F. G. Lorca’s “Norm and Paradise of the Blacks”
Published under a poetry collection in 1940, Federico Garcia Lorca’s poem, Norm and Paradise of the Blacks, seems to take apart that era’s contemporary, techno-industrial civilization. This piece of poetry symbolizes the chaotic, hostile, materialistic, and dehumanized version of New York City. This depiction rightly reflects the poet’s experience of loneliness and sadness at the time. During Lorca’s time in New York, Wall Street saw its infamous stock market crash, and the Great Depression soon ravaged the United States’ economy. Millions of Americans lost their employment during the Great Depression, and many became homeless.
Because of the economic crisis, banks failed, factories stood idle, and businesses laid off workers. Human misery was widespread, but it was particularly acute in African-American communities. With this regard, this paper analyzes Lorca’s poem Norm and Paradise of the Blacks, which shows that he wished to write from the perspective of the black population in North America. Emphasizing the anguish that black people faced as a result of their race in a world that was so hostile to them.
The poem Norm and Paradise of the Blacks begin with a verse that depicts whiteness as a natural order, which black people heavily detested: “They hate the bird’s shadow on the white cheek’s high tide and the conflict of light and wind in the great cold hall of snow (Lorca 1-4). Rather than physically depicting their bodies, as many poets of his day did, Lorca focuses on African Americans’ activities, likes, and dislikes. White America is depicted as an approaching feature of nature in the poem, which jumps from “snow” (Lorca 4) to “light and wind”(Lorca 3) to “white cheek” (Lorca 2). The early sections of the poem, which outline what black people despise, are filled with images of “white.”
The poem shifts gears to what black people adore: blue rather than white. “The deceitful moon of both poles / and water’s bent dance on the shoreline” (Lorca 11-12). Lorca celebrates contrasts rather than eliminating them to stress the significance of black people’s bodily deferral of death. The poet’s common use of imagery is the image of water dancing on the coast, where the moon begs the waves to come and stay ashore, which they never do. According to the poet, the tides are constantly being pushed back, resulting in movement that does not cover any actual distance – as if it was dancing. Dance becomes a precursor to the unnamed “it,” which is the black people’s titular paradise throughout the poem.
In the middle of the poem, Lorca summarizes the nature of the black people as per his observations in Harlem: “With the science of tree trunk and street market, they fill the clay with luminous nerves, and lewdly skate on waters and sands, tasting the bitter freshness of their millennial spit” (Lorca 13-16). Here, the connection between the “trunk” and “science” evokes wisdom or knowledge rooted in the black people’s bodies, as opposed to Western traditions and their cerebral knowledge. According to the poet, this in-built knowledge is further reinforced by how black people inscribed themselves in their respective spaces using their bodies. The effortless movement of skating “lewdly on waters and sands” describes the black people’s smooth integration with the elements that should readily swallow them up but do not.
The poem concludes with the last repetition of dance images by emphasizing the link between water dancing and the body: “It’s there where the torsos dream under the gluttony of grass. There the corals soak the ink’s despair, the sleepers erase their profiles under the skein of snails, and the space of the dance remains over the final ashes” (Lorca25-28). Lorca makes random references to physical parts of the body all around the poem, but this is the first instance he directly references a human torso. The poet enhances the impact of this torso’s struggle against death by withholding the subject until the penultimate verse. The white world, defined by conflict motifs, constantly threatens black people’s existence. However, they manage to keep death away by dancing and remaining in their surreal version of “paradise.”
Lorca’s borderline offensive or rather idealized romantic depiction of the African American race is revealed in the poem’s title, “Norm and Paradise of the Blacks.” It seems that the author frequently minimizes the struggle of persecution and marginalization in the poem to create an image of a nobleman. Even if Lorca’s purpose is not to minimize or stereotype but to empower, his treatment or perception of the black American can be regarded as acutely problematic. His preoccupation with African Americans originates from his belief that, due to their history of persecution, this group of people held a more profound passion and respect for death. Even though Lorca does not depend heavily on physiological descriptions, the poem emphasizes the relevance of the physical struggle. This is against death and its connection to African civilizations, which Lorca uses to dive into the African American psyche.
Critics may refer to Norm and Paradise of the Blacks as a piece influenced by surrealism but not a genuine portrayal of things. However, a deeper analysis of the poem reveals that Lorca did not combine his poetry’s subconscious and conscious experiences. He does not seem to agree that poetry should be divorced from a realistic context. While surrealist works usually express idea flows, where the barriers between the subconscious and conscious are eliminated. The poem is often an entity by itself without referring to external reality; Lorca does not seem to combine these experiences in his poetry. Instead, his poetry embraces surrealism to describe conventions, cultures, events, and circumstances, which comprises pure emotion-free of rational control while maintaining references to outside reality. Surrealist influences can be seen in the poem’s symbolism and unrestricted free association.
Lorca’s uncertainty, isolation, and despair in New York culminated in poetry that used surreal images to depict the poet’s view of a modern industrial-technological city that he believed was inhuman. He appears to have traveled to New York in pursuit of himself. However, he was leaving his own personal natural world for an atmosphere that stifled all that was life-affirming and natural. Unfortunately, in Norm and Paradise of the Blacks, the poet’s experience comes out as quite conclusive and objectified. Recounting his experiences after walking into black neighborhoods, presenting what he believes is an authentic and vivid representation of the nightlife he witnessed. Lorca loves black people and their culture but seems to objectify them as he recounts his experience of jazz clubs while simultaneously making assumptions about the race he is watching. His objectification may be seen as racist, but the poem is certainly not; it just depicts his witnessed experiences.
Lorca, Federico García. Poet in New York. Open Road/Atlantic, 1940.