Study Guide

Romance Sonambulo Analysis

  • Sound Check

    We like the translation we've used by William Logan. Really, we do. But, frankly, like a lot of translations, it pales in comparison to the original, especially in terms of the poem's sound. Sorry, Willy, but it's true.

    Just compare, "Green, how I want you green" to "Verde que te quiero verde" (1). There's just a much more pleasing sound in the Spanish version. The repeated v's roll smoothly through the line, and the "que te" ("kay-tay") quick rhyme is followed right up with another q sound ("KEE-air-oh"). Lorca really paid attention to the way his lines sounded to the ear, and the English translation just can't do this justice.

    To his credit, Logan does try to capture the some of Lorca's alliteration, as with "the forest, cunning cat, / bristles its brittle fibers" (19-20). Here, Logan is able to capture a sense of the repeated beginning sounds, as well as the internal consonance (the consonant sounds of the s's, b's, l's, and the t's in "forest," "bristles," "brittle," and "fibers"). We see this same kind of sound-play in the original lines: "gato garduño, / eriza sus pitas agrias." In the Spanish version, though, there are more repeated vowel sounds here, or assonance, as in line 20: "air-EE-za soo PEE-ahs a-GREE-ahs." All in all, Logan gives a good effort, but English just can't duplicate the intricacies of the original Spanish version.

    To be fair to Logan, though, every poem in translation is going to fall short of the original in some way. Language is so subtle and rich that even the best translators can usually only come close to the complexities of the original, rarely duplicating them. Much like the speaker, climbing to his gypsy love, Logan (like all translators) is on a journey that's destined not to be fulfilled.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    The title? It's "Romance Sonambulo." 'Nuf said, right? Ah, we can see by the looks on your faces, Shmoopers, that perhaps that's not enough at all.

    Never fear. Shmoop's got your back. First of all, the title is in Spanish, so that's something to keep in mind. The English translation of the title typically is "Somnambulist Ballad," which is, we're guessing, not exactly all that much clearer. So, let's start with the "Romance," or "Ballad" part first. That's pretty clear. This poem is a ballad, and so the title lets us know that. Thanks, Lorca. Very helpful of you. (For more on what's involved in a ballad, check out "Form and Meter," then click back here.)

    Now for the tricky part. "Sonambulo," or the English translation, "Somnambulist," refers to someone who sleepwalks. Now, go write that word down, Shmoopers, and use it tomorrow in casual conversation to blow your friends and neighbors away with your wild vocab skills. So, more directly, we might call this poem "The Ballad of the Sleepwalker." Is it getting clearer?

    Certainly, after you read all the dreamy images here, you'll see what Lorca is getting at. This is actually a very old form of poetry (a ballad) that's told through a very cutting edge (at the time) approach to art, namely surrealism. Surrealists drew on the imagery and disconnection of dreams as an innovative way to express themselves (check out "Calling Card" for more on Lorca's surrealism). So, the title just lets us know that we're in for: a dream-like trip, taken in an old-timey vehicle.

  • Setting

    This poem takes place in a variety of settings: on the sea, on a mountain, on the moon, under a balcony, and on an interstellar climbing expedition. If that sounds confusing, that's because, well, it is—a bit. Still, what do all of these places have in common? Well, one way to think about this poem's setting is that it takes place entirely in the imagination of the speaker himself. In other words, he imagines the "ship out on the sea," "the horse on the mountain," and the green gypsy girl "still on her balcony." More importantly, the speaker imagines them for us, the audience, for a particular reason.

    Why do we get these often abstract and inconsistent places? Because each place that the speaker identifies for us packs a particular emotional punch. When we think of the ship, or the horse, we feel sorry for them; they seem lonely and isolated. Of course, so is our speaker. When we're told about the balcony, the important part is not the balcony itself, but the distance at which this balcony is from the speaker. Again, the place takes a backseat to the idea being communicated by the place.

