, and eyes). To illustrate this, let us remember that famous cutting of the eye at the beginning of the film Un chien andalou [An Andalucian dog] (1929) directed by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali. The eye is eliminated, it is sectioned. Hence, the brutality of the fragmented image strikes the spectator directly, forcing him, in the dark of the enclosure, to open his mind to unconscious associations.  As Sanchez has written in his essay “Extrañamiento e identidad de ‘su majestad el yo’ al ‘éxtasis de los objetos’ ” [Strangeness and identity from ‘Her Majesty the I’ to the ‘ecstasy of objects’]   

The intersection between perception and representation is located in the eye.  For the person who paints, contemplates a film, or simply ‘sees’, a kind of agency is raised at the point of surveillance of the correct traffic between the two worlds that he no longer controls: the one of reality and the one of conscience…the mutilation of the eye is the epistemology par excellence that erases the limits between the subject's exterior and interior, causing the subject to be invaded by the things which, at the same time, are advancing towards him and confusing him in their hubbub [my translation].  (60)


As a result, the composition of a fragmented world allows on the one hand, violent expression, the objectivization of the subject and the subjectivization of the object, and on the other hand permits the encounter of different realities in a no-man's land.  As Sanchez asserts,

In a fragmented world, which cannot be integrated into a proper perspective due to the weakening of the subject, the most unexpected encounter can take place, since nothing has to be ‘in its site’, and everything appears in a floating and magmatic state  [my translation]. (65)


This world, this chaotic landscape, gives us surprise and strangeness because of the way in which the objects are directly affected.  The search of the strange tries to break, to crack reality so that it opens the access door to a global and total “surreallity”.  To unite different things, as in a collage, to separate what is united, as in mutilations, or to put a thing or idea in place of another one, as in metaphors, are the most appropriate techniques to demonstrate this fragmentation. 


An illustrative example of this process of fragmented composition in which everything appears in a floating and magmatic state can be observed in the painting by Dalí named Hallucinogenic Bullfighter (1969-1970).  In this immense picture we observe the unexpected encounter of the head’s Venus of Milo with the eye of a face that is drawn in the sand of a bullring in which the multiplication of color points and flies gives origin to a bull whose snout is resting on a lake.  We note as well the presence of a red and a pink rose in a floating state, and the numerous faces of the statue with phantasmagoric appearance.  Attention should be drawn to the detail in the right inferior corner in which a boy as large as a statuette of Venus observes the flight of a fly that seems to be floating in the air.


However, this freedom of montage and composition developed by the surrealist artists, a clear example of their revolutionary interests, is accompanied by a particular logic, a logic that tries to abolish the principle of identity or contradiction, a logic of the absurdity.  As Paul Ilie says in his book Los surrealistas españoles [The Spanish surrealists],

The structures of the absurdity have their own inner coherence.  In some cases the distance between juxtaposed realities allows a consistent system of relations that lets us speak of a logic of the absurdity…The majority of  metaphorical absurdities are made up of two parts that seem bounded by the arbitrary will or fortuitous association.  This unexpected association is betrayed, nevertheless, by an implacable chain reaction that produces a system of different elements entwined [my translation]. (204) 

This fact must be considered when approaching any surrealist work such as a poem of Aleixandre, Lorca or Alberti, a film of Buñuel (even David Lynch), a painting of Dalí, Magritte, or De Chirico. It is the set of the work as a whole and its tone which provide an internal logic to all apparent incoherences and irrationalities devoid of immediate sense. 


The approach to the irrational experience through this logic of absurdity becomes intense and violent to the reader and the spectator because the assembled parts have, each one, deep symbolic meanings. As Ilie explains in his essay “La metáfora surrealista en Juan Larrea¨ [Juan Larrea’s surrealist metaphor], the logic of the absurd is based on the use of a familiar lexicon in forms that contravene the laws of the reality and the concrete experience. He remarks:

...the absurdity acquires an own logical force due to the manipulation of accepted concepts.  This forces us to distinguish between which is reasonable and which is unreasonable not on the rationale base, but on the base of the experience.  Therefore, to speak irrationally means to allude to a situation that is contradicted by the experience, assuming that the expression is grammatically and semantically correct.  It is not relevant if its assertion fulfills or does not fulfill the linguistic dicta of the reason... [my translation]. (205) 


This way of forced and violent montage is not distinct from a pathological state of madness, a clinical state like those described by Charcot (e.g. neurotic mechanisms of jealousy, paranoia, and homosexual behavior). Without implying that the surrealist artist is lunatic or mentally ill, one might consider the presence of scientific research on this topic as a characteristic of the epochal atmosphere.  In fact, Dali himself aptly named his method of composition “critical paranoia”. As he expresses in his Diario de un genio [Journal of a genius]: "I am supporting by the psychoanalysis...the structure of my spirit is of an eminently paranoid type and, therefore, the most indicated for this class of exercise..." (75).


