Review: Romancero Gitano, by Federico García Lorca

In a letter sent to his parents from New York, Federico García Lorca writes: ‘I am very happy, overflowing with joy and I have no concern other than hearing from you soon.’ Dated on June 28, 1929, the words from the poet, although perhaps softened, are a brief testimony of his stay in the United States, which would lead to the creation of his famous poetry collection Poeta en Nueva York. However, more than gathering inspiration from the urban environment of a large city, Lorca always defended that his first interest lay in the Spanish folklore.

Within this popular cluster, and through his interest in cante jondo, the poet delved into Romani culture. This fascination was already visible in Poema del Cante Jondo (1921), which culminated in his Romancero Gitano, a poetry book in which Lorca worked conscientiously for several years. Composed of eighteen different romances, this book is an ‘Andalusian altarpiece’ where Romani characters take centre stage. Thus, the nun, the lover, the child or the compadres appear alongside Soledad Montoya or Antoñito el Camborio, the naming of characters becoming a mechanism that grants dignity. Alongside all of them, ‘his shadow’—the Guardia Civil—also appears in the events that Lorca narrates; and with it fear, violence and grief emerge. Grief was the backbone of Lorca’s romancero, imprinted on the roots of the Romani people and always protected by a tragic struggle between two opposites: freedom and seclusion, passion and death.

Along with all of the above, this edition of Federico García Lorca’s Romancero Gitano allows you to admire the drawings the poet made with coloured pencils and included in a copy dedicated to his friend Emilia Llanos. In this way, the facsimile of that book, first published by Revista de Occidente, has three drawings inside: a Saint Raphael, a small waning moon coloured in blue and the portrait of the aforementioned Antoñito el Camborio. All of them share the most significant features of Lorca’s drawings: the very fine lines that seem to have been quickly drawn, the combination of the real and the imagined, and the appearance of elements that, like his poetry, hold meanings both interesting and controversial. These drawings caress the poems and are subtle calls for attention to Romani culture, to a repertoire of characters and experiences that Lorca insists on observing, without discouragement, from his blue moon.

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