Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936) was the jewel of the Generation of ’27; a group of poets and other artists which included – in its broadest sense – Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dali, and the torero Ignacio Sánchez Mejías. It was the death of this literary bull fighter that inspired Garcia Lorca to write one of the greatest poems in the Spanish language.

Garcia Lorca was born a few miles outside of Granada. He was devoted to the spirit and feel of his native region – Andalucia – which is particularly apparent in his poem, the subject of this article. He also had a deep affinity for both music and literature. He was very close to Manuel de Falla. He spent a year in the US, mostly in New York, He also visited Vermont and Cuba. He was an on site observer during the stock market crash of 1929. This event helped solidify his socialist convictions. On his return to Spain he achieved fame, which endures to this day, as a playwright.

His political views and his homosexuality made him a target during the early days of the Spanish Civil War. He was arrested on August  19, 1936 by a Nationalist militia and likely executed the following day. His body was never found and the details of his fate remain uncertain to this day. His premature death is an incalculable loss to literature.

Ignacio Sánchez Mejías (1891-1934), the subject of Garcia Lorca’s great poem, had a career unlike any other matador.  The son of a doctor who wanted him to pursue medicine, Sánchez drifted into bullfighting. His childhood friend was José Gómez, later famous as Joselito. He and Juan Belmonte were the two greatest toreros of the first part of the 20th century. Sánchez worked as a banderillero for both of them. In 1915 he married Joselito’s sister. In 1919 to took his alternativa (the ceremony whereby a novillero becomes a full fledged matador) at the hands of Joselito with Belmonte as witness.

He became very famous and performed very often. His was handsome and very brave, though he lacked the technical skill of either Joselito or Belmonte. He was on the cartel the day (May 16, 1920) that Joselito was killed by the bull Bailaor;  he had to kill the bull that had killed his brother-in-law who was more like a brother to him. He was distraught over the death of his friend. He watched in tears over the corpse through the night.

He was seriously injured many times. Like so many other bullfighters he retired only to return to the plaza. He also was a writer, critic, playwright, novelist, polo player, and auto racer. His love affairs were titanic. He became intertwined with the Generation of ’27 and became friends with Garcia Lorca.

In 1934 he had returned to the bulls. In August of that year he was asked to be a last minute substitute for Domingo Ortega who had been injured in an auto accident. At that time he had no cuadrilla. He didn’t even have a car or a hotel room. He had to go himself to the drawing that assigns the bulls to each matador on the card. This is a task always performed by an underling. The corrida was held on August 11 in Manzanares. His first bull was a poor specimen, Granadino, who nevertheless gored him in the thigh. Sánchez Mejías did not trust the poor medical care in Manzanares and asked to be transported to Madrid. The ambulance transporting him got lost and it took hours longer than needed to get him there. He soon developed gangrene and died on August 13. At the time it was infection and blood loss that were responsible for most deaths from the horns of the bulls. This first cause is the reason there is a brick in the courtyard of Madrid’s main bullring, Las Ventas, inscribed To Alexander Fleming with gratitude.

Garcia Lorca’s elegy to his friend was published the year after his death. It is usually translated as ‘Lament for the Death of Ignacio Sánchez Mejías’ though llanto means crying or weeping. The poem is in four parts, each with a different meter and style. It is immediately below. Following the poem is an English translation by me. I have made no attempt to reproduce the poem’s rhythm. Neither have I made a word for word translation, rather I have attempted, however imperfectly, to capture the feel of the poem. The reader must remember that poetry is what is lost in translation and that Garcia Lorca was far better at Spanish than I am at English. Readers fluent in both Spanish and English are welcome to submit suggestions that might improve the translation, though it can never be more than a dull shadow of the original.

