Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 1, 2021

The Dialogue of Two Snails, by Federico García Lorca, translated by Tyler Fisher

It’s Spanish Lit month over at Winston’s Dad, so it’s time to venture into the work of the avant-garde poet Federico García Lorca (1898-1936).  I have been meaning to do this ever since I went to Spain, but it’s only recently that I discovered that the Penguin Moderns include a collection of his poetry, dialogues, and short prose.  At $1.99 AUD (£1GBP) It was breathtakingly cheap because it seemed only to be available for the Kindle.

Needless to say, I am out of my depth when discussing modern poetry because we went no further than Four Quartets at university, but FWIW, here are my thoughts:

It is not possible for me to read Lorca’s work without remembering that he was assassinated by Franco’s Nationalist forces early in the Spanish Civil War. This is especially so with ‘In the Garden of Lunar Grapefruit’ which is prefaced by a quotation from Moral Advice by (the Castilian Chaucer) Pero López de Ayala :

Like a shadow our life slips away, never to return; nor shall aught of us or ours return.

In this short prose piece, with a sharp pain in his heart, he girds himself for battle with the gigantic dragon of Common Sense.  Only some pieces in this collection are dated and I found myself wishing that I knew when this one was written, to know just when it was that Lorca felt this intimation of death.

Federico Garcia Lorca (Wikipedia)

The photo of Lorca taken at Huerta de San Vicente, Granada is so full of life and good cheer, yet his body has never been found.  Today there is a statue of him in central Madrid and other memorials elsewhere in Spain, but his greatest memorial is his work.

Wikipedia tells me that even in his short lifetime, Lorca achieved international recognition as an emblematic member of the Generation of ’27, a group consisting of mostly poets who introduced the tenets of European movements (such as symbolism, futurism, and surrealism) into Spanish literature.

However, because I read what I like and not necessarily what I ought to be impressed by, I have to preface my thoughts by acknowledging that ‘flash fiction’ is my least favourite form of short fiction.  And that’s what much of what this collection is.

The Dialogue of Two Snails (from February 1926) is enigmatic, to say the least.  Making meaning eluded me entirely until I realised that these observations from the snails’ perspective are not a ‘dialogue’ at all.

White Snail.–(Silence.)
(A young lady with a lace parasol comes along counting her steps. Upon reaching a little brook, she hesitates. Then she jumps.)

Black Snail.–(Silence.)
(The rat has crossed the river. The bad rat. The rat that devours the tender rootlets.)

White Snail.–(Silence.)
(The young lady consults the scent of the fennel beds. The evening, lacking intelligent relations, crumbles down into the haze of the horizon.)

Black Snail.–(Silence.)
(The rat returns to the blackberry bushes. An obscure voice delights in pronouncing this word: blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.)  (p. 1)

This alienation symbolises the way people perceive the same situation from an entirely different point-of-view, never to mesh or collide.  The White Snail watches a young woman, wealthy perhaps, if her lace parasol is any guide.  She seems innocent but not fully aware of her surroundings.   The Black Snail sees peril in the form of the rat.  We see their distance from one another in the concluding lines where the Black Snail departs leaving the White Snail alone and bereft.

‘Scene of the Lieutenant Colonel of the Civil Guard’ reminds me of the creeping militarism in Europe which was to culminate in the bloody wars of fascism.  The Lieutenant Colonel, full of his own importance, begins with his announcement of who he is, and that no one contradicts him.  He is invincible, he has three stars and twenty crosses.  But when a gypsy is brought before him, and bloats his baggy blinkers the gypsy’s insouciance defeats him.  He cannot comprehend a man without an impressive name or rank, a man who has invented wings to fly and says he does fly, with brimstone and roses on his lips. A man who has orange blossom and its fruit in the snows of January.  The Lieutenant Colonel has no imagination and collapses along with his self-importance.

His guards, of course, retaliate.  We know that from ‘Song of the Battered Gypsy’:

Twenty-four resounding blows.
Twenty-five resounding blows.
Then, by night, my mother goes,
lays me out on silver foil.

Civil Guards who range the roads,
grant me but some sips of water.
Water filled with fish and boats.
Water, water, water, water.

Guv’nor of the Civil Guard,
yonder in your lofty hall!
Surely you’ve no scraps of lace,
ay, for me to wipe my face.  (p.22)

Even this rather lumpy translation doesn’t compromise the image we are forced to confront.  This poem is from July 1925, a decade before Lorca’s death and four years before the proclamation of the Republic.  So even then, unbridled brutality ruled in Spain.

