Dawn, by Frederico Garcia Lorca was originally written in 1929 and starts off in New York; it contains wonderful and beautiful imagery, especially in the opening stanza:
Dawn in New York has
Four columns of mire
And a hurricane of black pigeons
Splashing in the putrid waters.
A hurricane of black pigeons really sets the imagination alight, springing up a flock of pigeons littering the sky as they fly landwards, towards the water and then causing waves in the dirty river.
The four columns of mire remind us of the four columns of democracy: justice, equality, freedom and representation, and how those pillars are sated with grime as democracy within the United States always seems to fall, in the country that is supposedly the most democratic in the world. Just look at what is happening in the political world there now, with the Presidential elections, to see how democracy is apparently failing.
Dawn in New York groans
On enormous fire escapes
Searching between the angles
For spikenards of drafted anguish.
A Spikenard is a Himalayan plant that has a certain perfume which is used as an essential oil. This conjures up images of smoky streets and large metallic fire ladders moaning as they move; the smells and aromas of the city waking up and drifting into the morning air.
The second stanza comes out with more surreal imagery:
Dawn arrives and no one receives it in his mouth
Because morning and hope are impossible there:
Sometimes the furious swarming coins
Penetrate like drills and devour abandoned children.
This was written at a time of severe poverty, and like most cities in the Western world this is a dirty place littered with orphans, much like London in Dickens time. The coins of commerce swarm the children, eating them up as nothing as important as money.
The poem continues in this solemn vein:
Those who go out early know in their bones
There will be no paradise or loves that bloom and die:
They know they will be mired in numbers and laws,
In mindless games, in fruitless labors.
This is an attack on capitalism and how it affects the poorer of society. Interesting that Lorca paints such a vividly bleak picture on what he is seeing, in contrast to the dawn light, which is beautiful. It almost pains him to see such poverty on this scale and the inability of the higher classes to do anything but put people on an eternal treadmill for their lives, only to burn out and die and make way for the next one.
The poem concludes with:
The light is buried under chains and noises
In the impudent challenge of rootless science.
And crowds stagger sleeplessly through the boroughs
As if they had just escaped a shipwreck of blood.
Poverty, capitalism and the four pillars of democracy are all labours that we do in vain. There is no freedom in the free world; just chains that wrap around us and threaten our existence. Money is indeed the root of all evil, and this is clearly depicted in the words of Lorca.
I love this poem and how it speaks to us, like Dickens, it paints a picture of the poor in a city that stood as one of the pillars of a successful society. It does not hold back, and has wonderful imagery to it that really makes you feel as if you are there.
From Poet in New York 1929-1930 translated by Greg Simon and Steven F. White