The Four Stages of Mourning

Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias
The Four Stages of Mourning in Lorca's Poem

In his Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias, Federico Garcia Lorca has made the narrator of the poem out to be a character who, throughout the course of the poem, goes through the predictably uniform stages of mourning: shock, denial, anger and acceptance. The four sections, which the poem is divided into, coincide rather well with these four stages of the human psyche.

When one first learns of a death of a person who was particularly close particularly important in one’s life, they are hit with a bevy of emotions. The most dominant of these is that of a feeling of shock. Lorca appears to have had an understanding of psychological concepts, or he at least got very lucky with the organization of his poem, as the first section, entitled La cogida y la muerte, includes an excellent example of profound shock. When news of a death is brought to attention, often times a person wants to latch onto an idea or a feeling or an object that is near to them. They will often block out much of what is going on around them, and simply concentrate on one thing. The narrator of the poem is no exception, and falls into the same pit of pitiful mourning that so many other do. In the case of the poem, that which the narrator latches onto is a moment in time, “Five in the afternoon.” It is plainly evident that the line is a representation of what the narrator was shocked into keeping in his consciousness because it is repeated not once or twice, but thirty times, though the final three instances were slightly different in form: “Ah, that fatal five in the afternoon!”; “It was five by all the clocks!”; “It was five in the shade of the afternoon!” (p. 139). The gravity of the news was so great, that the fact that it was, at least going by what the text presents, “five in the afternoon” (pp. 135-139) when Ignacio was killed in the bullring has been forever burned into the mind of the narrator. A second piece of supporting evidence for the importance of the line is not only the number of times it is repeated, but also the way in which the repetition is displayed. By placing the phrase on its own line, in italics, the narrator is calling upon the audience to not simply take notice of the fact that the death occurred at this time, but also to follow the narrator down the road of mourning. The narrator wants the audience to disregard everything else that is being said in the section, just as the narrator has disregarded everything that happened to him. Given this reason, it is no surprise that the other lines in the poem are, while aesthetically pleasing from a poetic standpoint, rather disjointed and randomized. These other lines also provide more fuel for the narrator’s fire of shock and tunnel vision, in that the activities described in them could not possibly occur at the same time (five in the afternoon, or whenever). The second stanza is where the impossibility of continuity is most prevalent, in that it describes several actions, which cannot last for exactly one moment, that is, the moment of Ignacio’s death. The lines “the bass-string struck up,” “the dove and the leopard wrestle,” “A coffin on wheels is his bed,” (p. 137) and “In the distance the gangrene now comes,” (p. 139) are all examples of impossible occurrences. If Ignacio had just died, he could not already be in a coffin, a bass string would not have been plucked at the exact instant of the cogida, leopards and doves do not wrestle and gangrene is a malady that needs time to take effect. Even setting aside these refuting points, the notion still remains that there would have been no way for the narrator to neither hear and/or see all of these things happening, because he was not a direct witness to the death, he had to be told of it, nor would there have been a way for him to recognize every image that he describes all at once. Lorca’s word choice has sent the audience and his narrator down the uniform path of mourning, a path that is not strayed from in the second section.

La sangre derramada starts off much in the same way that the first section did, immediately throwing the audience into the second stage of mourning: denial. Because the two sections start off in the same manner, with the opening lines being echoed throughout the section, it must also be clearly stated that Lorca does not want the audience to forget about the state of shock his character is in. By compounding shock and denial through repetition of the line, “I will not see it!” (p. 139) Lorca illustrates how the two are forever linked together in the mind of the narrator. However, because the line is not repeated as much as “Five in the afternoon” was, one could infer that the initial shock of the death is slowly wearing off.

However, the way in which the line is presented is not as important to the idea of denial as what is actually being said within the line. It is very common for a person to deny that a loved one has died, and again the narrator proves to be no exception. He explicitly states that he “will not see it!” The ‘it’ in this case refers to the body of Ignacio. The narrator is so distraught over the death of his friend that in the first full stanza, he implores the audience (albeit indirectly) to “Tell the moon to come/for I do not want to see the blood/of Ignacio on the sand,” (p. 139). Obviously, the moon is not a sentient being and therefore cannot be commanded or asked to do anything. The narrator probably realizes this, but in his frenzied attempt to deny reality, he again raises the notion of an impossible act, one that would cover the body from the narrator’s view, putting Arthur Clough’s phrase “out of sight, out of mind” to practical field use. The reason that the narrator refuses to acknowledge the death of his friend comes not only from sadness over the fact, but also the fact that he held his friend in such high regard, that it would pain the narrator to realize that Ignacio was not as great as the narrator believed. The sixth stanza serves to make this point evident, as it is here that the poem seems more like an elegy than anywhere else in the work. The narrator showers Ignacio with compliments. “There was no prince in Seville/who could compare with him,” “nor sword like his sword,” “nor heart so true,” “Like a river of lions was his marvelous strength,” “... his smile was a spikenard of wit...” (p. 143).

