Federico García Lorca
Doña Rosita the Spinster and the Language of Flowers
(Doña Rosita la soltera o el lenguaje de las flores)
A Granadine poem of the 19th Century, divided into several gardens with scenes of song and dance - 1935
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright, All Rights Reserved. Made available as an individual, open-access work in the United Kingdom, 2008, via the Poetry in Translation website. Published as part of the collection ‘Four Final Plays’, ISBN-10: 1986116565, March 2018.
This work may be freely reproduced, stored and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose. Conditions and Exceptions apply. Permission to perform this version of the play, on stage or film, by amateur or professional companies, and for commercial purposes, should be requested from the translator.
Please note that Federico García Lorca's original, Spanish works may not be in the public domain in all jurisdictions, notably the United States of America. Where the original works are not in the public domain, permissions should be sought from the representatives of the Lorca estate, Casanovas & Lynch Agencia Literaria.
(Ten years later. A ground floor room: its windows with green shutters looking onto the garden. The stage is silent. It is afternoon. A clock strikes six. The Nurse crosses the stage with a suitcase and a bundle. The Aunt appears and sits on a low chair centre stage. Silence. The clock again strikes six.Pause.)
Nurse (Entering) The clock’s struck six for the second time.
Aunt And Rosita?
Nurse Upstairs in the tower room. And you, where have you been?
Aunt Removing the last pots from the conservatory.
Nurse I haven’t seen her all morning.
Aunt Since my husband died the house feels so empty it seems twice the size, and we have to go searching for one another. When I cough in my room some nights, I hear an echo as if I was in church.
Nurse It’s true the house has proved too large.
Aunt (Almost in tears) And then….if he were alive, with that clear mind of his, with his ability…
Nurse (Singing) Tra-la-tra-la-tra-la…. No Señora, I won’t let you cry. He’s been dead six years and I don’t want to see you as you were that day. How we cried! Be strong, Señora! Let the sun shine in the corners! Let us hope for many years of cutting roses!
Aunt (Rising) I am an old woman. We are living amongst ruins.
Nurse There’s nothing wrong with us. I’m old too!
Aunt If I only had your age!
Nurse We’re a little worn, but since I’ve worked hard, I’m well-oiled, while you, in using the armchair, your legs have withered.
Aunt You think I haven’t worked?
Nurse With your fingertips, with thread, with stalks, jam; but I worked with my shoulders, knees, fingernails.
Aunt So to run a household is not working?
Nurse It’s harder work scrubbing floors.
Aunt I won’t argue with that.
Nurse Why not? It passes the time. Go on. Answer me back. But we’ve ended up like mutes. Before, there was always shouting. ‘What about this, what about the other, what about the custard, why aren’t there more sheets?’…
Aunt I’m resigned…..one day it’s soup, the next only crumbs: with my glass of water and my rosary in my pocket, I’ll await death with dignity…But when I think of Rosita!
Nurse That’s what hurts!
Aunt (Excitedly) When I think of the wrong he did her, and the terrible deceit he practised and the falsehood in that man’s heart, who is no longer my family and not worthy enough to be part of my family, I’d like to be twenty years old and board that steamboat, and go to Tucumán, and take a whip…
Nurse (Interrupting) ….and take a sword, and cut off his head, and crush it between two stones, and cut off that hand that wrote those false promises and those lying words of affection.
Aunt Yes, and let him pay with blood for the blood he has cost, even if he is of my blood, and then….
Nurse …scatter his ashes over the sea.
Aunt Resurrect him, and bring him here to Rosita, to obtain satisfaction for my family’s honour.
Nurse So now you agree with me.
Aunt I do.
NURSE There he met that rich woman he was seeking and married her, but he should have told Rosita at the time. Because who will love the girl now? Now she has faded! Señora, couldn’t we send a poisoned letter that would kill him when he opened it?
Aunt The things you say! Eight years of marriage, and only last month the wretch writes to tell me the truth. I knew it from his letters; the proxy never arrived, an ambiguous tone….he didn’t dare, but in the end he did. Of course it was after his father died! And that creature….
Aunt And take those two jars.
(Rosita appears. She is dressed in bright pink in the fashion of 1910. Her hair is done in curls. She has aged greatly.)
Rosita What are you doing?
Nurse Grumbling a little. And you, where are you off to?
Rosita I’m going to the conservatory. Have you removed the pots already?
Nurse There are a few left.
(Rosita goes out. The two women wipe away tears.)
Nurse And now what? You sit here, and I sit here? And keep silent? And not seek justice? And not have the courage to make a fuss…?
Aunt Be quiet, don’t pursue it!
