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Federico Garcia Lorca's Romancero Gitano, usually translated as Gypsy Ballads, is a collection of poems, about which Wikipedia says:

All of the poems deal with the Romani people (gypsies) and their culture, but only as a theme used to carry the larger message that the poet was trying to convey. [...]

It was a highly stylised imitation of the ballads and poems that were still being told throughout the Spanish countryside.

Are the poems just about the Romani people, or are they imitations (or even translations?) of actual Romani ballads?

I've read one of them, "Sleepwalking Ballad" as translated by Kirkland and Maurer, and it mentions a "gypsy girl" but I can't tell if the poem could have come from Romani culture itself or if it just happens to feature one of the Romani people as a character.

What is the backstory behind these poems? Were they inspired by Romani literature in any form?

  • I don't think so. Romanis have been very present for centuries in Andalusia (where Lorca came from) and so he noted: The book as a whole, although it is called gypsy, is the poem of Andalusia, and I call it gypsy because the gypsy is the most elementary, the deepest of my country, the most representative of his way and he keeps the blood and the alphabet of The universal Andalusian truth. The gypsies lived in a world of dreams, tremendously vital, of strong passions (reference) – fedorqui Dec 10 '19 at 15:50
  • @fedorqui Thanks! I was guessing there must be a lot of info I'm unable to access without understanding Spanish :-) That would make a decent answer, if you want to turn it into one. – Rand al'Thor Dec 10 '19 at 16:16
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I don't think so. Romanis have been very present for centuries in Andalusia (where Lorca came from) and so he noted:

El libro en conjunto, aunque se llama gitano, es el poema de Andalucía, y lo llamo gitano porque el gitano es lo más elemental, lo más profundo de mi país, lo más representativo de su modo y el que guarda la sangre y el alfabeto de la verdad andaluza universal. Los gitanos vivían en un mundo de ensueños, tremendamente vital, de pasiones fuertes.

That is:

The book as a whole, although it is called gypsy, is the poem of Andalusia, and I call it gypsy because the gypsy is the most elementary, the deepest of my country, the most representative of his way and he keeps the blood and the alphabet of The universal Andalusian truth. The gypsies lived in a world of dreams, tremendously vital, of strong passions.

Quote extracted from Federico García Lorca: Romancero Gitano


To give more background: Federico García Lorca was born in Fuente Vaqueros, a farming village in the autonomous community of Andalusia, Spain. That region is where flamenco art is from. Quoting from the Wikipedia article:

The origin of flamenco is a subject of disagreement. Of the hypotheses regarding its origin, the most widespread states that flamenco was developed through the cross-cultural interchange between native Andalusians, Romani, Castilians, Moors and Sephardi Jews that occurred in Andalusia

To show how they were very present in the rural areas, let's check Romani people:

On 30 July 1749, Spain conducted The Great Roundup of Romani (Gitanos) in its territory. The Spanish Crown ordered a nationwide raid that led to the break-up of families as all able-bodied men were interned into forced labor camps in an attempt at ethnic cleansing. The measure was eventually reversed and the Romanis were freed as protests began to arise in different communities, sedentary romanis being highly esteemed and protected in rural Spain.

All of this to say the Romanis were very present in the culture where García Lorca was raised, so references to this group were everywhere and so it was natural to use them to create a book.

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