Romance Sonámbulo by Federico García Lorca

Romance Sonámbulo’ is one of Federico García Lorca’s most popular poems. It was written in the midst of the Spanish Civil War. Lorca, like most intellectuals of his time, was on the side of the socialist government. On the other were the Catholic Church and the Spanish army. As with all civil wars, families were being torn apart, and innocents were losing their lives on a regular basis. This poem is often included in the works that led to Lorca’s arrest and execution. It was published eight years before his death in 1928. 

Romance Sonámbulo by Federico García Lorca

 

Summary of Romance Sonámbulo

Romance Sonámbulo’ by Federico García Lorca is a mournful and beautiful dream sequence in which the poet longs for something unattainable.

The bulk of the poem focuses on the speaker’s longing for a woman with green hair and green skin. He repeats several times how much he “wants” and loves the color green; it becomes a symbol of his longing for a new kind of life. This is emphasized when the speaker asks his friend, who is also temporarily occupying this dream world, to help to make a trade. To exchange his present life, one of knives and horses, for one of mirrors and houses. The poem concludes when the speaker is abruptly disturbed by the drunken Civil Guard banging on a door. 

 

Themes in Romance Sonámbulo

The major themes in ‘Romance Sonámbulo’ are longing or lust, as well as dreams and disappointment. There are other less prominent themes like violence as well. The speaker spends the poem depicting an otherworldly realm for the reader. He creates a vision of reality that is, at times, hard to understand or find any truth in. But, his primary feelings, loss of longing, come forward. He’s seeking out the woman with the green hair and skin, and more broadly, the color green but comes away disappointed. In the end, despite all his troubles and all that he’s endured, he is still alone. This poem is an escape from Lorca’s contemporary world, but one that is only temporary. 

 

Structure and Form of Romance Sonámbulo

Romance Sonámbulo’ by Federico García Lorca is a five-stanza poem separated into uneven sets of lines. The first is twelve lines long, while the final stanza is twenty-six. Before analyzing the structure of it is important to remember that this poem was originally written in Spanish. William Bryant Logan translated this version into English. ‘Romance Sonámbulo’ is a traditional Spanish ballad that has its origins in the Middle Ages. The meter and rhyme are both quite regular. Since this piece is written in Spanish, much of that structure is lost, though. In the original Spanish version, the lines are eight syllables long, with every other line us using a vowel rhyme, also known as an assonant rhyme. 

 

Literary Devices in Romance Sonámbulo 

Despite the fact that this poem was written in Spanish and translated to English, there are still a few literary devices that readers should take note of. These include but are not limited to repetition and examples of caesurae. The latter is concerned with the pauses that the poet put into the middle of lines. The second line of the first stanza is a great example. It reads: “Green wind. Green branches”. 

These pauses can be created with punctuation or meter; they may also appear at the beginning of a line, in the middle, or at the end. There is another good example in the ninth line of the third stanza. It reads: “But who will come? And from where?”

Repetition is a broad literary device that refers to many different possible examples. For instance, the use of the color green three times in lines one and two of the first stanza and then again two more times at the end of the same stanza and the beginning of the next. Imagery, just as the color green, can easily be repeated, as can a general atmosphere of celebration or nostalgia. 

 

Analysis of Romance Sonámbulo 

Stanza One 

Green, how I want you green.

Green wind. Green branches.

The ship out on the sea

and the horse on the mountain.

With the shade around her waist

she dreams on her balcony,

green flesh, her hair green,

with eyes of cold silver.

Green, how I want you green.

Under the gypsy moon,

all things are watching her

and she cannot see them.

In the first stanza of ‘Romance Sonámbulo,’ the speaker tells the reader how much like they are the color green. They address “green,” telling it that they “want” it. They wattle green branches and the green wind. The speaker is addressing the idea of color, one that relates directly to the natural world. These are also examples of imagery, requiring the reader to consider what exactly “Green wind” would look like. By bringing the color out into the world around him, the speaker helps the reader understand how much he loves it. 