This method guides the Catalan painter to discover in its analogical investigations unusual convergences between objects.  For example, his discoveries on the horn of the rhino, the granulation of the cauliflower, the rind of the sea sprocket and the sunflowers, are associated repeatedly with the most varied objects, and even with human figures.  Dali even affirms in his journal, plenty of “mystic-scientific ecstasy”, that in all his life he had not done more than to paint rhino horns.



2.  The surrealist image in Poet in New York


The visit of Federico Garcia Lorca to the United States from 1929 to 1930 at the dramatic moment of the crash in the New York stock-market, is a crucial landmark in the life of the Spanish poet.  His contact with New York (the maximum expression of a certain type of civilization) is a violent shock.  In that automated world, which according to Lorca turns the man into a piece of machinery, the poet is drawn and rebels.  With two words he defines the atmosphere:  "geometry and distress".  Topics like the power of money, the slavery of man by machine, social injustice, dehumanization and brutality agree with the pain, the lack of affection, and the premonition of death so characteristic of Lorquian poetry. 


Formally, the spiritual commotion and the protest find an appropriate channel in the surrealist technique such as the ample verse and the hallucinating image that express an illogical-absurd world, and construct apocalyptic and choleric visions.  Lorca’s revealed plastic desire and necessity to illustrate allow the surrealist imagery to easily mix with the lyricism and dramatic quality of his own writing. 


            In Poet in New York the Lorquian writing renews.  The presence of metaphors from surrealist nature, such as disperse images, is a sample of it.  Paul Illie has revealed the characteristics of this kind of imagery in his essay “La metáfora surrealista en Juan Larrea¨ [Juan Larrea’s surrealist metaphor]:

…the expanded range of experiences caused by Surrealism also changes the nature of the metaphor.  Its focal point can spread out to the moment the image cannot even converge in to a single image.  The subject of the metaphor looses its importance as the descriptive half of the metaphor, with its irrationality, imposes its rights and strikes to us.  Not even the description of the metaphor can gather the rest of it towards itself nor become the structural center of the image.  As a result, the image disperses in several parts [my translation]. (206)


            The dispersion of the image can be seen in the following verses from a poem entitled "Landscape of a pissing multitude":


They all kept to themselves-

Dreaming of the open beaks of dying birds,

The sharp parasol that punctures

A recently flattened toad,

Beneath silence with a thousand ears

And tiny mouths of water

In the canyons that resist

The violent attack of the moon.

(lines 5-12)


            We find, then, that the surrealist image lacks unity and seems to spill over into the amorphous subject of the poem and the book: brutality, dehumanization.  The absence of a focal point where the metaphor can turn around, results from the open and relaxed character of Surrealism.  It has an advantage over other traditional conceptions because it can easily construct an image of several levels sliding from one association to another one without having to use careful links. Through the capricious connection of symbols and images the metaphor never remains in a single level.  The meaning of these metaphors freely connected is big.  It means that thoughts and feelings never crystallize in delimited images that totally express what they would have to express (Illie, “La metáfora…” 206-207). 


            The collapse of the rational image mechanism, that brings with it the disorganization of the relationship between subject-object and the freedom of images of the Surrealism, can be understood through the dramatic lyricism that characterizes the work as a whole.  The association of ideas and images without apparent logic in Poet in New York finds its coherence in the book’s subject and the syntax. The power of free suggestiveness arises from the image relationship because what counts is not the image itself, but the unconscious mechanisms revealed by the image incoherence.  As a result, the reader of these poems approaches, if he lets himself be taken by his intuition, to the state of “surreality” in his mind.  


