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Thamar and Amnon photo

Translator's Note:

In the summer of 2023, I traveled to Granada, Spain, the hometown of Federico García Lorca, to work on a new translation of his collection Romancero Gitano. I lived in a cave house in Sacromonte, the traditional home of the gypsies who settled in Granada after the Christian conquest of the city in 1492. I pursued this project out of my love for Lorca and dissatisfaction with available translations, which were either dated and fussy, or attempts to modernize the work with contemporary idioms and phrasing. My goal as a translator was to be direct and faithful to the poet's choices.

"Thamar and Amnon" is the final work in the collection. It is based on an Old Testament story about two children of King David. Amnon is the half-brother of Thamar, and he is consumed by lust for her. Amnon rapes Thamar and the consequences of this act are key to the disintegration of David's family following his own sinful affair with Bathsheba.




For Alfonso García-Valdecasas


The moon spins in the sky

above the land without water

while the summer sows

whispers of tiger and flame.

Above the rooftops,

nerves of metal were sounding.

Rippling wind came

with the bleats of wool.

The earth offers itself

full of scarred-over wounds,

or trembling from sharp

cauteries of white light.




Thamar was dreaming

birds in her throat,

to the sound of cold tambourines

and moonlit zithers.

Her nakedness in the eaves

sharp north of palm tree

demands snowflakes for her belly

and hailstones for her shoulders.

Thamar was singing

naked on the terrace.

Circled around her feet,

five frozen doves.

Amnón, thin and concrete,

in the tower was watching,

loins full of spume

with quivering beard.

His nakedness illuminated,

laid out on the terrace,

with a murmur between his teeth

of an arrow recently struck.

Amnón was watching

the moon round and low,

and saw in the moon the breasts

most hard of his sister.




Amnón at half past three

lay down on the bed.

All of the bedroom was suffering

with his eyes full of wings.

The solid light entombs

villages in the beige sand

or discovers a transitory

coral of roses and dahlias.

Lymph of a suppressed well

spurts silence into jars.

In the moss of tree trunks,

the uncoiled cobra sings.

Amnón moans among the sheets

so fresh on his bed.

The ivy of a shiver

covers his burning flesh.

Thamar enters silently

into the silence of his room,

the color of vein and Danube,

cloudy from distant footsteps.

—Thamar, blot out my eyes

with your fixed daybreak.

The threads of my blood weave

frills upon your skirt.

—Leave me in peace, brother.

Your kisses on my back

are wasps and little breezes

in a double swarm of flutes.

—Thamar, in your pert breasts

there are two fish calling me,

and in your fingertips,

murmur of a cloistered rose.




The hundred horses of the king

were neighing in the courtyard.

The sun in cubes resisted

by the thinness of the vine.

Now he takes her by the hair,

and tears her camisole.

Warm corals draw

streams across a blonde map.




Oh, what cries were felt

above the houses!

What thicket of daggers

and tunics torn.

On the sad stairs,

slaves go up and down.

Pistons and thighs play

under the halted clouds.

Around Thamar

shout virgin gypsies,

and others gather drops

from her martyred flower.

White cloths become red

in the closed rooms.

Ripples of warm sunrise

transform vine shoots and fish.




Enraged violator,

Amnón flees on his pony.

Negroes loose their arrows

from the walls and watchtowers.

And when the four hooves

had become four echoes,

David with his scissors

cut the strings of his harp.