Sanchez Mejias was a famous bullfighter, writer and passionate lover of literature. He and Lorca were destined to become friends, and did so through a mutual friend, Encarncion Lopez Julvez, who was a famous dancer and singer and was also known as 'La Argentinita'. Sanchez Mejias was her manager, and it was to her that Lorca dedicated the poem. On August 11th, 1934 at the age of 43, Sanchez Mejias re- entered the bullring at the request of another bull fighter who was injured. At this time Lorca was in the town of Santander. This seems to come across in the narrative style of the Lament, that Lorca has shown up sometime after the tragic event to see Mejias lying dead. Lorca used the lyrical devices learnt in his earlier poems and combined them with the narrative style of the historical ballad. Overall, the poem uses the rhythm of a 'gypsy lament' which carries the emotional impact of the tragedy.
Here is the poem
The overall feel of this part of the Lament is one of definiteness and ominousness. The continuing refrain of, 'at five in the afternoon' lends this part of the poem a dark strength and an almost monotonous rhythm in the body of the section. However the line's rhythm contrasts against the rolling iambics and soft sounds of the alternate lines such as
The wind carried away the cottonwool 9
And the oxide scattered crystal and nickel 11
The last three lines of the section bring a passionate, celebratory woe to the poem through the phrase, 'five in the afternoon', that, in my opinion, only a Spaniard (like Lorca) or possibly a Frenchman like Rimbaud could truly carry off.
The death spoken of in the title of this section is not the physical death of Ignacio, but the death of the spirit and attitude that a man can cheat death, can look it in the eyes and deftly sidestep its terrible oncoming charge. If the bull represents power and life's ravaging affect on the mind and physique, then the bullfighter is he who has power over that power and defies the inevitable end effect of life; death.
Challenging the bull was a task as old as the legendary figure Herakles. Jung saw the defeat against the bull as a human wish to sublimate animal passions but this isn't a notion that really fits with the perceived demeanour of Ignacio. However, Lorca did - as he once explained to a friend, 'Bullfighting has nothing to do with sport, but is a 'religious mystery', the public and solemn enactment of the victory of human virtue over the lower instincts, the superiority of spirit over matter, of intelligence over instinct, of the smiling hero over the frothing monster'.
The number five itself has many symbolic associations - love, health, meditation, sensuality, analysis, criticism, strength, integration, organic growth and the heart but it is my interpretation that Lorca wasn't being specific to any of these traits with the recurring line. Five o'clock in the afternoon in Spain would still be very much bathed in sunlight and considered part of the working day, compared to a latitude like Melbourne's. And yet 'five in the afternoon' signals the eventual coming of darkness, night and death. Although Ignacio was alive when they carried him out of the ring, his wounds were fatal and it was only a matter of time until his passing. The lines
|When the sweat of snow was coming||25|
|death laid eggs in the wound||29|
|In the distance the gangrene now is coming||41|
indicate this slow growing death in him.
Another translation of line 25 reads-
When snow-cold sweat began to form
This gives a clearer insight into the meaning of the line and its relation to Ignacio's spreading sickness.
The whole second stanza gives the feel of the life of Ignacio having dissipated; the scattering, the groups on the outskirts, the wind carrying away cottonwool, and iodine, the colour of blood spread over the bullring. Incidentally, it was gangrene in the wounds that Ignacio died from.
Peace, love, hope and courage/pride - respectively embodied by the dove and the leopard - 'strive', under duress of the wounds. I originally saw this as the dove and the leopard struggling together, combining their traits in Ignacio's favour against the spectre of death. However it could also be interpreted as the dove of peace and innocence (Ignacio) struggling against the leopard's pitiless force and ferocity (the bull, and the wounds it inflicted).
It was not long into the corrida when Sanchez Mejias sustained a severe goring to the right thigh. The bullfighter relies on his agility, once he lost this he was in trouble, thus the lines
|And a thigh with a desolate horn||15|
|A lily-trumpet through green groins||43|
The bull's horn could be viewed as the crux of its virility or power. And, as such, with the bull's horn represented as the lily trumpet, the imagery of this last line quoted is very powerful. The bull's horn striking through Ignacio's own, still potent (or green) virility. In fact, the horn left a wound the shape of a lily.
It is also thought that Lorca may have been alluding to Adonis, who died after being wounded in the groin by the tusks of a boar.