            However, we cannot forget that the way in which Lorca carries out this surrealist montage agrees with its plastic-poetic conception of composition.  Remember that besides his writing of plays and poetry, Garcia Lorca also drew a number of sketches. The nexus between his poetry and his drawings finds in Poet in New York the most evident expression through surrealist language.  As Virginia Higginbotham remarks in her article “La iniciación de Lorca en el  Surrealismo” [Lorca’s initiation in Surrealism]:

...Surrealism had established a nexus between visual poetry and arts.  In fact, as Anna Balakian points out ‘the concepts of Lautréamont and Rimbaud were illustrated in art before reaching their own maturity in poetry’.  Hence, it was the strong visual quality of Surrealism which attracted Lorca... [He] learned to have fragmentary scenes in an evocative way [my translation]. (253) 


We should also declare that the attraction by Surrealism in its quality of nexus between text and image had been anticipated in Garcia Lorca’s incursion in the cinema, more specifically in his never-filmed script A trip to the Moon (1930).  After reading it, one has no doubt in claiming the anticipatory character of this script with respect to Poet in New York due to the use of a surrealist imagery and its specific techniques of montage and composition. The fact that for a film of relatively short duration in which Lorca elaborated hundreds of planes, and the way in which they are related, denotes that it is a work based on the montage, with brief planes of strong surrealist plasticity, and with a good transition of sequences.  As Higginbotham further states,  

the cinematographic techniques Lorca used in A trip to the Moon ...are surrealist mechanisms which have been applied to the cinema.  The metamorphosis of the forms, by means of which the surrealists unified series of unconnected objects, is easily carried out in the cinema by means of the fade-in technique, that Lorca used not less than 15 times in the 72 scenes which includes A trip to the Moon.  The double image, used to create the surrealist sense of inconsistency, is obtained with the camera by means of double expositions. There are at least one dozen of those expositions throughout the script [my translation]. (252)


2.1 Linking words and symbols


The writing of Poet in New York is flooded with words that refer to symbols reiterated in the surrealist imagery (cinema, painting, sculpture, poetry, photography). The encounter with these repeated words guides the reader to intuit their meaning by opening his mind to the surreality. Hence, the reader traces links between symbol-words from different works of art, his/her own personal experience, and the mythological collective unconscious of humankind. The parallelism between painting and poetry characteristic of Surrealism becomes evident by this process.


Let us consider then, the recited, reiterated, and rewritten symbol-words that can be found in Poet in New York.  There are natural symbol-words like:  tree, stone, sea, sun, moon, clouds, forest, egg, forest and animals (e.g. lion, frog,  turtle, worm, nightingale, snail, duck, camel, dog, cat, horse, etc) and cultural symbol-words like:  apple, blood, rose and serpent.  To the previous categories it would be necessary to add a category of body symbol-words (e.g. mutilations, segmentations) as clear reiterations of the surrealist images present in the cinema, in painting, in sculpture, and in photography. These include eyes, navels, hands, mouths, cheeks, faces, necks, heads, horns, snouts, torsos, and pupils. 


Following the symbol-word ‘apple’ throughout Poet in New York’s writing I hope to unravel its possible meaning in the context in where it is located, and, in addition, I will allude to other works of art in where this symbol has appeared. I will concentrate overall in the painting from Bosch, Dali and Magritte. We should not forget neither the plastic-poetic will of Lorca, nor that "the drawings and the poems of Lorca establish intericonic and intertextual dialogue with texts and pictures of Dalí” [my translation]. (Bou, Pintura en el aire: arte y literatura en la Modernidad 318)


Let us do a simple linking-apples exercise: the apple as the prohibited fruit, the apple that a witch gives to Snow White, the apple that William Tell places on the head of his son, Newton’s scientific observation of the falling apple, the apple from the tree of knowledge that Eve bites. Provocative and fresh, red and round like  the earth, it can also be green like those of Magritte, the apple of contention, the anatomical apple of all men (Adam's apple: prominentia laryngea), the great apple, of course (Manhattan, New York City, The Big Apple), and we cannot forget  the atomic apple of Dali, the one that he explodes. 


Some paintings come to mind. For instance there is the one from Bosch entitled Paradise with clear religious connotations to the ‘apple’ of sin.  Additionally one can also remember the ‘apples’ painted by Magritte in Fine realities (1964), and The listening room (1952) . And we should not forget the ‘apple’ that is not ‘apple’ in This is not an apple (1964). Furthermore, this paper will also consider two Dalinian ‘apples’: one in a detail of The apotheosis of Homer (1944-45) which while falling, is transformed into an open apple with a clock inside and a drop ready to fall on the head of a statue. The other ‘apple’ suspended over a plate, defying the law of gravity in a detail from Living dead nature (1956).


