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What does Lorca mean in his poem "Romance sonámbulo" when he says:

Tiny tin-leaf lanterns
were trembling on the tiles.
A thousand crystal tambourines
were wounding dawn's dark sky.

(English translation by Will Kirkland, in Selected Poems, Penguin.)

Original Spanish text:

Temblaban en los tejados
farolillos de hojalata.
Mil panderos de cristal
herían la madrugada.

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Google provides quite a few links (if you search for “glass tambourines” instead of “crystal”).

However, contrary to the recent popular opinion, not everything is to be interpreted, to be determined by the judgment of certain masters of the hidden meaning.

Lorca didn’t exactly mean anything – instead, he composed an image that provides a reader/listener with associations and feelings. See the essay The Duende of Lorca’s Diván del Tamarit by E.A. Melino:

Lorca’s images are not symbols to be decoded or metaphors whose parallels can be puzzled out. Hecho poético doesn’t live in the head. Like flamenco music, it is experienced in the body, particularly the belly and hips. The question is not “What does the poem mean?” but “What do you feel?”

This is why explanations deal more with the associations of some kind. Here’s an essay Lorca, poet of Granada by Lawrence Bohme:

As they ascend, the light from "tiny tin lamps" - of the sort gypsy craftsmen make – flickers on the village houses, and "a thousand tambourines" – an instrument the gypsies play – "of glass" (perhaps symbolising the stars and the early morning frost) "wound the dawn"...

Or consider A Generation of Spanish Poets 1920-1936 by C. B. Morris:

he associated tambourines, glass and the dawn to record an original vision of dew glittering at daybreak

By linking and interlocking the five senses in his ballads, Lorca brought the reader's own senses into play, involved him in a complex of new sensations that are as strange to experience as they were to create

The last thing. What about Lorca’s own statements? Did he say that he didn’t mean anything at all about this poem and about exactly the same verse? Would it be a strange coincidence?

Metaphor, Lorca insisted, must give way to the hecho poético the "poetic event"-a phenomenon at once illogical and incomprehensible, as miraculous as “rain from the stars.” In a subsequent version of his lecture, he cited a passage from one of his own Gypsy poems, the "Sleepwalking Ballad," as an example of an hecho poético. "If you ask me why I wrote 'A thousand glass tambourines / were wounding the dawn,' I will tell you that I saw them, in the hands of angels and trees, but I won't be able to say more than that, much less explain their meaning. And that's how it should be."

He regarded the hecho poético as one of several means of reaching the purest plane of poetry, the "poetry of escape.” The surrealists sought to achieve "escape" through dreams and the unconscious, a method Lorca found pure but unclear. “We Latins want sharp profiles and visible mystery. Form and sensuality.” As much as he admired Dalí and respected the artist's views on surrealism, Lorca refused to subscribe to any such movement.

(From Lorca - a Dream of Life by Leslie Stainton, boldface mine)

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  • Good answer. But However, contrary to the recent popular opinion, not everything is to be interpreted, to be determined by the judgment of certain masters of the hidden meaning seems like a straw man argument. Who are these alleged "masters of the hidden meaning," and what is the basis for the claim that popular opinion believes they determine meaning?
    – verbose
    Mar 9 at 2:20
  • @verbose Thanks! Sorry for the late response “Everything can be interpreted” is a valid and respectable position, right? And on the web you meet people who’re convinced their interpretation is the only right one all the time – surely there is some intersection? Also, people who dislike interpretation are very respectable too! My take is milder, probably – interpretation is fine, just not all the time! What would be some other way to phrase it?
    – b4rtr
    Apr 27 at 7:16

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