    Still not convinced? Well, what about that forest that "bristles its brittle fibers" like a "cunning cat"? Is the speaker literally in a forest that reminds him of a scared or angry cat? Maybe. But we think that the scared, angry part is what counts. The setting carries a particular emotional tone that changes as the speaker's experience changes.

    Consider that last climb up "to the high balconies." Sure, you can think that these friends are literally leaving a trail of blood and tears as they pass bells on the rooftops. Or, you can think about how the struggle to reach any goal, to climb to any height, is something that is both costly (in tears and blood), while also beautiful (hence the bells). So, the setting is not entirely a solid place, but it's not meant to be. This poem takes place, not in any actual, physical place, but in the speaker's emotional imagination.

  • Speaker

    Really, we can sum up our speaker in one word: frustrated. He wants something he just can't have. (Again, it's important to note that the poem only ever identifies our speaker as an "I," so we're just using "he" since Lorca, a man, is our poet.) So, what's he after? Well, let's take a look at his list, shall we?

    Things I Want

    • Green
    • Gypsy Girl
    • Gypsy Girl's House
    • Gypsy Girl's Mirror
    • Gypsy Girl's Blanket
    • To Die in My Own Bed
    • To Climb to the High Balconies

    That's quite a list. And how many things has the speaker crossed off it once we reach the end of the poem? Let's see here… carry the one… take away seven… Oh, right. Zip. Zero. Zilch. The speaker never really gets anything he wants in this poem. Towards the end of the last section, he almost, almost makes it to the girl's balcony. We sense his closeness when he says, "The night became intimate / like a little plaza" (79-80), but then bam! Drunken cops are at the door, and the speaker's back in harsh, cold, lonely reality.

    Still, this is a question to consider: is the speaker unhappy? Clearly, his role in this poem is as the Frustrated Desirer. He wants stuff, but he can't get it. Between the wanting and the getting, though, there is the pursuit. You know those cheesy posters with pictures of mountains or waterfalls on them that say, "Life is a journey, not a destination"? Well, maybe this poem is a very sophisticated way of saying something similar.

    Consider, for example, the speaker's experience once he starts to climb up toward the high balconies: "The stiff wind left / in their mouths, a strange taste / of bile, of mint, of basil" (64-66). Parts of that taste (bile) are unpleasant, but other parts (the mint, heck, even the basil) are not. Isn't that life, though? As the speaker climbs toward the object of his desire, he experiences a full spectrum of sensation. We might say that, in this moment of pursuit, regardless of whether he achieves his goal, he is most fully alive.

    Really, there are two ways to see our speaker, and it all boils down to a glass half-empty/half-full approach. On the one hand, he's a tragic figure whose dreams are tantalizingly close, yet cruelly thwarted at the last minute. Life sucks and then the Guardia Civil shows up drunk at your door. Or, there's the glass half-full view: the speaker is called to his life in the fullest possible sense by pursuing his desire. In that way, he has already gotten everything he will ever need. So, which way do you see it?

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (6) Tree Line

    While the language (of this translation) is pretty straightforward, "Romance Sonambulo" can be almost deceptively simple. One minute it looks like smooth sailing, and the next you find yourself hiking up a steep ravine. That's because Lorca uses a lot of discrete, disconnected images that don't necessarily make literal sense. That's part of the fun, though. For example, what would it feel like to swing from a moon icicle? Trying to track with the wildly imaginative leaps in this poem might be closest thing to that.