Nurse I have no power to endure these things without my heart pounding in my chest as if I were a dog being chased. When I buried my husband I felt it deeply, but deep down I felt a great happiness…happiness no…a thrill to realise that it was not I who was being buried. When I buried my little girl…you understand? When I buried my little girl it was if my guts were being trampled on, but the dead are dead. They are dead, we mourn, we close the door, and we go on living! But all this to do with Rosita is worse. It is to seek a corpse and not find it; it’s to weep without knowing what you are weeping for; it’s to sigh for someone you know, who shouldn’t deserve sighs. It’s an open wound that bleeds an endless trickle of blood, and there is no one, no one on earth, who can bring the swabs, or bandages for it, or a precious lump of snow.
Aunt What do you want me to do?
Nurse Let the river carry us away.
Aunt In old age everyone turns their back on us.
Nurse While I have arms nothing is lacking.
Aunt (Pause. In a lower voice, as if ashamed.) I cannot pay your wages! You will have to leave us.
Nurse What! What breeze is that blowing through the window! What…! Or perhaps I’m going deaf? Well…do you want me to sing? Like the little girls going home from school! (Children’s voices are heard) Do you hear, Señora? My Senora: more my Señora than ever. (She embraces her.)
Aunt I hear.
Nurse I’m going to cook something. A dish of mackerel fragrant with fennel.
Nurse And for dessert a meringue, a Monte Nevado! I’ll make a Monte Nevado with coloured dragees…
Aunt But, woman!
Nurse (Loudly) Is Don Martín there! Don Martín, come here a moment! Here! Entertain the Señora a while.
(She exits quickly. Don Martín enters. He is an old man with red hair. He uses a crutch which supports a withered leg. A noble individual, of great dignity, with a certain air of sadness.)
Aunt Bless my sight!
Martín When is the final departure?
Martín Where will you go?
Aunt Our new house is not like this. But is has good views and a little patio with two fig trees where you can grow flowers.
Martín That’s not so bad. (They sit down.)
Aunt And how are you?
Martín The same as ever. I came here to give my tutorial. It was truly hellish. It was a beautiful lecture: ‘The Concept and Definition of Harmony’ but of no interest to the youngsters at all. And what youngsters! I, whom they consider a waste of time, they show a little respect to; sometimes a pin or something in the backside or a puppet on one’s shoulder, but they do terrible things to my colleagues. They’re the children of the rich and, since they pay, they can’t be punished. Or so the Headmaster always tells us. Yesterday it involved poor Señor Canito, the new Geography professor, who wears a corset, because his body is a little distorted; when he was alone in the courtyard, the older boys and the boarders stripped him to the waist, tied him to one of the pillars along the walk, and drenched him with a jar of water over the balcony.
Aunt The poor creature!
Martín Every day I tremble as I enter the college, waiting for what they might do to me, though, as I say, they respect my misfortune somewhat. There was a huge scandal a while ago when Señor Cosuegra, who is an admirable teacher of Latin, found cat excrement on his class list.
Aunt They are like enemies!
Martín They are the one that pay, and so they behave accordingly. And believe me the parents laugh at their pranks, because as we are only like tutors, and are not about to examine their children, they consider us as men devoid of feelings, as people situated in the lowest class of society, who nevertheless still wear a decent collar and tie.
Aunt Oh Don Martin! What a world it is!
Martín What a world! I always dreamed of being a poet. They said I had natural talent, and I wrote a play which was never staged.
Aunt ‘The Daughter of Jephthah’?
Martín That was it.
Aunt Rosita and I have read it. You gave us a copy. We have read it four or five times!
Martín (Anxiously) And what did you think…?
Aunt I liked it a lot. I’ve always said so. Especially when she is going to die, and thinks about her mother and the flames.
Martín It is strong, right? A true drama. A drama in shape and concept. I was never able to have it performed. (He starts to recite.)
‘Oh sublime mother! Turn your gaze
on one who sunk in vile torpor lies;
Welcome all the glittering rewards
and the fearful tremor of my struggle!’
Is that bad? Are not the stresses and the caesura fine in that line: ‘and the fearful tremor of my struggle?’
Aunt Beautiful! Beautiful!
Martín And when Glucinius goes to meet Isaiah, and lifts the hanging of the tent….
Nurse (Interrupting) Through here.
(Two workers entered dressed in corduroy.)
First worker Good afternoon.
Aunt and martin (Together) Good afternoon.
Nurse This is the one! (She points to a large sofa at the back of the room.)
(The men carry it out slowly as if carrying a coffin. The Nurse follows them. Silence. We hear two chimes of a church bell as the men leave with the sofa.)
