The Gypsy Nun

A translation of Federico García Lorca’s ‘La Monja Gitana’ and reflection by Lyndon Webb

La Monja Gitana

Silencio de cal y mirto.
Malvas en las hierbas finas.
La monja borda alhelíes
sobre una tela pajiza.
Vuelan en la araña gris,
siete pájaros del prisma.
La iglesia gruñe a lo lejos
como un oso panza arriba.
¡Qué bien borda! ¡Con qué gracia!
Sobre la tela pajiza,
ella quisiera bordar
flores de su fantasía.
¡Qué girasol! ¡Qué magnolia
de lentejuelas y cintas!
¡Qué azafranes y qué lunas,
en el mantel de la misa!
Cinco toronjas se endulzan
en la cercana cocina.
Las cinco llagas de Cristo
cortadas en Almería.
Por los ojos de la monja
galopan dos caballistas.
Un rumor último y sordo
le despega la camisa,
y al mirar nubes y montes
en las yertas lejanías,
se quiebra su corazón
de azúcar y yerbaluisa.
¡Oh!, qué llanura empinada
con veinte soles arriba.
¡Qué ríos puestos de pie
vislumbra su fantasía!
Pero sigue con sus flores,
mientras que de pie, en la brisa,
la luz juega el ajedrez
alto de la celosía.

The Gypsy Nun

Silence of lime-wash and myrtle.
Mallows among the culinary herbs.
The nun embroiders wallflowers
on cloth the colour of straw.
Within the grey spider soar
seven birds of the prism.
The church groans in the distance
like a bear, paunch to the sky.
How well she sews! Such grace!
Across the straw-coloured web,
she longs to embroider
the flowers from her dreams.
O sunflower! O magnolia
of sequins and ribbons!
O crocuses and moons,
for the altar cloth!
Five grapefruits are ripening
in the nearby kitchen.
The five wounds of Christ
cut in Almería.
Before the nun’s eyes
two horsemen gallop by.
A soft and final whisper
slips off her blouse,
and seeing clouds and mountains
in the rigid distance,
it breaks her heart
of sugar and lemon verbena.
Oh! the soaring plains
with twenty suns overhead.
What rivers begin to run
in her dreams!
But she continues with her flowers,
whilst standing overhead, in the breeze,
the light plays the high
chess of the trellis.

Federico García Lorca, 1928
from the ‘Romancero Gitano’ (Gypsy Ballads)

 

Training for ordination during LBGT history month and the current political climate, Lorca’s voice speaks with a particular freshness, and an unsettling urgency. His nun is unaware of the nationalism which will sweep over Spain in the coming decade, drawing the country as tightly behind the Pyrenees as she is drawn behind the lime-washed walls of the monastery. Already she feels the repression of her gypsy heritage, a common mallow among the ‘fines herbes’ of the other nuns. That repression will tighten and tighten under Franco, whose regime will murder Lorca in less than ten years for being too colourful himself. He was executed in 1936 at the ‘Great Spring’ for ‘homosexual and abnormal practices’.

 

As he stood in that final place, I wonder whether Lorca thought of the rivers which sprung up at his gypsy nun’s feet as she too dreamt of a more colourful world; I wonder whether some church stood idle nearby, paunch to the sky; I wonder whether he thought of the outrageous cerise of grapefruits, and the wounds of Christ, another man too colourful for his climate. I hope the church of the day had not whitewashed Christ into one more oppressive figure at that moment; I hope in the crucified and risen one, Lorca saw a friend for the seven bright birds of his indecent imagination, which dared to remind Spain about the earth and sex and the strength of women – who invariably take centre stage in his works, alongside men of the fields and the road, in protest against the fragile masculinities of Francoist Spain.

 

I look forward to being sent out of this place, in the name of the indecent Christ, Son of the Creator who dared to embroider the flowers of Her dreams across the straw-coloured earth; I can’t wait to call out the colours in other people’s lives.

 

gypsy