Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Poet in New York: The Dawn of Federico García Lorca

Dawn over New York City.

New York City.

The name itself invokes an image and a time that is different for everyone. A city that draws writers and artists into its Big Apple core, New York City, has and will remain a muse that is more often than not portrayed as a love letter to the city. When American writers were gathering on the Left Bank of the Seine in Paris during the 1920s one of Europe's most accomplished writers, Federico García Lorca, headed in the opposite direction to New York City.

Arriving in June, 1929 to work on his English, Lorca instead spent his seven months stay shocked by New York's bigotry and crass consumerism. A witness to his times, he saw the construction of city highrises that would touch the sky and the stock market crash the economy of America.

He put his observations and thoughts to paper in what would become A Poet In New York. The thin volume of 37 poems is definitely not a love letter to New York and had it been written in the 1970s would probably be considered a bible of the burgeoning punk music scene in the city.

The manuscript of A Poet In New York was delivered in 1936 to his editor in Madrid with a note stating that he would be back the following day. He never did return. The Spanish Civil War broke out soon after and Lorca returned to his family home in Granada where he was brutally murdered early in the conflict. His remains have never been discovered.

Published posthumously in 1940, A Poet In New York has been discussed and dissected in the city he called a "maddening boisterous Babel" on its 50th anniversary in 1990 and as recently as an exhibition last year at the New York Public Library.

One of the most remarked upon and translated poems in A Poet In New York over the years has been The Dawn. We present it first in its original Spanish as written by Federico García Lorca and with a new Bar None Group translation.

La Aurora

La Aurora de Nueva York tiene
cuatro columnas de cieno
y un huracán de negras palomas
que chapotean 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 paraíso 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.

Federico García Lorca

The Dawn

The New York dawn has
four columns of filth
and a hurricane of black doves
that splash about in polluted waters.

The New York dawn howls
from its teeming fire escapes,
searching between the cracks
of its perfumed anguish.

The dawn rises and no one receives communion,
for the morning offers no hope.
There are times when furious swarms of coins
penetrate and devour its abandoned children.

The first to go out in the morning know in their bones
that there is no paradise, no petals of love to be pulled:
they know they will be stuck in numbers and laws,
in mindless games, in fruitless labor.

The light is buried under chains and sirens
in the shameless pursuit of rootless science.
Its people stagger sleeplessly to the boroughs
as if they just left a bloody disaster.


  1. An interesting perspective of New York indeed...the history you share behind this poem is what intrigues me the most. Poets often have such a way of expressing another side of reality, making us think about things in different ways and enticing us to look at them through different lenses.

    1. I quite agree M.J. The circumstances that lead to the creation of a poem are almost as important as the poem itself. In Lorca's case, his disdain of NYC led to a volume of poetry...a volume he had not set out to write.

  2. As a escapee of New York I am thrilled to come upon this poem in my 62nd year.It rings true in my ear and this may be the most accessible and least lumbering of all the translations out there.Thank you.

    1. Thank you! Our translations are not word for word translations. We hope to convey the gist of the poems that we do translate.

  3. Why 'disaster' and not 'shipwreck' for naufragio