There are quite a few poems about gypsies in this collection.

Less political (I think) is the lovely poem ‘The Six Strings’.  If you love Spanish guitar, like this, this is a poem for you:

The guitar
draws tears from dreams.
The sobbing of lost
souls
seeps from its round
mouth.
And like the tarantula
it weaves a vast star
to catch sighs,
which float in its
dark wooden reservoir. (p.25)

If you are interested, when I was searching for the text of this poem in Spanish, found an analysis of the poem here. (The unnamed writer thinks it’s more bleak than melancholy.) However, I wanted to see how the poem sounds in Spanish, and was delighted to find a guest at the Bridge Street Inn reading it!

 

Las Seis Cuerdas

La guitarra
hace llorar a los suenos.
El sollozo de las almas
perdidas
se escapa por su boca
redonda.
Y como la tarantula
teje una gran estrella
para cazar suspiros,
que flotan en su negro
aljibe de madera.

Many thanks to the Bridge Street Inn in California for sharing this!

For those interested the collection also includes these titles.  They are all poems unless otherwise noted.

  • Tree of Surprises (prose)
  • Telegraph (prose)
  • Riddle of the Guitar
  • Castanet
  • Conjuring
  • Knell
  • Song
  • Quasi-Elegy
  • Landscape
  • Trees
  • Field
  • They Felled Three Trees
  • Street of the Wordless Ones
  • Tree of Song
  • Seashell
  • Cradle Song, (a lullaby for a dead child)
  • Gypsy Zorongo
  • The Moon and Death
  • Ballad of the Moon, Moon
  • The Gypsy Nun
  • Tamar and Amnon, and
  • Each Song

Image credit: Lorca, y Anonymous – https://www.museoreinasofia.es/coleccion/obra/federico-garcia-lorca-huerta-san-vicente-granada, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75927528

 

Author: Federico García Lorca
Title: The Dialogue of Two Snails
Translated from the Spanish by Tyler Fisher
Publisher: Penguin Moderns No 42, Penguin Books, first published (in this English edition) 2018
ASN: B0784F9S8T, Kindle Edition, 64 pages
Source: personal library


Responses

  1. I enjoyed your review, your choice of subject. I enjoy the post WWI artistic movements when I come across them. I might be a closet Dadaist.

    Like

    • Thanks, Bill, I’m not confident writing here about poetry, but I like to have a go at it occasionally.

      Like

  2. Thanks for that Lisa. A timely reminder of one of my favourite poets. I discovered him long time ago on a television documentary and can’t remember who produced it. Sure I have one of his books on my shelves.

    Like

    • SBS? It seems unlikely it would have been any of the other stations. Unless it was part of a program about the Spanish Civil War perhaps?

      Like

  3. I’ve only read Gypsy Ballads by Lorca, which I did enjoy. I should explore him further, you’ve reminded me how much he wrote in such a short life.

    Like

    • I’m going to read more too. TBH I was a bit intimidated by his fame, but he’s more accessible than I thought he would be.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It would have been SBS when they did not have ads. He wrote plays too and he was very empathetic to women. No doubt he would have disturbed the Catholic hierarchy. My home town Glasgow has a strong connection to Spain. Even a statue to the heroine La Pasionaria Dolores Ibarurru positioned at the river Clyde and a symbol against fascism.

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    • I didn’t know that about Glasgow… how did that come about?

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  5. There was a high number who supported the Republicans. 55 lost their
    life which is quite high.Then there is the Scottish Independence and the Catalonia agenda which is similar. Glasgow is an interesting place.

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    • Yes, I see. I wish we’d made time to visit Glasgow when we were in Scotland.

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  6. I enjoyed this post very much Lisa, it’s been such a long time since I read any Lorca

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  7. Lovely review, Lisa – I have this of course in my set but I don’t think I’ll get to it in time for this month. Nice to know I have it to look forward to! :D

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  8. Wow, I never even did Four Quartets in school (I did read it, but didn’t properly appreciate it by any means) so I’d’ve definitely felt over my head with this one. Especially in translation. Good on you!

    Like

    • Heavens, I didn’t do it school, it was at university, 2nd or 3rd year I think. No way I could have made any sense of it at school.
      Though I would say that the biblical and Shakespearean allusions made sense to me because of what I learned at school.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. […] books from the collection – Fernando Pessoa’s “I Have More Souls Than One” and Lorca’s “The Dialogue of Two Snails”, both of which she covered for Spanish and Portuguese Literature Month. I’ve read and loved […]

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