The Theory and Play of Duende – Federico García Lorca


In his brilliant lecture entitled “The Theory and Play of Duende” Federico García Lorca attempts to shed some light on the haunting and inexplicable sadness that lives in the heart of certain works of art.

“All that has dark sound has duende”, he says, “that mysterious power that everyone feels but no philosopher can explain. […] All love songs must contain duende. For the love song is never truly happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain. Those songs that speak of love without having within in their lines an ache or a sigh are not love songs at all but rather Hate Songs disguised as love songs, and are not to be trusted. These songs deny us our humanness and our God-given right to be sad and the air-waves are littered with them. The love song must resonate with the susurration of sorrow, the tintinnabulation of grief. The writer who refuses to explore the darker regions of the heart will never be able to write convincingly about the wonder, the magic and the joy of love for just as goodness cannot be trusted unless it has breathed the same air as evil” – Nick Cave

García Lorca – Theory and Play Of The Duende

Translated by A. S. Kline © 2004 All Rights Reserved. This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.


8 thoughts on “The Theory and Play of Duende – Federico García Lorca”

  1. Thank you for this reminder.
    I first heard the word Duende from storyteller Michael Meade. He says, “Duende is the power that compels us to sing the song within despite and because we are torn apart by living. It is a sacrifice growing within, a tragedy pursed at the edge of knowing, a little dance with death that make life more than simple possibility. ”


      1. You’re welcome! Thank you again. When I heard Michael speak of duende, I couldn’t believe how much sense it made to me. What a striking way of explaining dark space, suffering and creativity.


        1. Yes, absolutely makes sense; and in English we need so many different words to try to describe it! The Spanish have just the one, which to them (and also to us if only we had an equivalent word!) sums it up. There’s also the Portuguese Fado – Not quite as earthy and vital as duende, but as what remains of Fado seems to be only an echo of what it was originally, I wonder if it had the same roots and meaning in antiquity? wiki says “In popular belief, fado is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a characteristic sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia (loosely captured by the word saudade, or “longing”). However, although the origins are difficult to trace, today fado is regarded, by many, as simply a form of song which can be about anything, but must follow a certain structure. The music is usually linked to the Portuguese word “saudade” which symbolizes the feeling of loss (a permanent, irreparable loss and its consequent lifelong damage). Famous singers of fado include Amália Rodrigues, Dulce Pontes, Carlos do Carmo, Mariza, Mafalda Arnauth, Ana Moura and Cristina Branco.
          I’ve listened to a few tracks on youtube, and I can hear the Fado, but the duende is definitely absent.. which Lorca describes so vividly as a “voice no longer at play, her voice a jet of blood, worthy of her pain and her sincerity, opened like a ten-fingered hand as in the feet, nailed there but storm-filled, of a Christ by Juan de Juni.” No contest!


          1. Oh yes. Lorca, quite the poet he!
            Had not heard of Fado – thanks for the follow up. I hear duende in some American blues singers, Robert Johnson to be sure and perhaps some folk singers as well, if I am hearing it right. 🙂 I am thinking of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks record.
            I do love the idea that for creativity to be present there must be a space, a darkness, from a wound that opens us up even more to risk and to “live like your dying.”


            1. Yes! That space we must pause for, for the spirit to enter, the inspiration that has nothing to do with ability, or technique, but is something “other”, to be FELT – and that can be witnessed by others who also sense it when it’s present.
              I think you’re right about the singers you mentioned, and Dylan does seem to have been driven in the way Lorca puts it: “the duende wounds, and in trying to heal that wound that never heals, lies the strangeness, the inventiveness of a man’s work”.
              Thanks for linking to my blog on yours, Debra, and spreading the duende! 🙂


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