City That Does Not Sleep
Federico García Lorca
Translated by Robert Bly
In the sky there is nobody asleep. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
The creatures of the moon sniff and prowl about their cabins.
The living iguanas will come and bite the men who do not dream,
and the man who rushes out with his spirit broken will meet on the
the unbelievable alligator quiet beneath the tender protest of the
Nobody is asleep on earth. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
In a graveyard far off there is a corpse
who has moaned for three years
because of a dry countryside on his knee;
and that boy they buried this morning cried so much
it was necessary to call out the dogs to keep him quiet.
Life is not a dream. Careful! Careful! Careful!
We fall down the stairs in order to eat the moist earth
or we climb to the knife edge of the snow with the voices of the dead
But forgetfulness does not exist, dreams do not exist;
flesh exists. Kisses tie our mouths
in a thicket of new veins,
and whoever his pain pains will feel that pain forever
and whoever is afraid of death will carry it on his shoulders.
the horses will live in the saloons
and the enraged ants
will throw themselves on the yellow skies that take refuge in the
eyes of cows.
we will watch the preserved butterflies rise from the dead
and still walking through a country of gray sponges and silent boats
we will watch our ring flash and roses spring from our tongue.
Careful! Be careful! Be careful!
The men who still have marks of the claw and the thunderstorm,
and that boy who cries because he has never heard of the invention
of the bridge,
or that dead man who possesses now only his head and a shoe,
we must carry them to the wall where the iguanas and the snakes
where the bear’s teeth are waiting,
where the mummified hand of the boy is waiting,
and the hair of the camel stands on end with a violent blue shudder.
Nobody is sleeping in the sky. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is sleeping.
If someone does close his eyes,
a whip, boys, a whip!
Let there be a landscape of open eyes
and bitter wounds on fire.
No one is sleeping in this world. No one, no one.
I have said it before.
No one is sleeping.
But if someone grows too much moss on his temples during the
open the stage trapdoors so he can see in the moonlight
the lying goblets, and the poison, and the skull of the theaters.
By Federico García Lorca, translated and edited by Robert Bly, and published by Beacon Press in Selected Poems: Lorca and Jiménez.
About Federico García Lorca
Lorca was an avante-garde homosexual Spanish poet and playwright who had a serious and obsessive affair with Salvador Dalí. Lorca, born near Granada, was considered the greatest Spanish poet of the twentieth century. He trained as a classical pianist, but also studied law, literature and musical composition. From his friendship with homosexual Spanish composer Manuel de Falla, Spanish folklore became his muse. Lorca’s early anthologies of poems were stylized imitations of the ballads and poems that were told throughout the Spanish countryside. When Romancero Gitano (Gypsy Ballads, 1928) was published, it brought him fame across the Hispanic world.
In 1919, García Lorca traveled to Madrid, where he remained for the next fifteen years. Giving up university, he devoted himself entirely to his art. He organized theatrical performances, read his poems in public, and collected old folksongs. During this period García Lorca wrote El Maleficio de la mariposa (1920), a play which caused a great scandal when it was produced. He also wrote Libro de poemas (1921), a compilation of poems based on Spanish folklore. Much of García Lorca’s work was infused with popular themes such as Flamenco and Gypsy culture. In 1922, García Lorca organized the first “Cante Jondo” festival in which Spain’s most famous “deep song” singers and guitarists participated. The deep song form permeated his poems of the early 1920s. During this period, García Lorca became part of a group of artists known as Generación del 27, which included Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel, who exposed the young poet to surrealism. In 1928, his book of verse, Romancero Gitano (“The Gypsy Ballads“), brought García Lorca far-reaching fame; it was reprinted seven times during his lifetime.
In 1929, García Lorca came to New York. The poet’s favorite neighborhood was Harlem; he loved African-American spirituals, which reminded him of Spain’s “deep songs.” In 1930, García Lorca returned to Spain after the proclamation of the Spanish republic and participated in the Second Ordinary Congress of the Federal Union of Hispanic Students in November of 1931. The congress decided to build a “Barraca” in central Madrid in which to produce important plays for the public. “La Barraca,” the traveling theater company that resulted, toured many Spanish towns, villages, and cities performing Spanish classics on public squares. Some of García Lorca’s own plays, including his three great tragedies Bodas de sangre (1933), Yerma (1934), and La Casa de Bernarda Alba (1936), were also produced by the company.
In 1936, García Lorca was staying at Callejones de García, his country home, at the outbreak of the Civil War. He was arrested by Franquist soldiers, and on the 17th or 18th of August, after a few days in jail, soldiers took García Lorca to “visit” his brother-in-law, Manuel Fernandez Montesinos, the Socialist ex-mayor of Granada whom the soldiers had murdered and dragged through the streets. When they arrived at the cemetery, the soldiers forced García Lorca from the car. They struck him with the butts of their rifles and riddled his body with bullets. His books were burned in Granada’s Plaza del Carmen and were soon banned from Franco’s Spain. To this day, no one knows where the body of Federico García Lorca rests.
When Federico García Lorca was executed by Spanish Fascists in 1936, one of the men on the death squad reportedly said that he had “fired two bullets into his ass for being a queer.” Although rumors of Lorca’s sexuality have persisted for decades, the historical interest in Spain’s most celebrated poet and dramatist has dealt mostly with the political significance of his murder. Known for his leftist politics and religious iconoclasm, he’s become the symbol of the crimes of the Spanish Civil War. Little is mentioned about Lorca’s sexuality beyond his romanticized love for Salvador Dalí. (Apparently, Lorca was “obsessed” with him; Dalí didn’t like to be touched.)
In a footnote to history, Manuel de Falla, who had become disillusioned with the Franco regime, tried but failed to prevent the murder of Lorca, his close friend. As a result, de Falla left Spain in 1939 for Argentina, never to return to his native country.