Lorca might have added the location of Seville to the poem to give a geographical setting for the ordeal. A second possibility might have been to give the audience a clue as to whether or not he was also the narrative voice, as Lorca made his home near Seville (this could also be the reason for the inclusion of Andalusian). The narrator comments on the sword, which could very well be a phallic reference, as well as Ignacio’s heart, to describe two qualities that the bullfighter had. The river of lions line is given to describe the same qualities in a more ornate way. However, there is a line that presents an even stronger feeling of denial on the part of the narrator, “What a great torero in the ring!” (p. 143). Ignacio obviously was not such a great bullfighter, if he died fighting a bull. Still, the narrator tries to glaze over the fact, replacing reality with what he wants to believe.

However, the fragile reality the narrator has made for himself is soon shattered, once he sees Ignacio at the wake in the third section entitled Cuerpo presente. This third section is centered on the third stage of mourning: anger. It is also here that the poem’s structure begins to take an odd turn. The repetition of a line is condensed considerably, down to merely two words (“Loses itself”) repeated toward the end of the poem. Lorca has favored shorter stanzas with more words per line, than the short, lengthy verses seen the previous two. The reason for this change is the drastic change in the narrator’s mood from ignorance to outright rage. When a person is angry, there is neither time nor need for harmonious repetition of a tenderly worded line. However, the narrator is unable to focus his anger on one single source, be it himself, Ignacio, the crowd or even the audience. Nothing escapes his tirade.

Initially, the narrator focuses his anger on a very strange subject: That of an inanimate object; the stone on which Ignacio is laid. The narrator says, “Stone gathers seed and clouds... but yields not sounds nor crystals nor fire/only bull rings... and more bull rings...” (p. 147). The narrator is implying that the stone, with which Ignacio is now going to be recognized, does nothing to promote anything of any positive value. It either brings nothing of any sort, or something negative --that is, the constant reminder that Ignacio’s life and death revolved around the bullfight. .

The second target of the narrator’s rage is the crowd. The narrator does not appear to think that the other mourners at the wake are fit to mourn in the way that they are. He does not want them to sing, nor does he want them to cry. Instead, he wants the crowd to “see this body without a chance of rest.” (p. 149). He wants to, as so many people who are in mourning want, bring as many people down to his level of remorse and sadness as possible, and the narrator thinks that silent mourning is the only way to do so.

The last targets of the third section are people are not even present at the wake, which is the very reason the narrator attacks them. In stanzas nine through twelve, the narrator makes a challenge to men who have been called great by others, because of the remarkable feats they have accomplished, such as breaking horses and dominating rivers (p. 149). He wants them to discover “a way out for [Ignacio] strapped down by death.” He wants the men to prove their true worth, and here yet again is the notion of impossibility, as it is not possible for anyone to bring anything back from the dead. It would only be then than the narrator would recognize their greatness.

In the first three sections, the different stages of mourning were reasonably contained within the section. However, that is not the case with the fourth stage, acceptance. The narrator begins to accept the fact that Ignacio really is dead, and, given the rant he had just given, seems to yield to acceptance rather quickly. The last two lines of the third section serve as the connecting point between the two sections: “Go, Ignacio, feel not the how bellowing/Sleep, fly, rest: even the sea dies!”

This fourth section also connects itself to the first two, with the important and frequent repetition of the line, “Because you have died forever.” (p. 151). This line is evidence enough that the narrator has finally come to terms with the death of his friend. What is also peculiar about this section is the rushed tone that it seems to carry, as if the narrator himself is in a hurry to distance himself and forget about Ignacio and move on with his life. He realizes that Ignacio has “died for ever/like all the dead of the Earth,” (p. 151). The most telling piece of evidence pertaining to the narrator’s desire to distance himself is the change of the pronoun used for Ignacio. Throughout the poem, Ignacio has either been named, or identified as “you.” That is not so in the third line of the last stanza, where Ignacio is referred to as “his.” The easiest way for a person to gain distance psychologically is to stop naming that from which he or she is trying to get away, exactly what is being done here. The last line provides for the last bit of evidence for this point. There is no better way to get away from something than to emulate the breeze and vanish, be it physically or emotionally. For Ignacio and the narrator, the removal is complete and permanent.

Even though literature was founded on the action of word of mouth storytelling, it progressed to a concrete written form in order to satiate the world’s need for a tangible means of preserving a person’s greatest achievements.