Lorca Duende page 2
The Muse dictates, and occasionally prompts. She can do relatively little since she’s distant and so tired (I’ve seen her twice) that you’d think her heart half marble. Muse poets hear voices and don’t know where they’re from, but they’re from the Muse who inspires them and sometimes makes her meal of them, as in the case of Apollinaire, a great poet destroyed by the terrifying Muse, next to whom the divine angelic Rousseau once painted him. The Muse stirs the intellect, bringing a landscape of columns and an illusory taste of laurel, and intellect is often poetry’s enemy, since it limits too much, since it lifts the poet into the bondage of aristocratic fineness, where he forgets that he might be eaten, suddenly, by ants, or that a huge arsenical lobster might fall on his head – things against which the Muses who inhabit monocles, or the roses of lukewarm lacquer in a tiny salon, have no power.
Angel and Muse come from outside us: the angel brings light, the Muse, form (Hesiod learnt from her). Golden bread or fold of tunic, it is her norm that the poet receives in his laurel grove… while the duende has to be roused from the furthest habitations of the blood.
Reject the angel. Give the Muse a kick and conquer his awe of the scent of violets that eighteenth century poetry breathes out, and of the great telescope in whose lenses the Muse, made ill by limitation, sleeps.
The true struggle is with the duende.
The roads where one searches for God are known, whether by the barbaric way of the hermit or the subtle modes of the mystic: with a tower, like St. Teresa, or by the three paths of St. John of the Cross. And though we may have to cry out, in Isaiah’s voice: ‘Truly you are a hidden God,’ finally, in the end, God sends his primal thorns of fire to those who seek Him.
Seeking the duende, there is neither map nor discipline. We only know it burns in the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts, rejects all the bland sweet geometry that so reassures us, that it shatters styles and makes Goya, master of the greys, silvers and pinks of the finest English art, paint with his knees and fists in terrible bitumen blacks, or strips Mossèn Cinto Verdaguer stark naked in the cold of the Pyrenees, or sends Jorge Manrique to wait for death in the wastes of Ocaña, or clothes Rimbaud’s delicate body in a saltimbanque’s costume, or gives the Comte de Lautréamont the eyes of a dead fish, at dawn, on the boulevard.
The great artists of Southern Spain, Gypsy or flamenco, singers dancers, musicians, know that emotion is impossible without the arrival of the duende. They might deceive people into thinking they can communicate the sense of duende without possessing it, as authors, painters, and literary fashion-makers deceive us every day, without possessing duende: but we only have to attend a little, and not be full of indifference, to discover the fraud, and chase off that clumsy artifice.
Once, the Andalusian ‘Flamenco singer’ Pastora Pavon, La Niña de Los Peines, sombre Spanish genius, equal in power of fancy to Goya or Rafael el Gallo, was singing in a little tavern in Cadiz. She played with her voice of shadows, with her voice of beaten tin, with her mossy voice; she tangled it in her hair, or soaked it in manzanilla or abandoned it to dark distant briars. But, there was nothing there: it was useless. The audience remained silent.
In the room was Ignacio Espeleta, handsome as a Roman tortoise, who was once asked: ‘Why don’t you work?’ and who replied with a smile worthy of Argantonius: ‘How should I work, if I’m from Cadiz?’ In the room was Elvira, fiery aristocrat, whore from Seville, descended in line from Soledad Vargos, who in ’30 didn’t wish to marry with a Rothschild, because he wasn’t her equal in blood. In the room were the Floridas, whom people think are butchers, but who in reality are millennial priests who still sacrifice bulls to Geryon, and in the corner was that formidable breeder of bulls, Don Pablo Murube, with the look of a Cretan mask. Pastora Pavon finished her song in silence. Only, a little man, one of those dancing midgets who leap up suddenly from behind brandy bottles, sarcastically, in a very soft voice, said: ‘Viva, Paris!’ as if to say: ‘Here ability is not important, nor technique, nor skill. What matters here is something other.’