The next two lines stand out in their simplicity. They seem to be entirely out of place at first, but as the poem goes on, they seem less so. The poet describes a “ship out on the sea” and pairs it with “the horse on the mountain”. He’s talking about a specific horse, mountain, ship, and sea here by using the word “the” rather than “a.” It also creates an image of loneliness and/or isolation. 

Next, a woman comes into the poem. She’s also alone but is standing on her balcony. The color green is given to her flesh and hair, although her eyes are “cold silver”. This once more demonstrates the speaker’s love for the color. She appears to be an embodiment of it. The first line of the poem is repeated next, reminding the reader how much he cares for this color. 

The tenth line of the stanza uses the word “gypsy” as an adjective (also as an example of personification). He is used to describing the moon in a certain way. But it is more important than that. This is a critical part of the poem. A “Gypsy” refers to a  group of people who lived in the same region of Spain that Lorca did. The collection in which this poem is found is named for them and contains several poems that celebrate their way of life. 

The stanza concludes with the speaker saying that everything is watching the green girl on the balcony, but she can see nothing. This might be in part due to the shade around her waist, or perhaps she’s just not interested in looking. 

 

Stanza Two 

Green, how I want you green. 

Big hoarfrost stars 

come with the fish of shadow 

that opens the road of dawn. 

The fig tree rubs its wind 

with the sandpaper of its branches,

and the forest, cunning cat, 

bristles its brittle fibers.

But who will come? And from where?

She is still on her balcony 

green flesh, her hair green,

dreaming in the bitter sea.

The second stanza begins with the familiar line, “Green, how I want you green.” The following lines are less simple. They bring in images of the “hoarfrost,” “fish of shadow,” and more. The first of these refers to the first on the ground first thing in the morning. It is used as another unusual adjective to describe the “stars” that come with the “fish of shadow”. The fish, the next line reveals, need to “open… the road of dawn”. Putting all this together, the reader is faced with another series of dream-like images. What is clear is that the speaker is awake early in the morning (seen through “hoarfrost” and “dawn”). He’s looking at the stars and watching it change cloys. Perhaps the “fish” is a reference to the way that the sky lightens and darkens as the sun rises, but it is not entirely clear. 

The following lines have several very good examples of alliteration. For instance, “cunning cat” and “bristles” and “brittle.” The speaker describes the rough branches of the fig tree and compares it to the bristled fur on a cat’s back. By using the word “brittle,” the speaker suggests that there is anger and strength in the scene but also a weakness as if the branches could break at any moment. 

Moving on, the speaker dices the woman again after two questions (a good example of a caesura in this line). Someone, the speaker doesn’t know who is going to come from somewhere, the speaker doesn’t know where. This is connected to the woman on the balcony. Perhaps the speaker is experiencing the same kind of loneliness as the horse on the mountain and the ship on the sea, waiting for someone to show up. The person he wants is at a distance on the balcony. 

The last lines of this stanza bring back in the green images and describe the woman as “dreaming in the bitter sea”. It suggests that she is in a bitter sea of emotions that overwhelms her and that she can’t do anything about it. 

 

Stanza Three 

Lines 1-14

—My friend, I want to trade 

my horse for her house, 

my saddle for her mirror,

my knife for her blanket. 

My friend, I come bleeding 

from the gates of Cabra.

—If it were possible, my boy,

I’d help you fix that trade. 

But now I am not I, 

nor is my house now my house.

—My friend, I want to die

decently in my bed.

Of iron, if that’s possible, 

with blankets of fine chambray. 

The third stanza of ‘Romance Sonámbulo’ is the longest so far, reaching twenty-eight lines. The first fourteen begin with the speaker talking to his “friend”. He starts a dialogue with this person asking to trade various things. His horse for “her house” and his saddle “for her mirror”. He’s asking to rid himself of things associated with a loner’s life of travel and is asking to receive things that are more home-related, a blanket, mirror, and house. He’s looking to make a change, and this woman is an integral part of it. 

“Cabra,” in line six of this stanza is a reference to where Lorca lived. He alludes to a violent conflict that occurred in that area, known as the La Reconquista, and suggests that he was injured there. 

