Andalusian poems

When I'm writing historical fiction, I've found that research can be a chain of discoveries, and not all of them are linear. Understanding current events often requires going back in time, sometimes as much as hundreds or even thousands of years. Research about the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca led me, not forwards, but sideways and backwards to Emilio García Gómez, a Spanish Arabist, whose talent as a poet brought Andalusian poetry to life.

His translations heavily influenced Lorca, who was a member of Spain's Generation of '27, a group of young poets who arose in Spanish literary circles from 1923-1927. Lorca, one of the group's more prominent members, was murdered in the beginning days of the Spanish Civil War and his works were banned by Franco's regime until 1953. At the date of this writing, his body has not yet been found. García Gómez, on the other hand, survived the war and, after a long and illustrious career, died in 1995.

While doing research for the Los Nefilim novels, I wanted to read Spanish poetry, because I feel that one of the best ways to experience other cultures is through literature, both stories and poems. Since García Gómez's works are in Spanish, I wanted to find a good English translation. While my Spanish is passable, it's not collegiate level by any stretch of the imagination.

The search for an English translation of García Gómez's works eventually led me to Andalusian Poems. Christopher Middleton and Leticia Garza-Falcón used García Gómez's Poemas arabigoandaluces (Espasa/Calpe, 1984), Àrabe en endecasílbos (Revista de Occidente, 1976), El mejor Ben Quzman (Alianza Editorial, 1981), and Ibn Zamrak: el poeta de la Alhambra (Patronato de la Alhambra, 1975) as the basis for the selections in their translation.

Figuring this was as close as I was to come to García Gómez's work, I engaged in an arduous online search, and finally managed to land a used copy of Andalusian Poems. The slim volume was well worth the time and effort to locate.

Middleton and Garza-Falcón spend a great deal of their introduction explaining how they arrived at their translation. It is work well done. Their combined efforts have avoided the pitfalls of a dry, academic translation to deliver a work of beauty. 

As I read the poems, I found shades of my nefilim in time, especially Diago, who has hailed from various parts of Andalusia from one incarnation to another. Here are three of my favorites from the collection:

Four Poems to Ibn Zaydun

Wait for me whenever darkness falls,
For night I see contains a secret best.
If the heavens felt this love I feel for you,
The sun would not shine, nor the moon rise,
Nor would the stars launch out upon their journey.
Wallada (Cordova, 1010?-1091?)

The next poem might seem a bit creepy by today's standards, but it's one of my favorites nonetheless, or maybe it's one of my favorites because it is a little on the creepy side. Either way, "With a Knife" inspired one of my favorite lines in Where Oblivion Dwells when Miquel tells Diago: Because if you die, you will take my heart with you, and if you take my heart, how will I live?

With a Knife
Is there no way I might
Open my heart with a knife
I could slip you in
And close the cut again

Till the end of time
Till the resurrection
You'd be inside
No heart but mine

In the webbing of my heart
You'd live my lifetime
In the tomb's twilight
You'd die when I did
Ibn Hazm (Cordova, 994-1063)

And then finally, my favorite, because it makes me think of my nefilim as they move between incarnations and search for one another again:


I search the sky
What if by chance
I find up there
A star you see

Travelers pass
What if I ask
If one of them
Inhaled your fragrance

Wind on my face
I feel what if
By chance it might
Bring news of you

On roads I drift
Hearing song on song
What if by chance
One breathed your name

Face after face I meet
Only to look away
What if in one I see
Your beauty's trace
At-Turtushi (Eastern Andalusia, 1059-1126)

All poems were taken from Andalusian Poems, translated by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garza-Falcón from Spanish versions of the original Arabic. Boston: David R. Godine, 1993.