Let us now go directly to the Poet in New Yorks poems and appreciate the suggestive visions constructed in the Lorquian writing with the reiteration of ‘apple’.  This word, in some poems, can be related to the Judeo-Christian religion and that old myth of original sin. The bite of the prohibited fruit corresponds to disrespect for the order of God and the Fall into consciousness. As Betty Jean Craige accurately asserts in her work Lorca’s Poet in New York:

When Adam and Eve had eaten of the Tree of Knnowledge of good and evil they saw that they were naked and they were ashamed. So they covered themselves with fig leaves. Thus were they separated from nature, from God, and hurled in isolation of self-consciousness. Now they are ‘as gods, knowing good and evil.’ This act is the fall into consciousness by which man gains awareness of himself and loses harmony with nature. (4)


Due to the fact that the ‘apple’ represents the expulsion from paradise (Fall into consciousness), the diverse visions (hallucinating images) that are composed by using this cultural symbol-word have a prophetic and religious connotation.  The reader can intuit this meaning in poems such as "The king of Harlem", "Landscape of a pissing multitude", “Little Stanton", "Nocturne of emptied space", "Ode to Walt Whitman" and "Ruin".


Indeed, in "Nocturne of emptied space" the reader find “half-eaten apples” composing a dramatic scene:

Look at the concrete shapes in search of their void.

Lost dogs and half-eaten apples

Look at this sad fossil world, with its anxiety and anguish,

A world that can’t find the rhythm of its very first sob.



And in "Ode to Walt Whitman" the ‘apple’ is also eaten by somebody else, in this case a friend: 

He’s one, too! That’s right! Stained fingers

point to the shore of your dream

when a friend eats your apple

with a slight taste of gasoline

and the sun sings in the navels

of boys who play under bridges.



Composing with an explicit surrealist montage technique, allows Lorca to take an advantage of the symbolic meaning of ‘apple’ and as well its intericonic/intertextual properties. By doing so, he builds dispersed images plenty of psychic energy as the one in "The king of Harlem":

It is necessary to kill to the blond vendor of firewater

and every friend of apple and sand,

and it’s necessary to use the fists

against the little Jewish woman who tremble filled with bubbles,

so the king of Harlem sings with his multitude,

so crocodiles sleep in long rows

beneath the moon’s asbestos,

and so no one doubts the infinite beauty

of feather dusters, graters, copper pans, and kitchen casseroles.

(21- 29)


And the one in “Cry to Rome”, where the attacked ‘apples’ open an image that is almost a nightmare:

Apples barely grazed

by slender, silver rapiers

clouds torn apart by a coral hand

that carries a fiery almond on its back,

arsenic fish like sharks,

sharks like wailing drops that blind the masses,

roses that wound

and needles that lace the lace the blood’s plumbing



And in “Little Stanton" where the ‘apple’ is humanized having a “chaste longing”: 

At twelve midnight, cancer wandered through the corridors

and spoke with the documents’ empty snails,

cancer springing to life, full of clouds and thermometers,

with an apple’s chaste longing to be pecked by nightingales.



In all these cases, the ‘apple’ could be linked to the Fall into consciousness myth, and, therefore, could represent the separation of the society from any spiritual reality. Man’s original state has been lost. “Having once known harmony, man is condemned by his consciousness to seek it forever…” (Craige 84). The primitive relationship between man and nature no longer exists, and because of this, the poet feels alienated. The ‘apple’ in this state of lost paradise is always dark as in "Ruin": 

Soon it was clear that the moon

was a horse’s skull,

and the air, a dark apple.




2.2.           Dehumanization as a nightmare


The apparent disorder, ambiguity and incoherence of the symbol-words montage, and the construction of dispersed images, hallucinating metaphors and apocalyptic visions, find their organization in the themes of brutality, violence, suffering, horror and chaos. These themes surround the Lorquian writing even when it does not present the surrealist characteristics of montage and composition as in the Gypsy Ballads or in theater plays.  The mysterious and dramatic lyricism, makes us think that the poet’s writing could never escape to the tragic, the death’s ghost and the pain. 