The friend, whose replies come in the next lines, answers the speaker. He tells him that he would, if possible, help set up the trade he’s looking for, but he can’t do it now. His excuse is that he’s “not I,” and his house is not now his house. It appears that this person is not who the speaker thought he was. He’s fundamentally different. Another offer comes in the next lines with the speaker asking that if he can’t have the trade, then he’d like to die in his own bed. 

 

Lines 15-28 

Don’t you see the wound I have 

from my chest up to my throat?

—Your white shirt has grown 

thirsty dark brown roses. 

Your blood oozes and flees a

round the corners of your sash. 

But now I am not I, 

nor is my house now my house.

—Let me climb up, at least, 

up to the high balconies; 

Let me climb up! Let me, 

up to the green balconies. 

Railings of the moon 

through which the water rumbles.

The speaker has been wounded, “from [his] chest up to [his] throat,” and he ready for his life to end. The friend notes this, saying that his shirt looks like it has “grown / thirsty dark brown roses”. This is very obviously an allusion to the injuries he’s sustained that are entered around his heart. The friend repeats the lines about himself and his house, creating a refrain. There is a third option presented in the next lines. He asks that he be allowed to climb up to the “green balconies” to reach the green girl with the silver eyes. The balconies are “Railings of the moon / through which the water rumbles”. The balcony and water are connected again as well. 

 

Stanza Four 

Now the two friends climb up, 

up to the high balconies.

Leaving a trail of blood.

Leaving a trail of teardrops.

Tin bell vines

were trembling on the roofs.

A thousand crystal tambourines 

struck at the dawn light.

The fourth stanza of ‘Romance Sonámbulo’ is the shortest of the five at only eight lines long. A narrator takes over and describes the two climbing up “to the high balconies” and leaving behind them a “trail of blood” and “teardrops”. This is a pivotal moment in the poem, and the speaker emphasizes this through the sounds and images in lines five through eight. 

 

Stanza Five 

Lines 1-12

Green, how I want you green, 

green wind, green branches. 

The two friends climbed up. 

The stiff wind left 

in their mouths, a strange taste 

of bile, of mint, and of basil 

My friend, where is she—tell me—

where is your bitter girl?

How many times she waited for you!

How many times would she wait for you, 

cool face, black hair, 

on this green balcony! 

In the first part of the final stanza of ‘Romance Sonámbulo,’ the speaker returns to the line “Green, how I want you green”. He also repeats “green wind, green branches,” just like at the start of the poem. The friend addresses the speaker, asking him “where” the girl is that he’s been pining for. The girl isn’t there where she’s been waiting for so long, but he does seem to think that she’ll continue to wait. Strangely, the woman’s hair is “black” now rather than green. Something has changed. 

 

Lines 13-26 

Over the mouth of the cistern

the gypsy girl was swinging,

green flesh, her hair green, 

with eyes of cold silver. 

An icicle of moon

holds her up above the water. 

The night became intimate 

like a little plaza.

Drunken “Guardias Civiles”

were pounding on the door. 

Green, how I want you green. 

Green wind. Green branches. 

The ship out on the sea. 

And the horse on the mountain.

In the final lines of the poem, the speaker describes the girl swinging on the mount of a cistern. Once more, she’s green. She’s held precariously by an “icicle of the moon,” perhaps a reference to the light. The poem takes a turn at the end with “Guardias Civiles,” or the Civil Guards, bang on a door. The dream that the speakers have been living is interrupted by these guards bringing him back to reality. Plus, on top of everything else, they’re drunk. 

The poem concludes with the repetition of the first four lines. He’s still been unable to achieve that which he was pining for throughout the poem. Just as the woman sits alone, so too does he in the end. 

 

Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider looking into some of Lorca’s other best-loved works. These include Sonnet of the Sweet Complaint’ in which Lorca depicts the freeing and revelatory love experienced between a speaker and his listener. Another interesting related poem is ‘Letter in January, with a line from Federico Garcia Lorca’ by Luisa A. Igloria, in which the poet describes fleeting moments of life with natural images. She references Lorca’s poem ‘Gacela of Unforeseen Love’ within the text. Some other interesting poems are ‘The Way Spain Was’ by Pablo Neruda and ‘Summer 1969’ by Seamus Heaney. 

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