OBITUARY:Emilio Garca Gomez

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One of the last surviving links with the literary life of Spain in the Twenties, Emilio Garca Gomez was a scholar and a translator who specialised in Hispano-Arabic poetry.

He was a student of the great scholar of Arabic literature Miguel Asn y Palacios (1871-1944), to whom he dedicated one of his best-known collections in 1930, Poemas Arabigoandaluces, still a best-seller. These refined, playful, delicately textured (and delicately translated) love lyrics had a seminal influence upon writers and poets like Lorca and Ortega y Gasset, and also on musicians like Manuel de Falla and Andres Segovia. A good selection of them was translated by Christopher Middleton and Leticia Garza-Falcn and appeared in the New Yorker, 5 September 1988, where they created an unforgettable impression.

Arabic was the official language of Spain for five centuries, and its literary and architectural heritage is everywhere evident today in Spain. Garca Gomez's other works included Cinco poetas musumanes (1944) and his magisterial volume of Ibn Hazm's El collar de la paloma (1953). He wrote studies of technical aspects of Arabic poetry, as in Las jarchas mozrabes y los judios de al-Andalus (1957) and Las jarchas romances de la serie rabe (1966).

Though he died in Madrid, Garca Gomez considered himself not a Madrileno but a man of Andalusia. He especially loved Granada and the Alhambra, the subjects of works like Foco de antigua luz sobre la Alhambra and Poemas rabes en los muros y fuentes de la Alhambra. He had expressed a wish to be buried in the cemetery of San Jose in Granada, where he lay in state in the Escuela de Estudios Arabes. His loss will be mourned not only in the fieldof literature but also that of diplomacy, for he was Spanish ambassador in Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey.

A selection of my own translations of Emilio Garca Gomez's versions of Arabo- Andalusian poems from the ninth to the 13th centuries appears in the current number of Modern Poetry in Translation (King's College London). Here is my version of Asa Al-Ama's "Rain on the River":

The hand of winds is working

like a fine silversmith's upon the river,

pleating it into a thousand ripples.

And always when it has finished forging

the links of its chain-mail, the rain arrives

and rivets them with pins.

James Kirkup

Emilio Garca Gomez, writer and diplomat: born Madrid 4 June 1905; died Madrid 31 May 1995.

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