Even though some of the poems from Poet in New York might appear to the reader in disorder, scarcely coherent and ambiguous, the total set of pieces acquires a unit when seen as a whole. “The irrational, illogical, surrealistic…images together compose an organic whole expressive of a feeling or idea (not necessarily rational) in the poet’s mind…” (Craige 45). And as well in the reader’s mind if he/she is appropriately and openly prepared.


The thematic unit of Poet in New York, can be synthesized as an apocalyptic nightmare of social injustice, dark love and loss of religious faith, plenty of eschatological references such as those of the vomit and urine.  According to Virginia Higginbotham, "… the nightmare images, by which Lorca developed the subject of cruelty, were deliberately developed to be shocking.  Probably he learned this terror imagery from Dalí" [my translation]. (252). In "Landscape of vomiting multitude" we found great condensation of that state of nightmare: 

There were murmurings from the jungle of vomit

with the empty women, with hot wax children,

with fermented trees and tireless waiters

who serve platters of salt beneath harps of saliva. 

There’s no other way, my son, vomit!  There is no other way.

 It’s not the vomit of hussars on the breasts of their whores,

nor the vomit of cats that inadvertently swallowed frogs,

but the dead who scratch with clay hands

on flint gates where clouds and desserts decay.


I, poet without arms, lost

In the vomiting multitude,

with no effusive horse to shear

the thick moss from my temples. 



It is also a good example of the thematic coherence and the negative synthesis of the world-city, the poem "New York. (Office and denunciation)": 

This is not hell, is the street.

Not death, but the fruit stand. 

There is a world of tamed rivers and distances just beyond our grasp

in the cat’s paw smashed by a car,

and I hear the earthworm’s song

in the hearts of many girls .



The Lorquian writing obtains then, thanks to its plasticity, the creation of a chaotic and disordered landscape that is no more than the synthesis of a world-city full of pain: a dehumanizing civilization, the western modern world felt by the Spanish poet’s senses.  Its visual effect, as we have already seen, is very suggestive. The images are moved and simultaneously paused, spilled and simultaneously contained.  This contradictory and paradoxical phenomenon can be understood in poems such as "Death":

How hard they try!

How hard the horse tries

to become a dog! 

How hard the dog tries to become a swallow!

How hard the swallow tries to become a bee!

How hard the bee tries to become horse!



or "Jewish Cemetery": 

Christ’s children slept,

and the water was a dove,

and the wood was a heron,

and the lead was a hummingbird,

and even the living prisons of fire

were consoled by the locust’s leap.



or "Cry to Rome": 

arsenic fish like sharks,

sharks like wailing drops that blind the masses,

roses that wound

and needles that lace the lace the blood’s plumbing



However, the surrealist image of an apocalyptic nightmare is not more than a consequence of the Fall into conscious that we mentioned when talking about the symbol-word ‘apple’. The nightmare represents the drama of an alienated individual inside modern world, the lost of Paradise, the impossibility of harmony.   As Craige reveals,

Poet in New York is a vision of a fragmented world deserted by the gods; it is a vision of dehumanized civilization whose sickness is born of consciousness and manifested in a material technocracy of empty suits of clothing. New York is a concrete symbol for a world in which “things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” (as Yeats wrote in 1919): there is no longer a center, a god or unifying myth, to serve as an absolute; and without such a center human life becomes a meaningless, monotonous, material existence of ‘imperfect anguish’… (3)


Poet in New York‘s writing creates a surrreality that is extremely liberating and revolutionary. The brutality, violence, horror and chaos not only constitute the image of a nightmare, but also are a form of releasing the reader’s instincts and intuition.  As Menarini suggests in his essay, “Emblemas ideológicos de Poeta en Nueva York”  [Poet in New York‘s ideological emblems],

...liberation of instincts in the scope of a society built on a 'perfect' order does not admit its opposite (imperfect disorder of the senses). It is already a revolutionary act able to place in danger the whole building from its foundations...the true revolution raised by Lorca and the surrealist manifestos: ... to free man from his social bonds and, if alienated, to bring him back totally to does not represent a political alternative or a change of power, but the complete destabilization from the interior of the actual world...[my translation]. (270)


Indeed, this writing moves the reader to an absolute reality that results from the intersection of dreams with wakefulness. The nightmare, successfully composed by the symbol-words montage, expresses lyric emotions free of logical ties. Federico Garcia Lorca “descend[s] to the most turbid regions of biological being…willing to take soundings among things from the other side, that is, from beyond reason, consciousness, and social convention” (Predmore, Lorca's New York poetry : social injustice, dark love, lost faith 10). Without any doubt, the surrealist imagery provides the elements to achieve this purpose.