Following the poem and its translation is video of the great Argentine actor Alfredo Alcón (1930-2014) reciting the poem. A second video is a flamenco ballet based on the poem. It’s by the Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía. The reader and viewer must know that the moves of both flamenco and the corrida de toros are almost identical. Of course, the former risks only the wrath of an audience. As for the latter, Blasco Ibáñez wrote in his anti-bullfighting novel Sangre y Arena (Blood and Sand) that the only beast in the plaza de toros is the crowd.

The photo above the title shows Sánchez sitting on the estribo about to pass the bull. He was famous for this maneuver and it was in this posture that he received his fatal wound.

Llanto por la Muerte de Ignacio Sánchez Mejías

1. La Cogida Y La Muerte

A las cinco de la tarde.
Eran las cinco en punto de la tarde.
Un niño trajo la blanca sábana
a las cinco de la tarde.
Una espuerta de cal ya prevenida
a las cinco de la tarde.
Lo demás era muerte y sólo muerte
a las cinco de la tarde.

El viento se llevó los algodones
a las cinco de la tarde.
Y el óxido sembró cristal y níquel
a las cinco de la tarde.
Ya luchan la paloma y el leopardo
a las cinco de la tarde.
Y un muslo con un asta desolada
a las cinco de la tarde.
Comenzaron los sones del bordón
a las cinco de la tarde.
Las campanas de arsénico y el humo
a las cinco de la tarde.
En las esquinas grupos de silencio
a las cinco de la tarde.
¡Y el toro, solo corazón arriba!
a las cinco de la tarde.
Cuando el sudor de nieve fue llegando
a las cinco de la tarde,
cuando la plaza se cubrió de yodo
a las cinco de la tarde,
la muerte puso huevos en la herida
a las cinco de la tarde.
A las cinco de la tarde.|
A las cinco en punto de la tarde.

Un ataúd con ruedas es la cama
a las cinco de la tarde.
Huesos y flautas suenan en su oído
a las cinco de la tarde.
El toro ya mugía por su frente
a las cinco de la tarde.
El cuarto se irisaba de agonía
a las cinco de la tarde.
A lo lejos ya viene la gangrena
a las cinco de la tarde.
Trompa de lirio por las verdes ingles
a las cinco de la tarde.
Las heridas quemaban como soles
a las cinco de la tarde,
y el gentío rompía las ventanas
a las cinco de la tarde.
A las cinco de la tarde.
¡Ay qué terribles cinco de la tarde!
¡Eran las cinco en todos los relojes!
¡Eran las cinco en sombra de la tarde!

2. La Sangre Derramada

¡Que no quiero verla!

Dile a la luna que venga,
que no quiero ver la sangre
de Ignacio sobre la arena.

¡Que no quiero verla!

La luna de par en par,
caballo de nubes quietas,
y la plaza gris del sueño
con sauces en las barreras

¡Que no quiero verla!

Que mi recuerdo se quema.
¡Avisad a los jazmines
con su blancura pequeña!

¡Que no quiero verla!

La vaca del viejo mundo
pasaba su triste lengua
sobre un hocico de sangres
derramadas en la arena,
y los toros de Guisando,
casi muerte y casi piedra,
mugieron como dos siglos
hartos de pisar la tierra.

¡Que no quiero verla!

Por las gradas sube Ignacio
con toda su muerte a cuestas.
Buscaba el amanecer,
y el amanecer no era.
Busca su perfil seguro,
y el sueño lo desorienta.
Buscaba su hermoso cuerpo
y encontró su sangre abierta.
¡No me digáis que la vea!
No quiero sentir el chorro
cada vez con menos fuerza;
ese chorro que ilumina
los tendidos y se vuelca
sobre la pana y el cuero
de muchedumbre sedienta.
¡Quién me grita que me asome!
¡No me digáis que la vea!