  • Calling Card

    Andalusian Dream

    "Romance Sonambulo" is a quintessentially Lorca poem. It has all of the things his writing was known for. Let's break out the old checklist:

    • Andalusian setting? Check. Andalusia is the area of southern Spain where Lorca lived. It is still today heavily influenced by its past, in which the Islamic Moors ruled for over seven hundred years (the name Andalusia comes from the Arabic name for the area: "al-Andalus"). Lorca sought to investigate, and celebrate, his home through his writings, and he did so in many ways beyond just the setting, as with his use of...
    • Gypsies? Check. The gypsy culture in southern Spain is well-established, having given birth to the flamenco dancing and culture that is now associated with the entire country. Lorca saw this group of people as possessed of an intense spirit, a passionate connection to the natural world, and a fundamental freedom that earned his admiration. "Romance Sonambulo," in fact, was published in his book, Romancero Gitano or Gypsy Ballads.
    • Traditional form? Check. Despite his innovative language and imagery, Lorca works within the well-established, very old form of the ballad in this poem. He wrote many ballads like this, projecting his own unique artistic vision through the traditional forms of his country's past. (For more on the ballad, check out the "Form and Meter" section.)
    • Dream-like imagery? Check. Ever been on a balcony in the sea? Ever swung from a moon icicle? Well, neither have we. It's not surprising to see this in a Lorca poem, though. As an artist, he was very influenced by an approach known as surrealism, which sought to borrow from the often incoherent, detached images of our dreams to express artistic visions. The best example of this in visual art can be found in the work of Lorca's good friend, Salvador Dalí. We think Lorca did a pretty good job in his own right, painting with words instead of a brush.
  • Form and Meter

    Traditional Spanish Ballad (Romance)

    Lorca celebrated many aspects of his country in his work, and not the least of these is Spain's long-standing literary tradition. "Romance Sonambulo," then, uses a very, very old form of poem called the "romance" in Spanish (row-MAN-say), or "ballad" in English. This form stretched back to the Middle Ages in Spain, and was very regular both in terms of form and meter. See, it was passed down largely orally, as very few people could read back then. So it was easier to remember things if they were put to a regular rhyme and rhythm.

    The conventional Spanish romance consists of eight-syllable lines, with every other line having an assonant, or vowel, rhyme. In this way, the rhymes of a romance are more casual than exact.

    Check it out: in the Spanish version of the poem, Lorca writes "Verdes ramas" (VER-dehs RAH-mahs) and then the next rhyming line ends with "en la montaña" (mon-TAH-nyah). So, just reading that out loud will tell you that the "ah" vowel sound is the same, but the rhyme is not exact, the way "damas" (DAH-mahs) would rhyme with "ramas" for example.

    Lorca's choice of form was no accident. He wanted to celebrate a form of poetry that was uniquely Spanish, all tied up with the country's history. At the same time, though, he wanted to put his own stamp on the form. By using dream-like imagery to talk about a gypsy girl, Lorca was really breaking with the historical conventions of the form. Most romances tended to deal with national, historical events, not marginalized people like gypsies, and certainly not in the surrealist way that Lorca does in this poem. "Romance Sonambulo" turns the Spanish romance on its head, honoring the past, ushering in the future.

    Adding another layer to all of this, of course, is the fact that we're reading this poem in translation. For more on that, and how the translator's choices can affect the form, rhythm, and sound of the poem, go check out "Sound Check."

  • Green

    Despite what Kermit had to say about it, the speaker of "Romance Sonambulo" is a big fan of green. He sees it everywhere, and always seems to be longing for it. The speaker is so intent on this color, in fact, that it becomes a powerful symbol of desire itself. Everything that's green in this poem is an object of the speaker's attraction, which also means that the speaker won't be attaining it any time soon. Green is both a sign of the speaker's longing, as well as a sign that this longing will not be fulfilled.