Martín Is that the Novena for Saint Gertrude the Great?
Aunt Yes at the Church of San Antón.
Martín It is very hard to become a poet! (The men exit.) After that I wanted to be a pharmacist. That’s a tranquil life.
Aunt My brother, who is in glory, was a pharmacist.
Martín But it was not possible. I had to help my mother and became a professor. That’s why I envied your husband so much. He was what I wished to be.
Aunt And it caused his ruin!
Martín Yes, but it’s worse to be me.
Aunt But you are still a writer.
Martín I don’t know why I write, because I’ve no illusions about it, yet it’s the only thing I enjoy. Did you read my story yesterday in the second edition of the magazine, in ‘Mentalidad Granadina’?
Aunt ‘Matilda’s Birthday’. Yes, we read it; it was beautiful.
Martín Is it so? There I wanted to renew myself by creating something with a present-day atmosphere; I even have an aeroplane in it! I must be truly modern. Of course what matter most to me are my sonnets.
Aunt To the Nine Muses of Parnassus!
Martín To the Ten, the Ten. Don’t you remember that I called Rosita the Tenth Muse?
Nurse (Entering) Senora, help me fold this blanket. (They fold it between them.) Don Martín, with the red hair! Why have you not married, man of God? You would be less lonely in life!
Martín I’ve never wanted to!
Nurse It’s because now it doesn’t please you to. Speaking in that precious way of of yours!
Aunt Let’s hope you fall in love.
Martín Little chance of that!
Nurse When he lectures in the room downstairs in the college, I go to the boiler-room to listen: ‘What is an idea?’ ‘The intellectual representation of a thing or an object.’ Is that right?
Martín Listen to her! Marvellous!
Nurse Yesterday he shouted: ‘’No, it’s a hyperbaton, an inversion of words’ and later…. ‘the epinicion, a song of victory’…I wanted to understand it all, but since I couldn’t I wanted to laugh, and the boiler-man who is forever reading a book called The Ruins of Palmyra, echoed my grimaces as though we were pair of rabid cats. But though I laugh, like an ignoramus, I know Don Martín has great merit.
Martín No one today grants merit to Rhetoric or Poetry or the university culture.
(The Nurse exits rapidly with the folded blanket.)
Aunt What can we do? There’s little time left to us here.
Martín We must employ it in kindness and sacrifice.
(Voices are heard.)
Aunt What is that?
Nurse (Appearing) Don Martín, you must go to the college because the students have split a water pipe with a nail, and all the classrooms are flooded.
Martín I must go. I dreamed of being a Parnassian and I must act as a plumber and mason. As long as they don’t push me, and I don’t slip… (The Nurse helps Don Martín to his feet.)
(Voices are heard.)
Nurse Off you go, now! Oh for a little peace and quiet! Let’s hope the water rises quickly and there’s not a student left alive!
Martín (Leaving) Blessed be the Lord!
Aunt Poor man, what a fate is yours!
Nurse Look in that mirror. This very person irons his collars and darns his socks, and when he was sick, and I took him some custard, he had only a bed with sheets as black as charcoal, and four walls and a little washbasin…ay!
Aunt As do others, plenty of them!
Nurse That’s why I always say: ‘Cursed, cursed be the rich! Nothing shall survive of them, not even their fingernails!
Aunt Forget about them!
Nurse But I’m certain they go headlong to Hell. Where do you think Don Rafael Salé is now, that exploiter of the poor, whom they buried yesterday, God forgive him, with all those nuns and priests and all that chanting? In Hell! And he cries: ‘Take my twenty million pesetas, but don’t squeeze me with the pincers! I’ll give you two hundred thousand if you’ll take those coals from my feet!’ but the demons burn here, and burn there, struggle how you may, strike you in the face, till your blood is turned to charcoal.
Aunt Every Christian knows that the rich can’t enter the kingdom of Heaven, but be careful talking that way doesn’t send you headlong to Hell as well.
Nurse To Hell, me? With the first kick I give Old Nick’s cauldron, I’ll supply the whole world with hot water. No Senora, no. I will go to Heaven for sure. (Gently) Like you. Each of us sitting in our very own rocking-chair upholstered with heavenly silk, holding a red satin fan. Between us, on a swing twined with jasmine and rosemary, Rosita will be swinging away, and behind her your husband, covered with roses, just as he went in his coffin from this house; with the same smile, with the same pale brow as if made of glass, and you there rocking away, and I, and Rosita swinging, and behind her your husband throwing roses, as if we were all three on a float, one made of mother-of-pearl and covered with candles and flounces, in the Holy Week procession.
Aunt And may the handkerchiefs for our tears be left behind down here.
