I wanted to point out some Whitman traits in another amazing Lorca poem called “New York.” It’s a little long to write out completely but I will try and show the most relevant excerpts. Quite obviously the Spanish poet is already entering the American and Whitman tradition by having his poem taking place and concerning New York.
It is quite evident that Lorca’s poem is after modernization, so we would hardly expect it to embrace an optimism like that of Whitman. From the start of the poem we are given a lot of images of animals suffering at human fault.
The ducks and the pigeons
and the hogs and the lambs
lay their drop of blood down
underneath all the statistics;
and the terrible bawls of packed-in cattle
fill the valley with suffering
where the Hudson is getting drunk on its oil.
The crisis seems to be the terrible corruption of society and the damage humans are doing to their world and their animal brothers. The crisis reminds me a lot of Whitman’s “I Sit and Look Out” in that it involves a troubled individual looking out on their corrupt society in opposition to nature, and wondering what to do about, if they can do anything about it at all. Lorca’s initial impulse to his crisis arrives in the next few lines:
I attack all those persons
who know nothing of the other half,
the half who cannot be saved,
who raise their cement mountains
in which the hearts of the small
animals no ones thinks of are beating.
We see Lorca’s desire to really do something, to attack the evil, and to really make some kind of change. This reminds me of Whitman because he was always thinking based on what impact he could have, how he could make things better. They both seem to really think about the political situations they themselves are in. However; perhaps Whitman wouldn’t have attacked these evil doers, he seems more often to show sympathy for individuals thinking them corrupted by society and not directly at fault, Lorca seems more enraged.
There is a whole world of crushed rivers and unachievable
in the paw of a cat crushed by a car,
and I hear the song of a worm
in the heart of so many girls.
These lines here seem very much in the tradition of Whitman to me. The whole poem subscribes to a universality in nature and a beauty sought out in this, much like is seen in much of Leaves of Grass. The song of the worm is deeply rooted in all out souls to Lorca, and many humans have forgotten this, and separated themselves from this. This disconnect between nature and society can be found at the heart of both of these poets.
Here is the real resolution point.
Rust, rotting, trembling earth.
And you are earth swimming through the figures in the office.
What shall I do, set the landscapes in order?
Set in place the lovers who will afterwards be photographs,
Who will be bits of wood and mouthfuls of blood?
No I won’t; I attack,
I attack the conspiring
Of these empty offices
That will not broadcast the sufferings,
That rub out the plans of the forest,
And I offer myself to be eaten by the packed-in cattle,
When their mooing fills the valley
Where the Hudson is getting drunk on its oil.
He resolves the crisis in the exact opposite way of Whitman. He doesn’t sit and lament, he gets up to take action. This choice seems to be a heroic one. Maybe the most interesting line in relevance to Whitman is “and I offer myself to be eaten by the packed-in cattle.” I tend to read this line in a reincarnation, oneness of nature sort of way, as Lorca giving his body to the earth which will then grow grass for the cattle. Just thought this line was incredibly interesting in comparison to Whitman’s use of grass.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this Lorca poem — I’m sad we didn’t get to his actual “Ode to Whitman,” so I’m glad someone’ digging into his work!