Lorca’s Duende and the Formation of Image


Periodically, I return again and again to things I have written about before in hopes of bringing to the surface a clearer idea of the subject for myself. Duende is just such an idea. Lorca, himself, spent years coming to terms with Duende beginning with Cante Jundo and Deep Song– Andalusian music- and later using it to describe all art, especially poetry. “These black sounds are the mystery, the roots fastened in the mire that gives us the substance of art… The duende, then, is a power, not a work; it is a struggle not a thought.”   ( Lorca, Deep Song and Other Prose, p.43)

Duende is tied to death. This knowledge is bound to the creative process by the artist’s awareness of the passage of time; the passage of earthly, material beauty; and the longing for perfection. Death grounds one to the earth- the immediacy of reality and the awareness of the power of life. Death tears away all of the blinders one has and firmly sets one in the here and now. There is an inherent  power and vitality surrounding this knowledge. It transforms a work into a surge of new life. Lorca acknowledges the pain in deep song, which the gypsies called pena pegra, “black pain”- “…which is far deeper than any personal pain, and it was this which undoubtedly opened Lorca’s psyche to the universality of suffering and the need to find a language which would get beyond the limitations of the personal. The poetic image is such a language.” ( Cobb, Archetypal Imagination, p.97)

The poetic image that is firmly grounded in death leads one to an awareness of something that goes beyond the personal into ” the interiority within all things… The fantasy of hidden depths ensouls the world and fosters imagining even deeper into things.”(Ibid., p.97) This ability or insight into the interior life of all things allows the artist a unique perspective that roots his imaginal life to the world. The Sufi’s referred to this as the isthmus that leads the artist from the world of objects to the world of images. And it is image that must be the source and wellspring for the artist. Noel Cobb beautifully describes this state,

It appears that when duende touches soul and soul touches death, it brings a new quality with it into living- a fuller, deeper resonance to experience and thought. With its roots deep in death and the underworld, duende nourishes the soul with life-giving images. (Ibid., p.102)

This play between the imaginal life of the artist and his experience in the world, where death lies, gives the artist a heightened attentiveness to even what appears ordinary and superimposes upon these common events the extraodinariness of living itself. But Lorca warns,

“… that there are neither maps nor discipline to help us find duende. We only know that… he exhausts, that he rejects all the sweet geometry that we have learned, that he smashes the styles… With idea, sound or gesture, the duende enjoys fighting the creator to the very rim of the well… the duende wounds. In the healing of that wound which never closes lies the invented strange qualities of a man’s work. ( Lorca, Obras Completas, Vol.1,p.10994)

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

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