Then La Niña de Los Peines got up like a madwoman, trembling, her face blasted like a medieval mourner, drank at a single draught a great glass of Cazalla like a potion of fire, and began to sing with scorched throat, without voice, breath, colour, but…with duende. She managed to tear down the scaffolding of the song, but allow through a furious, burning duende, friend to those winds heavy with sand that make listeners tear at their clothes with the same rhythm as the Negroes of the Antilles in their rite, huddled before the statue of Santa Bárbara.
La Niña de Los Peines tore apart her voice, in the presence of the listening cognoscenti, and created not form but the marrow of form; pure music with a body lean enough to float on air. She had to rob herself of skill and safety: that is to say, banish her Muse and become helpless, to grant her duende full reign to engage at close quarters. And how she sang! Her voice no longer at play: her voice a jet of blood: worthy of her pain and her sincerity, it opened like a ten-fingered hand at the nailed but storm-filled feet of a Christ by Juan de Juni.
The arrival of the duende presupposes a radical change to all the old kinds of form, brings totally unknown and fresh sensations, with the qualities of a newly created rose, miraculous, generating an almost religious transport.
In all Arab music, dance, song or elegy, the arrival of duende is greeted with vigorous cries of ‘Allah! Allah!’ so close to the ‘Oleé!’ of the bullfight that who is to say they are not the same? And in all the songs of Southern Spain, the appearance of the duende is followed by sincere cries of ‘Viva Dios!’: profound, human, tender cries of communion with God through the medium of the five senses and the grace of the duende that stirs the voice and body of the dancer - a real, poetic flight from this world, as pure as that achieved by that rarest poet of the seventeenth century Pedro Soto de Rojas with his seven gardens, or John Climacus with his trembling ladder of tears.
Naturally when this flight is attained, everyone feels the effect: the initiate in seeing truth defeat inadequate content, and the novice in sensing authentic emotion. Years ago, in a dance contest in Jerez de la Frontera, competing against lovely women and girls with liquid waists, was an old lady, eighty years of age. She took to the little platform and, merely by raising her arms, throwing back her head, and stamping the dusty boards with the blows of her feet, carried off the prize. In that conclave of Muses and angels, that forgathering of beauties - beauties of form and beauties of smile - who else could earn the prize but this woman’s moribund duende as it swept the earth with its wings of rusty knives?
All the arts are capable of duende, but where it naturally creates most space, as in music, dance and spoken poetry, the living flesh is needed to interpret them, since they have forms that are born and die perpetually and raise their contours above the precise present.
Often the composer’s duende fills the performers, and at other times, when a poet or composer is no such thing, the performer’s duende, interestingly, creates a new wonder that has the appearance of, but is not, primitive form.
This was the case with the duende-haunted Eleonara Duse, who searched out failed plays to make triumphs of them through her own inventiveness, and the case with Paganini, as Goethe explained, who made one hear profound melody in vulgar trifles, and the case of a delightful young girl in Port St. Marys, whom I saw singing and dancing that terrible Italian song ‘O Mari!’ with such rhythm, pauses and intensity that she turned Italian dross into a brave serpent of gold. What happened was that each effectively found something new that no one had seen before, that could give life and knowledge to bodies devoid of expression.
Every art and every country is capable of duende, angel and Muse: and just as Germany owns to the Muse, with a few exceptions, and Italy the perennial angel, Spain is, at all times, stirred by the duende, country of ancient music and dance, where the duende squeezes out those lemons of dawn; a country of death, a country open to death.
In every other country death is an ending. It appears and they close the curtains. Not in Spain. In Spain they open them. Many Spaniards live, as it were, indoors till the day they die and only then are they carried into the sun. A dead man in Spain is more alive when dead than anywhere else on earth: his profile cuts like the edge of a barber’s razor. Tales of death and the silent contemplation of it are familiar to Spaniards. From Quevedo’s dream of skulls, to Valdés Leal’s putrefying archbishop, and from La Marbella in the seventeenth century, who, dying in childbirth in the middle of the road, says: