by Richard Lea (The Guardian, UK, January 11, 2011)
"I offer myself to be devoured by Spanish peasants," writes the poet Federico García Lorca in a newly-discovered manuscript of a poem from his portrait of the United States during the Great Depression, Poeta en Nueva York (Poet in New York).
This was just one of the lines which the poet cut before the poem "Oficina y denuncia" ("Office and Denunciation") was published in 1940, four years after Lorca was shot by a right-wing firing squad on a hillside overlooking his home city of Granada.
Christopher Maurer, the professor of Spanish at Boston University who discovered the "extraordinary" manuscript, said that although it was "hidden in plain sight" in the music division of the Library of Congress, "no other scholar had ever mentioned it".
"It was extraordinary to find, in the US, the original of one of the central poems in Poet in New York," the professor continued, adding that he "was charmed to think of Lorca, who was a brilliant pianist, keeping archival company with so many great composers".
According to the professor, Lorca's use of the word "devorado" ("devoured") was particularly striking, even though it didn't make it into the published version of the poem, as it heightens the poem's Christ-like imagery, and the image of a city that "eats, consumes, cannot digest, and vomits". The poem as published ends with the protagonist offering himself instead "as food for cows wrung dry / when their lowing fills the valley / where the Hudson becomes intoxicated with oil", shifting the image away from the humanity and towards the natural world which mankind has sacked and despoiled.
Lorca travelled to New York, beginning a course in English language at Columbia University during the summer of 1929, after the tensions between his public image as an increasingly successful poet and his complicated private life became unbearable.
For Maurer, who is writing a book with Andrew Anderson about the poet's time in the US and Cuba, "Oficina y denuncia" captures an important moment in Lorca's career, as the poet turns away from brief lyrical poetry towards an engagement with broad social issues, and begins to write more openly about his love of men.
"After the stock market crash of 1929, which Lorca actually witnessed, he has a more vivid sense than ever of America's lost potential," Maurer said. "Days after writing this poem, in January 1930, he tells his family that the rest of his work 'pales' before his new poems, which have impressed his friends and 'which, in a way, are symphonic, like the noise and the complexity of New York'."
As the poet says, in a passage which survived from manuscript to published poem: "This is not hell, it is the street."