    • Lines 1-2: Right from the get-go, the speaker clues us in on his attraction to green. What's more, he's seeing green in lots of places, like the branches of trees. Heck, even the wind is green. It's as if the speaker is so in love that he sees this green in everything around him. In this way, the whole world becomes the object of his desire.
    • Line 7: This "she" that the speaker mentions is also green in color. At least, her hair and flesh are. The speaker's love for green as an abstract color, or as part of the whole world, is now made more specific in the actual figure of this green girl.
    • Line 9: Here we get a refrain of line 1. Now, though, later in the poem, we see this as a declaration of the speaker's love for the girl more specifically.
    • Line 13: Another refrain. Heading into the second section, the speaker reminds us of his love of green, as if we'd forget. Sheesh—this guy must really be in love.
    • Lines 17-20: Although there's no mention specifically of green in these lines, the big leaves of a fig tree, and the image of a "bristl[ing]" forest bring the color of green to mind even still. Yeah, we're not gonna be talking about, say, blue anytime soon.
    • Line 50: So not only is the girl (who is the object of the speaker's affection) green, but so is the balcony that holds her. It seems like the speaker's desire is just spilling over, and everything gets colored green that is touched by his affection. Now he wants to reach those green balconies, too.
    • Lines 61-62: Another refrain to start the fourth section. The speaker feels the need to remind us of the importance of green to him, before he can begin any major part of the poem. His desire, again, is called to mind.
    • Line 66: Here's another example of green that's not mentioned outright. Still, go out and get some mint, some basil, and (we know, it's gross) some bile. What do they have in common? It's a certain color that you might be familiar with by now, and rhymes with "shmreen." Here, the speaker, in the pursuit of those green balconies, tastes these various green elements of life (sweetness, bitterness, um… savory-ness) as he goes after the objects of his desire.
    • Line 72: The speaker reminds us that the girl is on a green balcony. It seems that he's getting nearer to her, and so to fulfilling his desire. Hurray?
    • Line 76: The gypsy girl, all green and desirable, swings above the speaker's head, still just out of reach.
    • Lines 83-84: In this final refrain, the speaker ends the poem the way he began it. He's still not attained the green objects of his affection. Should we pity him? Or, in his pursuits, has he embraced a fundamental aspect of life?
  • The Girl

    Ah yes, the girl. Isn't it always about a girl? In this case, she's more of a green gypsy girl, but she still becomes a powerful symbol in "Romance Sonambulo." She functions in much the same way as the color green does, although she embodies the concept of desire in a much more specific way. Like many women in poetry, she's the symbol of conventional romantic love, but she's more than that, too. She's green. She's She-Hulk! No, wait. She's just a green girl who is colored by the speaker's desire. She's the object of his affection and seems to have an unshakable effect on him, and the poem generally.

    • Line 6: The girl dreams on her balcony. First off, she's unreachable for our poor speaker. His desire is undaunted, though. Secondly, her dreams are appropriate for the dream-like imagery in this poem. It seems that the poem itself might take its cues from her behavior.
    • Lines 11-12: In these lines, it's as if the girl is the object of the world's affections, not just the speaker's. The speaker's desire keeps over-spilling its banks and affects the rest of the world. Like the actual, abstract color green, though, "she cannot see them" that desire her. This desire, much like it is for the speaker, is a one-way street (to Heartbreakville—bummer).
    • Lines 22-24: The girl is still on her balcony, but also "dreaming in the bitter sea." While the sea is also green, which only adds to her Hulky color, the "bitter" nature of the sea leads us to think that the girl's dreams aren't really all that sweet. Maybe this relationship is doomed to a bad end…
    • Lines 26-28: In these lines, it's not the girl, but her possessions that are important to the speaker. Her house, mirror, and blanket all reflect a kind of peaceful, domestic tranquility that the speaker seems to long for, but just can't get his hands on.
    • Lines 67-70: On their climb, the speaker's friend wants to know where this girl is. Don't worry, though, she's always been there, and always will be. Where is "there" exactly? Why, she's just out of reach on her balcony. Great. So, she's permanently around, but also permanently unavailable. Should this cheer our speaker up?
    • Lines 73-76: Now the girl is swinging over a cistern. We're not sure quite why, but it seems both fun, and dangerous. We get the sense that this girl is filled with wild abandon, embracing the joy of life, which seems to endear her even more to the speaker.
    • Lines 77-78: Now she's hanging from "an icicle of moon." Talk about a cool trick. We definitely couldn't pull that off, even if we wanted to. We notice again how far away from the speaker this makes the girl seem. She's hanging from the moon for Pete's sake. In this way, she's definitely untouchable. But she's also in a delicate, precarious, and supernatural position. We wonder if that icicle might break, and how she may have gotten up there in the first place. Maybe her dreaming on the balcony helped.
  • The Balcony

