In the early twentieth century, New York was growing fast, building out its skyline at a rapid rate and becoming a byword for modernity and progress. It attracted visitors from all over the world (as it still does), who must have been astonished at the difference between this “vertical” city, and older more traditional city layouts and architecture. Among the visitors was Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who wrote a number of poems based on his visit. Here is a poem which describes his impressions of dawn over the great city.
La aurora de Nueva York tiene
cuatro columnas de cieno
y un huracán de negras palomas
que chapotean en las aguas podridas.
La aurora de Nueva York gime
por las inmensas escaleras
buscando entre las aristas
nardos de angustia dibujada.
La aurora llega y nadie la recibe en su boca
porque allí no hay mañana ni esperanza posible.
A veces las monedas en enjambres furiosos
taladran y devoran abandonados niños.
Los primeros que salen comprenden con sus huesos
que no habrá paraísos ni amores deshojados;
saben que van al cieno de números y leyes,
a los juegos sin arte, a sudores sin fruto.
La luz es sepultada por cadenas y ruidos
en impúdico reto de ciencia sin raíces.
Por los barrios hay gentes que vacilan insomnes
como recién salidas de un naufragio de sangre.
Somewhat unlike another poem by a visitor to New York (see post of November 29th), this poem shows a somewhat apocalyptic, disorienting, alienating view of New York at dawn. The poet is clearly disturbed by the darkness surrounding the skyscrapers, the angst of human insignificance amidst such huge structures and the appearance of deprivation, materialism and lack of human solidarity inspired by this individualistic city. The choice of words describing darkness, ashes, chains, insomnia show the poet out of sync with his surroundings.
It is vet understandable to feel intimidated by ones first experience of a city as unique as New York, and this poem is an expression of the poet’s feelings probably when he was discovering the city for the first time. It would be interesting to know if he came to love it in the end, as so many people do. Lorca’s home was in southern Spain, among the old, slower-paced cities of Granada, and Cordoba, very different from New York, and most of his poems reflect that world. So it is fascinating to read and feel his response to a new and different environment.
The Poetry Dude