|Henri Rousseau, La Muse Inspirant le poète,|
1909. Guillaume Apollinaire with painter
Marie Laurencin. via Wikipedia, public domain.
from Federico Garcia Lorca, "Theory and Play of the Duende"(1933)
translation by A. S. Kline - read the full version here
For every man, every artist called Nietzsche or Cézanne, every step that he climbs in the tower of his perfection is at the expense of the struggle that he undergoes with his duende, not with an angel, as is often said, nor with his Muse. This is a precise and fundamental distinction at the root of their work.
The angel guides and grants, like St. Raphael: defends and spares, like St. Michael: proclaims and forewarns, like St. Gabriel.
The angel dazzles, but flies over a man’s head, high above, shedding its grace, and the man realises his work, or his charm, or his dance effortlessly. The angel on the road to Damascus, and that which entered through the cracks in the little balcony at Assisi, or the one that followed in Heinrich Suso’s footsteps, create order, and there is no way to oppose their light, since they beat their wings of steel in an atmosphere of predestination.
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, and give the Muse a kick, and forget our fear 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 one 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 the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts, rejects all the sweet geometry we understand, 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.
from Edward Hirsch, A Poet's Glossary (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)
uses the word duende in a special Andalusian sense as a term for the obscure power and penetrating inspiraton of art. He describes it, quoting Goethe on Paganini as "a mysterious power which everyone senses and no philosopher explains." For him, the concept of duende, which could never be entirely pinned down or rationalized was associated with the spirit of earth, with visible anguish, irrational desire, demonic enthusiasm, and a fascination with death...David Bowman Jr. for Addie Zerman
Duende, then means something like artistic inspiration in the presence of death. It has an element of mortal panic and fear, the power of wild abandonment. It speaks to an art that touches and transfigures death, both wooing and evading it...
Duende exists for readers and audiences as well as for writers and performers. Lorca states: 'The magical property of a poem is to remain possessed by duende that can baptize in dark water all who look at it, for with duende it is easier to love and understand, and one can be sure of being loved and understood."
To paraphrase “Play and Theory of the Duende,” García Lorca said that great art depends on connection with a nation’s soil, a vivid awareness of death, and an acknowledgment of the limitations of reason.
Lorca believed that what makes a poem powerful comes from a specific orientation, one that springs from suffering and from the earth, one that privileges imagination to lead us beyond mere reason.
Nick Cave on duende and song at everything2
The love song must resonate with the susurration of sorrow, the tintinnabulation of grief. The writer who refuses to explore the darker regions of the heart will never be able to write convincingly about the wonder, the magic and the joy of love for just as goodness cannot be trusted unless it has breathed the same air as evil - the enduring metaphor of Christ crucified between two criminals comes to mind here - so within the fabric of the love song, within its melody, its lyric, one must sense an acknowledgement of its capacity for suffering.
Tracy K. Smith on duende at poets.org
I love this concept of duende because it supposes that our poems are not things we create in order that a reader might be pleased or impressed (or, if you will, delighted or instructed); we write poems in order to engage in the perilous yet necessary struggle to inhabit ourselves—our real selves, the ones we barely recognize—more completely. It is then that the duende beckons, promising to impart "something newly created, like a miracle," then it winks inscrutably and begins its game of feint and dodge, lunge and parry, goad and shirk; turning its back, nearly disappearing altogether, then materializing again with a bear-hug that drops you to the ground and knocks your wind out. You’ll get your miracle, but only if you can decipher the music of the battle, only if you’re willing to take risk after risk. Only, in other words, if you survive the effort. For a poet, this kind of survival is tantamount to walking, word by word, onto a ledge of your own making. You must use the tools you brought with you, but in decidedly different and dangerous ways.
If all of this is true, and I believe it is, this struggle is not merely to write well-crafted and surprising poems so much as to survive in two worlds at once: the world we see (the one made of people, and weather, and hard fact) that, for all of its wonders and disappointments, has driven us to the page in the first place; and the world beyond or within this one that, glimpse after glimpse, we attempt to decipher and confirm. Survival in the former is predicated on balance, perspective, rehearsal, breadth of knowledge and experience. It’s possible to get by as a poet with those things alone. Many do. A healthy ego doesn’t hurt. But for someone fully convinced of the duende, it’s the latter world that matters more. The world where madness and abandon often trump reason, and where skill is only useful to the extent that it adds courage and agility to your intuition.
Practically speaking, this dual reality translates into something very simple for the poet: talent only goes so far. Talent only leads up to the door where the real reason for writing—or continuing to write—resides. Talent will get you there and raise your hand to the knocker. After that, what pulls you inside and keeps you alive can only be need. The need for answers to unformed questions. The need for an echo back from the most distant reaches of the self. The need to stop time, to understand the undecipherable, to believe in a What or a Whom or a How. The need for a kind of magic—Lorca’s "miracle."