Federico Garcia Lorca: His Life in Brief

by Christopher Maurer

Fundación Federico García-Lorca (screenshot from website)
Fundación Federico García-Lorca (screenshot from website)

Federico García Lorca, one of the greatest European poets of our age, was born in 1898 (the year of the Spanish-American War) in Fuente Vaqueros, an Andalusian village in the Vega (river plain) of Granada. His mother, Vicenta Lorca Romero, had worked briefly as a schoolteacher, and his father, Federico García Rodríguez, was a wealthy landowner. In 1909, when Federico was eleven years old, his family (parents, Federico, brother Francisco and sisters Conchita and Isabel) took up residence in the city of Granada. They would continue, however, to spend their summer vacations in the country, in Asquerosa (today, Valderrubio) where Federico wrote much of his work.

Years later, despite having traveled widely and having lived for long periods in Madrid, Federico would remember the importance of that rural upbringing: "I love the land. I feel tied to it in all my emotions. My most distant childhood memories have the flavor of the earth. The earth, the fields, have wrought great things in my life. The bugs of the earth, animals, country folk are suggestive to only a few people. I capture them now with the same spirit I did during the years of my childhood. Otherwise I could not have written Blood Wedding."

In his poems and plays, Lorca shows himself a careful observer of the speech, music and customs of rural society. One of the mysteries of his work is how the Andalusian countryside, described with such exactitude, is transformed into a universal space where the poet can explore all the deepest concerns of the human heart: desire, love and death, the mystery of identity and the miracle of artistic creation.


During his adolescence, until 1916 or 1917, García Lorca felt closer to music than to literature. Even as a child he was fascinated by the theater, but he also studied the piano, taking classes with Antonio Segura Mesa, an elderly composer and a fervent admirer of Verdi. Federico's first artistic wonder arose not from his readings but from the piano repertoire of Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy and others. It was as musician and aspiring composer, not as a writer, that he was known to his classmates at the University of Granada, where he had enrolled, in 1914 in the program of studies that led to degrees in Philosophy and Letters and Law.

The intellectual atmosphere of Granada was a surprisingly rich one. In a group called El Rinconcillo del café Alameda, Lorca joined forces with a circle of talented young men who would, one day, leave their mark on the worlds of arts and education, diplomacy and culture. At the University of Granada two professors in particular opened a path for him: Fernando de los Ríos, a Professor of Comparative Political Law and future leader of the Spanish Socialist party, and Martín Domínguez Berrueta, a professor of Theory of Literature and the Arts.

With Domínguez Berrueta, Federico and a group of classmates made a series of student excursions to Baeza, Úbeda, Córdoba and Ronda (June 1916); Castile, León, and Galicia (Autumn of the same year); back to Baeza (Spring 1917); and Burgos (summer and autumn of 1917). These trips acquainted Federico with other regions of Spain and helped awaken his vocation as a writer. They also provided material for his first book, Impressions and Landscapes, published in 1918 in a private edition paid for by the poet's father. There he ranges over a variety of themes: politics, the decadence of Spain, religious concerns, and the aesthetics Gregorian chant, Renaissance and Baroque sculpture, gardens, and Spanish folk song.

With the publication of Impressions and Landscapes and the death of his music teacher a year later, the apprentice pianist and composer says that he "finally entered the realm of Poetry, and anointed [himself] with the love of all things." In autumn 1918 he exclaims: "I feel myself to be filled with poetry: strong or plain, fantastical or religious, bad, deep, rascally or mystical poetry. All of it, every bit of it! I want to be all things!"

Fundación Federico García-Lorca (screenshot from website)
Fundación Federico García-Lorca (screenshot from website)

Between 1934 and 1936 he directed his efforts, in large part, to the renovation of the Spanish stage, through his own work, through La Barraca, and through the organization of amateur theater groups he hoped would perform works -both classical and modern- which were overlooked by the commercial theater. He also called with vehemence for a "return to tragedy" and to "poetry" in the theater, and for plays that could deal bravely with social issues.

In his interviews and statements to the press in 1934-1936, Lorca insists on the social responsibility of the artist, especially that of the playwright, for the latter is able to "call into question old or mistaken morals." He was as devoted as ever to poetic creation, but his poetry "got up from the page," took to the stage, and reached a wider audience. In a special ceremony organized by Margarita Xirgu to honor the actors of Madrid, Federico spoke of his vision of a theater of social action: "I am speaking tonight not as author or as poet, nor as a simple student of the rich panorama of human life, but as an ardent defender of the theater and of its social action. The theater is one of the most expressive and useful instruments for the education of a country, and the barometer that measures its greatness or decline. A theater that is well-oriented in all its branches, from tragedy to vaudeville, can change, in just a few years, the sensibility of a people, and a theater that has been destroyed and where hoofs take the place of wings, can lull an entire nation to sleep. The theater is a school of laughter and lamentation and a free tribunal where men can introduce as evidence old or mistaken morals and explain with living examples eternal norms of man's heart and feeling."

As he spoke those resonant, beautiful words, Yerma was being attacked as "immoral" and even "pornographic" by the right-wing press. An unintimidated Federico insisted on the moral and aesthetic authority of playwrights and actors, and hoped "to go on fighting to preserve the freedom that saves me... For calumnies, horrors, and inquisitorial robes that they want to hang on me, I have a healthy rain of peasant laughter."

Excerpts of the Federico García-Lorca biography were taken from the Fundación Federico García-Lorca website. Read the complete biography here.

Related Links

Fundación Federico García Lorca
Poets.org - Federico García Lorca



Extra Info

Excerpts of the Federico García Lorca biography were taken from the Fundación Federico García Lorca website. Read the complete biography
here.

Author Info