No se cerraron sus ojos
cuando vio los cuernos cerca,
pero las madres terribles
levantaron la cabeza.
Y a través de las ganaderías,
hubo un aire de voces secretas
que gritaban a toros celestes,
mayorales de pálida niebla.
No hubo príncipe en Sevilla
que comparársele pueda,
ni espada como su espada,
ni corazón tan de veras.
Como un río de leones
su maravillosa fuerza,
y como un torso de mármol
su dibujada prudencia.
Aire de Roma andaluza
le doraba la cabeza
donde su risa era un nardo
de sal y de inteligencia.
¡Qué gran torero en la plaza!
¡Qué gran serrano en la sierra!
¡Qué blando con las espigas!
¡Qué duro con las espuelas!
¡Qué tierno con el rocío!
¡Qué deslumbrante en la feria!
¡Qué tremendo con las últimas
banderillas de tiniebla!

Pero ya duerme sin fin.
Ya los musgos y la hierba
abren con dedos seguros
la flor de su calavera.
Y su sangre ya viene cantando:
cantando por marismas y praderas,
resbalando por cuernos ateridos
vacilando sin alma por la niebla,
tropezando con miles de pezuñas
como una larga, oscura, triste lengua,
para formar un charco de agonía
junto al Guadalquivir de las estrellas.
¡Oh blanco muro de España!
¡Oh negro toro de pena!
¡Oh sangre dura de Ignacio!
¡Oh ruiseñor de sus venas!
¡Que no quiero verla!
Que no hay cáliz que la contenga,
que no hay golondrinas que se la beban,
no hay escarcha de luz que la enfríe,
no hay canto ni diluvio de azucenas,
no hay cristal que la cubra de plata.

¡Yo no quiero verla!

3.Cuerpo Presente

La piedra es una frente donde los sueños gimen
sin tener agua curva ni cipreses helados.
La piedra es una espalda para llevar al tiempo
con árboles de lágrimas y cintas y planetas.

Yo he visto lluvias grises correr hacia las olas
levantando sus tiernos brazos acribillados,
para no ser cazadas por la piedra tendida
que desata sus miembros sin empapar la sangre.

Porque la piedra coge simientes y nublados,
esqueletos de alondras y lobos de penumbra;
pero no da sonidos, ni cristales, ni fuego,
sino plazas y plazas y otras plazas sin muros.

Ya está sobre la piedra Ignacio el bien nacido.
Ya se acabó; ¿qué pasa? Contemplad su figura:
la muerte le ha cubierto de pálidos azufres
y le ha puesto cabeza de oscuro minotauro.

Ya se acabó. La lluvia penetra por su boca.
El aire como loco deja su pecho hundido,
y el Amor, empapado con lágrimas de nieve
se calienta en la cumbre de las ganaderías.

¿Qué dicen? Un silencio con hedores reposa.
Estamos con un cuerpo presente que se esfuma,
con una forma clara que tuvo ruiseñores
y la vemos llenarse de agujeros sin fondo.

¿Quién arruga el sudario? ¡No es verdad lo que dice!
Aquí no canta nadie, ni llora en el rincón,
ni pica las espuelas, ni espanta la serpiente:
aquí no quiero más que los ojos redondos
para ver ese cuerpo sin posible descanso.

Yo quiero ver aquí los hombres de voz dura.
Los que doman caballos y dominan los ríos;
los hombres que les suena el esqueleto y cantan
con una boca llena de sol y pedernales.

Aquí quiero yo verlos. Delante de la piedra.
Delante de este cuerpo con las riendas quebradas.
Yo quiero que me enseñen dónde está la salida
para este capitán atado por la muerte.
Yo quiero que me enseñen un llanto como un río
que tenga dulces nieblas y profundas orillas,
para llevar el cuerpo de Ignacio y que se pierda
sin escuchar el doble resuello de los toros.

Que se pierda en la plaza redonda de la luna
que finge cuando niña doliente res inmóvil;
que se pierda en la noche sin canto de los peces
y en la maleza blanca del humo congelado.

