A letter by Federico García Lorca to his friend Regino Sainz de la Maza, guitarist and compatriot in Spain’s ‘Generación del ’27.’ The United States, where Lorca enrolled at Columbia University in 1929-1930, was his first trip abroad before he traveled south to Cuba. Lorca was on Wall Street on the day of the stock market crash. Any resemblance to real people is purely intentional.
October 30, 1929
When this letter reaches you I would not blame you if you found it part-bourgeois, part-Nietszche. It is Wednesday and I am sitting in a warm apartment in Harlem. Yesterday was Black Tuesday: an open gallery to the multitude of death. Other people’s deaths, actual and real, happen in plural numbers, whereas one’s own, abstract and invisible, is perceived to be utterly unique. Singularly special! This is our sickness.
The signs I saw around the necks of many young men yesterday said: ‘WANTED, A Decent Job,’ followed by a self-description (‘Family Man,’ ‘Three Young Children’) and age. It is hard for a man to be a man like it is hard for a dog to be a dog.
Sometimes I want to remain asleep but I am expulsed into the street like a braying sheep, a no-nothing wrapped in sopoforic wool, eager to know what all the fuss is about. I remain that way until I see the butcher shining his knife in a fresh white apron. Then I know.
Yesterday was the first time since arriving some months ago that I felt frightened, and the grid-jungle appeared as a death trap. The port, rather than looking outward to Atlantis, became the mote around a strange and awful castle where the candlelights were suddenly blown out. Darkness set in amidst the confusion of automobiles and skyscrapers.
Remember when you wrote that South America is the Andalucía de América? And what of North America? Where is its what?
No one looked at another with enmity yesterday. Only fear—the anguished fear that violently pierces the hearts of men and women and even children when faced with their closing fate. I am pushing this pen against the page in order to delay telling you the inevitable, that I witnessed not one, not two, but six suicides yesterday, and I dread you asking what expression I saw on their faces as they each fell to earth. In truth their faces wore nothing, not even the specter of fear. I watched as one watches a skeleton. My despair rose to my temples and my hands shook. Contemplation stopped! It was a VEIN-OPENING and I scarcely knew who held the dagger.
There was a woman among them and she threw her hat down before stepping onto the ledge. We watched that gray furry hat float down with the excruciatingly slow speed of an indifferent feather. Below her Babylon shook. There were shouts in more languages than all of Paris or London contain.
Since alcohol is still prohibited, what poison will they (will we?) drink to counteract the venom of this world? There is no sherry or Fundador brandy strong enough as the strychnine this demands.
I wrote ‘Ruina’ and dedicated it to you today, it will soon be published. Do you want to know how it came to me? Predictably the germ was planted in a dream. ‘You alone and I remain. I alone and you remain. One must look quickly, love, quickly, for our profile without sleep.’
Prepare your skeleton, friend!
I want to mock all the things and scream at all the things. That dinner party at Mildred Adams’—that Spanish-speaking journalist in Granada, you remember?—is far away. My ears are bereft of the music of Albéniz and Falla and your own. The sensual warmth of the polymaths gathered around a dining table seems a century-and-a-half away even though it was only months ago when the Spanish colonies of New York and red-wearing hispanophiles befriended me. I will soon visit Philip Cummings, the writer and Spanish teacher in Vermont. I am ashamed of the departure from New York, ashamed like a half-tourist reluctantly escaping the scene of a famine. This is not a metaphor.
It is only five o’clock in the evening but already it is pitch black outside, as black as the cement on this shaken earth. This is the world, friend, a bushel of coal. Meanwhile, meanwhile, meanwhile. Yesterday’s dead decompose below the clocks of this city.
Since you are full of inquietude and melancholy you will understand the melancholic’s desire to fly.
An enormous and tight embrace,