3. Conclusion

In the place where the dream was colliding with its reality.

My little eyes are there

(Intermezzo 16-17)


In summary, Poet in New York‘s writing reiterates some of the symbols that conform the surrealist imagery. For instance, the cultural symbol-word ‘apple’ and its religious connotations of fall into consciousness, lost of paradise and forbidden fruit.  The montage of these symbol-words, apparently disordered, has a deep thematic coherence (dehumanization of western modern civilization) and as well a structured poetic logic (logic of absurdity).


Lorca finds in the surrealist language and imagery, the material to express the subjects that always worried him as a poet and artist.  Hence, the violence, the fight, the battle, the frustration, the brutality, the life and the death, are expressed in Poet in New York with such forcefulness and chaos that the unit of the work must be seen through these thematic obsessions and the set of the book as whole. 


Consequently, the reader who faces a text contaminated by the surrealist language, such as Poet in New York, must be prepared to let itself take by the intuition and the instinct in order to achieve a state of “surreality” (absolute reality). The reader must be aware that the surrealist imagery pushes him/her to look for the intersections between painting, cinema, literature, photography and sculpture. Reading and linking as weaving a net, is then, the intericonic/intertextual activity that the reader is invited to play with out rational bindings.



Works Cited


Bou, E. Pintura en el aire : arte y literatura en la modernidad, [Painting in the air: art and literature in Modernity] Valencia : Pre-Textos,2001.

Breton, A. Magia cotidiana [Everyday magic], Madrid, Fundamentos, 1975.

Craige, B.J. Lorca's Poet in New York : the fall into consciousness. Lexington : University Press of Kentucky, c1977.

Dalí, S. Diario de un genio [Journal of a genius]. Barcelona: Editorial Tusquets, 1983.

García Lorca, F. Poet in New York. Trans. Greg Simon and Steven F. White. New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 1988.

_____.Viaje a la luna : guión cinematográfico. Valencia : Pre-Textos, 1994.

_____.Dibujos. Granada: Fundación Federico García Lorca, 1996.

Higginbotham, V. “La iniciación de Lorca en el  Surrealismo” [Lorca’s start in Surrealism]. Surrealismo, Ed. Victor Garcia de la Concha, Madrid: Taurus, 1982.

Illie, P. Los surrealistas españoles [The Spanish surrealists]. Madrid: Taurus, 1972.

_____. “La metáfora surrealista en Juan Larrea” [Juan Larrea’s surrealist metaphor]. Surrealismo, Ed. Victor Garcia de la Concha, Madrid: Taurus, 1982. 

Jung, C. G. Man and his symbols. New York : Dell, 1968.

Larrea, J. “El surrealismo entre viejo y nuevo mundo” [Surrealism between the old and the new world]. Surrealismo, Ed. Victor Garcia de la Concha, Madrid: Taurus, 1982. 

Menarini, P. “Emblemas ideológicos de Poeta en Nueva York” [Ideological emblems from Poet in New York]. Surrealismo, Ed. Victor Garcia de la Concha, Madrid: Taurus, 1982. 

Predmore, R. L. Lorca's New York poetry : social injustice, dark love, lost faith. Durham, N.C. : Duke University Press, 1980.

Sanchez, A. “Extrañamiento e identidad de ‘su majestad el yo’ al ‘éxtasis de los objetos’” [Strangeness and identity from ‘Her Majesty the I’ to the ‘ecstasy of objects’]. Surrealismo, Ed. Victor Garcia de la Concha, Madrid: Taurus, 1982. 


[1] As Hopcke explains in The Collected works of C.G. Jung, “The archetype is the psychic mold of experience, while the symbol is its particular manifestation; the archetypes exists outside of life as we know it as a mode of apperception, while the symbol is drawn from life and points to the archetype beyond our understanding. Thus symbols are essentially what render us human and represent our ability to conceive of that which is beyond our understanding, our capacity for thanscending our conscious, embodied state to stand in relation to another supraordinate reality” (29).