No quiero que le tapen la cara con pañuelos
para que se acostumbre con la muerte que lleva.
Vete, Ignacio: No sientas el caliente bramido.
Duerme, vuela, reposa: ¡También se muere el mar!

4.Alalma Asuente

No te conoce el toro ni la higuera,
ni caballos ni hormigas de tu casa.
No te conoce el niño ni la tarde
porque te has muerto para siempre.

No te conoce el lomo de la piedra,
ni el raso negro donde te destrozas.
No te conoce tu recuerdo mudo
porque te has muerto para siempre.

El otoño vendrá con caracolas,
uva de niebla y monjes agrupados,
pero nadie querrá mirar tus ojos
porque te has muerto para siempre.

Porque te has muerto para siempre,
como todos los muertos de la Tierra,
como todos los muertos que se olvidan
en un montón de perros apagados.

No te conoce nadie. No. Pero yo te canto.
Yo canto para luego tu perfil y tu gracia.
La madurez insigne de tu conocimiento.
Tu apetencia de muerte y el gusto de tu boca.
La tristeza que tuvo tu valiente alegría.

Tardará mucho tiempo en nacer, si es que nace,
un andaluz tan claro, tan rico de aventura.
Yo canto su elegancia con palabras que gimen
y recuerdo una brisa triste por los olivos.

Lament for the Death of Ignacio Sánchez Mejías

1. Goring and death

At five in the afternoon.
It was exactly five in the afternoon.
A boy brought the white sheet
at five in the afternoon.
A trail of lime already prepared
at five in the afternoon.
The rest was death, and death alone
at five in the afternoon.

The wind carried away the dust
at five in the afternoon.
And the rust sowed crystal and nickel
at five in the afternoon.
Now the dove and the leopard fight
at five in the afternoon.
And a thigh with a desolated horn
at five in the afternoon.
The bass-string began to sound
at five in the afternoon.
The bells of arsenic and smoke
at five in the afternoon.
Groups of silence in the corners
at five in the afternoon.
And the bull alone with heart high!
At five in the afternoon.
When the sweat of snow was coming
at five in the afternoon,
when the plaza was covered with iodine
at five in the afternoon.
Death put eggs in the wound
at five in the afternoon.
At five in the afternoon.
At five o’clock in the afternoon.

A coffin on wheels is his bed
at five in the afternoon.
Bones and flutes sound in his ears
at five in the afternoon.
The bull bellows from his chest
at five in the afternoon.
The room radiates with agony
at five in the afternoon.
In the distance the gangrene grows
at five in the afternoon.
Horn of the lily by the English green
at five in the afternoon.
The wounds burnt like suns
And the mob broke the windows
at five in the afternoon.
At five in the afternoon.
Ah, that terrible five in the afternoon!
It was five by all the clocks!
It was five in the shadow of the afternoon!

2. The Spilled Blood

I will not see it!

Tell the moon to come,
for I do not want to see the blood
of Ignacio on the sand.

I will not see it!

The moon wide open.
Horse of calm clouds,
and the grey plaza of dreams
with willows in the barreras.

I will not see it!

My memory burns.
It warns the jasmines
With it tiny whiteness!

I will not see it!

The cow of the antique world
passed her sad tongue
over a gout of blood
spilled on the sand,
and the bulls of Guisando,
almost death and almost stone,
bellowed over two centuries
tired of treading the earth.

I will not see it!

Ignacio goes up the stairs
with all his death on his back.
Looking for the dawn
but the dawn had gone.
Looking for a safe form
but the dream dazes him
Looking for his beautiful body
But he found his flowing blood
Do not ask me to see it!
I do not want to feel the stream
each time with less force:
the flow that illuminates
The rows of seats and spills
over the corduroy and the leather
of a thirsty crowd.
Who shouts that I should come near!
Do not ask me to see it!

