A Spanish ghost story

In honor of October and Halloween and all things spooky, I bring to you a wonderfully creepy poem from my travels. Some of you may know that I speak Spanish – not fluently, but well enough to get by. I actually did a few months study abroad in Spain when I was younger. Travel and languages are still something I find fascinating.

My favorite part of the Spanish language is the poetry. I took classes from a wonderful man who has since gone on to wherever such wonderful people go when they die, and he loved Spanish poetry. His favorite poet, however, was Federico García Lorca. Lorca was a young man and a prolific poet and screenwriter who was murdered by the franquistas during the Spanish Civl War for his politics and his sexuality. He actually studied in New York City for a while himself, prior to his death, and wrote a series of poems that touched on the subjugation of Black Americans. He idolized Walt Whitman, one of my favorite American poets, and created beautiful words. One of his most famous poems is called ‘El romance sonámbulo’. You can find a very loose translation, as well as the original text, here. Read it. Come back. Tell me that isn’t creepy and I’ll call you a liar.

Vamos hablar un poco de español ahorita. I promise to translate the important parts.

In the poem, we see a phrase repeated over and over. Verde, que te quiero verde. It sounds ungainly in English. Green, how I want you (how I love you) green. Green is a color of growing things, but Lorca doesn’t use it that way. Perhaps, in Spain, green is not so positive and common a color. I know when I was there that the landscapes tended to be far less vibrant with green colors than they do on the east coast of the United States. Even in spring, the colors are oranges and blues and whites, with green overbalanced by them. Another poet, Neruda, who is more famous than Lorca amongst English speakers, describes the landscape around Madrid as “Castille’s dry face: a leather ocean” in ‘Explico algunas cosas’. Federico is in that poem, already dead. They were contemporaries, you see.

So yes, green might have another meaning to a Spaniard and it certainly is used differently by Lorca. Verde viento, verdes ramas. This landscape is green not because of growing things under bright light, but for another reason. It is night. It is dark. This world is haunted.

Verde carne, pelo verde. This dreaming woman with flesh green in the night and silver, silver eyes. Eyes white with death. This is a ghost story about love lost.

The story Lorca tells is not so unusual. Star-crossed lovers feature often in our stories, after all. Romeo and Juliet are the most famous, but songs of lovers separated by death – Anachie Gordon, Standing Stones of the Orkney Isles, Annan Waters, to name a few – feature in so many cultures. It is perhaps the saddest story of all, to find love and lose it so young. To lose love, and so lose the will to live. When Lorca wrote this story, he wrote a romance, which is a ballad, a story set to song. If Halloween is about telling fearful stories, what more fearful one can there be for a person in love than to arrive at your lover’s house, mortally wounded, to climb the stairs to see her one last time – and find only a corpse, swinging on a silver rope.

Be safe this October, my dears. Shiver beneath blankets, in the light of your candles. Hold your loved ones close. Listen to the green wind blow outside your window, and think of the bitter girl who went to join her lover in death, only to find that she had left him behind.

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