    Like the color green, and the girl, the balcony is used as a symbol of desire in "Romance Sonambulo." We're reminded of that scene in Romeo and Juliet when Juliet comes to the balcony and Romeo shouts up to her. It's a famous scene, and the way it relates here is that, in both cases, the balcony separates the lovers. It prevents fulfillment by keeping them apart. Stupid balcony, always getting in the way of love and desire and such.

    • Line 22: We learn that the girl is "still" up on her balcony, which suggests that she's been there, apart from our speaker, for some time.
    • Line 50: The balcony has grown in number (it's now balconies) and in color ("green balconies"). The green balconies are the places to be for our speaker. He longs to climb up to them to fulfill his desire.
    • Line 54: Finally it seems like the climb up to these balconies might finally lead to the speaker attaining his desire.
    • Line 72: Not so fast. The girl will always wait for our speaker, high up on her balcony. That's a good news/bad news scenario. On the one hand, she'll always be there. On the other, this stinkin' balcony will always separate them.
  • The Gypsy

    The gypsy element is a super-big deal to Lorca's writing in general, and to "Romance Sonambulo" specifically. "Gypsy" is a term that gets thrown around a lot to describe people from Eastern Europe, Spain, and even Ireland. For our purposes here, it's important to know that Lorca was thinking of the local population of gypsies who lived near his home in southern Spain. They fostered the flamenco culture and, to Lorca, were an inspiring group that embraced life with passionate abandon. He wanted to celebrate them, and their philosophy, in his poems.

    • Line 10: The moon here is a "gypsy moon," which hangs over the scene, and the poem itself, lending its wild, free qualities to the girl who is the object of the speaker's desire.
    • Line 74: It's no surprise to see that the "gypsy girl" is swinging from on high. It's just the kind of impetuous, dangerous, and liberating thing a gypsy would do in one of Lorca's poems. Fun! Danger! Freedom! That's the gypsy life as Lorca saw it: something to be desired.
  • The Moon

    We like the moon. Really. It's pretty, it lights up the dark night, it looks peaceful, and it provides inspiration. It also has an undeniable effect on us. Just look up the relationship between a full moon and crime statistics. We mean, the moon really puts the "luna" in lunatic. In "Romance Sonambulo," the moon affects the speaker powerfully, but is also a symbol of distance, presiding from high above over the speaker's frustrated attempts to fulfill his desire. The moon, for all its beauty, is out of reach, reminding the speaker how far he truly is from attaining his wishes.

    • Line 10: The speaker points out that the girl of his dreams is "under the gypsy moon." She is colored by the moon's qualities of freedom and wild abandon. What's more, she's well out of the speaker's reach.
    • Line 51: The speaker envisions his goal as a balcony ("the railings") on the moon. That's a pretty steep climb. We wonder if he's not subconsciously setting himself up to fail in his pursuits. After all, no one can climb to the moon, right?
    • Line 77: Now the gypsy girl is swinging from "an icicle of moon." If we had to calculate exactly, we'd say that's… yeah, uh… pretty high. Once again, the moon provides a way to characterize just how far out of reach the object of the speaker's desire is. Poor speaker.
    • Steaminess Rating


      For a poem that's all about frustrated desire, there's very little sexiness going on here. Of course, that's where the frustration part comes in. Still, the speaker's motivations are not overtly physical in nature. Nope, this green gypsy girl of his dreamscape is more of an abstract object of desire.