His eyes did not close
when he saw the horns near,
but the terrible mothers
raised their heads.
And across the plains,
a gale of secret voices rose,
screaming to celestial bulls,
foremen of pale mist.
There was no prince in Seville
who could compare to him,
no sword like his sword
no heart so true.
Like a river of lions
was his marvellous strength,
and like a marble torso
He was made of moderation.
The air of Andalusian Rome
gilded his head
while his smile was a flash
of wit and intelligence.
What a great torero in the ring!
What a great figure in the heights!
How gentle with the harvest!
How hard with the spurs!
How tender with the dew!
How stunning at the fiesta!
How terrible with the final
banderillas of darkness!

But now he sleeps forever.
And now the moss and the grass
with certain fingers
Enters the center of his skull.
And now his blood sounds:
singing through the marshes and the meadows
slipping on frozen horns
souls frozen in the mist,
stumbling over a thousand hoofs
like a long, dark, sad dirge,
to form a pond of agony
close to the starry Guadalquivir.
Oh, white wall of Spain!
Oh, black bull of shame!
Oh, harsh blood of Ignacio!
Oh, nightingale of his veins!

I will not see it!

No chalice can contain it,
no swallows can drink it,
no frozen light can cool it,
no song or flood of Lillie’s white,
no silver glass can cover it .

I will not see it!

3. The Body

A mind of stone with groaning dreams
without smooth waters and icy cypresses.
The stone is a ledge on which to bear time
with trees formed of tears and ribbons and spheres.

I have seen gray rain run to the waves
raising its tender wounded arms,
to avoid capture by the stony path
loosening its limbs without the loss of blood.

Because the stone seizes seeds and clouds,
Skeletons of larks and wolves of gloom:
But gives no sounds, no mirrors, no flame
only plazas and plazas and more plazas without end.

Now, Ignacio the well born lies on the stone.
All is over. What is happening! Contemplate his form:
death has covered him with pale sulphur
and has dressed him the head of the dark Minotaur.

It is over. The rain pierces his mouth.
The maddened air abandons his sunken chest,
and Love, drenched with tears of snow,
Is warmed at the summit of the herds.

What do they say? A malodorous silence descends.
We are here with a body which fades,
with a white form which had gathered nightingales
now pitted with bottomless holes.

Who gathers the shroud? What they say is not true!
There is no singing here, no weeping in the corner,
The spurs do not sting, they do not terrify the serpent.
Here I want only perfect eyes
to see his body without repose.

I want the tough talking men here.
Those that break horses and ford rivers;
those lanky men who sing
with a voice full of sun and flint.

I want to see them here. In front of the stone.
In front of this this body with broken reins.
I want them to show me the escape
for this captain bound by death.

I want them to grant me a lament like a river
That has sweet mists and deep shores,
to take Ignacio’s body far from
The fervid breathing of the bulls.

To lose itself in the round plaza of the moon
That poses as a mournful beast,
lost in the night without the singing of fishes
and lost in the white brush of frozen smoke.

I don’t want his face covered with handkerchiefs
that he may feel the death he carries.
Flee, Ignacio, do not feel the hot bellowing.
Sleep, fly, rest, even the sea dies!

4. Absent Soul

The bull does not know you, or the fig tree,
or the horses, or the ants in your own house.
The child and the afternoon do not know you
because you have died forever.

The back of the stone does not know you
nor the black silk, where you were torn apart.
Your mute memory does not know you
because you have died forever

The autumn will come with snails,
moist grapes and bands of monks,
but no one will want to look into your eyes
because you have died forever.

Because you have died for ever,
like all the dead of the earth,
like all the dead who are forgotten
like a heap of lifeless dogs.

Nobody knows you. No. But I sing of you.
Forever I sing of your style and grace.
Of the great maturity of your understanding.
Of your appetite for death with its taste in your mouth.
The sadness of your brave gaiety.

It will be an eon, if ever, before there is born
an Andalusian so bright, so rich in adventure.
I sing of his elegance with words that groan,
and I remember a sad breeze over the olive trees.