Nurse Let them. A heavenly spree for us!
Aunt Because now there’s not a single one left in our hearts!
First workman You must tell us what you want us to do.
Nurse Come. (They exit. From the doorway.) Courage!
Aunt God bless you! (She sits down slowly.)
(Rosita appears with a packet of letters in her hands. Silence.)
Aunt Have they taken the chest of drawers already?
Rosita Just now. Your cousin Hope sent a lad to fetch a screwdriver.
Aunt They’ll be setting up the beds for tonight. We must leave soon and make sure everything is as we want it. My cousin will have arranged the furniture any old how.
Rosita But I’d prefer to leave here when the streets are dark. If only I could quench the street-lights. Whatever happens, the neighbours will spy on us. All day long, with our moving house, the doorway has been full of little children, as though someone had died here.
Aunt If I had known I would never have allowed your uncle to mortgage the house, furniture and all. What we are taking is barely enough, a chair to sit on and a bed to sleep in.
Rosita To die in.
Aunt A fine trick he played on us! Tomorrow the new owners arrive! I wish your uncle could see us. The old fool! Cowardly in business! Mad for his roses! A man with no concept of money! Ruining me, day by day. ‘Here is Fulano’; and: ‘Let him come in’; and he would enter with empty pockets and leave with them full of silver, and it was always: ‘Don’t let my wife find out.’ Extravagant and weak! And there was no disaster but he must remedy it…no child but he must help, because…, because….he had a bigger heart than anyone…the purest of Christian souls…; no, no, hush old woman! Be silent, chatterbox, and respect God’s will! Ruined! Well then, silence! But I look at you…
Nurse Don’t think of me, aunt. I know the mortgage paid for my furniture and my trousseau, and that is what grieves me.
Aunt It was well done. You deserved it all. And everything we bought is worthy of you, and will be beautiful the day you come to use it.
Rosita The day I come to use it?
Aunt Of course! The day you are married.
Rosita Don’t let’s talk about it.
Aunt That’s what wrong with the decent women in this world. We don’t talk! We don’t talk and we should talk. (Loudly) Nurse! Has the post arrived?
Rosita What do you suggest?
Aunt Watch how I behave, and you will learn.
Rosita (Embracing her.) Hush.
Aunt Sometimes I have to speak out. Get away from these four walls, my child. Don’t give in to misfortune.
Rosita (Kneeling before her.) For many years I grew accustomed to living beyond myself, thinking of things that were far away, and now those things no longer exist I go on giving more and more to that cold emptiness, seeking an escape I have never found. I knew everything. I knew he had married; he had charged a kind soul with telling me, and I went on receiving his letters, embracing an illusion, so full of sighs that I even deceived myself. If no one had said anything; if you had not known; if no one had known but me, his letters and his lies would have sustained my illusion, just as in the first year of his absence. But everyone knew, and I was met with pointing fingers that mocked my chastity as a fiancée, and made my spinster’s fan appear grotesque. Every year that passed was like a secret pledge that withered my flesh. One day a friend marries then another and another, and tomorrow has a grown-up child, and comes to show me its school report, and they make new homes and new songs, and I am the same, with the same emotions, the same; I am the same as before, cutting the same carnations, gazing at the same clouds; and one day I’m out walking and I realise I no longer know anyone; the boys and girls leave me behind because I bore them, and one says: ‘Oh, that’s the old maid’; and another, a handsome boy, with curly hair, comments: ‘No one will have her now. ’ And I hear him and I can’t say a word, only walk on swiftly, with a mouth full of poison, and an enormous desire to run away, to throw off my shoes, and rest and not move again, ever, from my corner.
Aunt Child! Rosita!
Rosita Now I am old. Yesterday I heard Nurse say that I might still marry. There is no way. Don’t think it. I have lost hope now of having him whom I loved with all my heart, whom I loved….whom I love. Everything is finished…and yet, with all illusions gone, I still wake with the most dreadful of feelings, the feeling of nursing a hope that is dead. I want to run, I want not to see; I want to be left calm, empty… (Doesn’t a wretched woman have the right to breathe freely?) Yet hope pursues me, circles me, bites me, like a dying wolf snapping its teeth for the last time.
Aunt Why didn’t I see this? Why didn’t you marry someone else?
Rosita I was promised, and besides, what man ever came to this house truly overflowing with desire to win my affection? None.
Aunt You never took any notice of them. You were blinded by a deceitful lover.
Rosita I have always been a serious person.
Aunt You clung to an idea without seeing the reality, taking no heed for your future.
Rosita I am what I am. And I can’t change. The one thing left to me is my dignity. What I have within I keep for myself alone.
Aunt That is not what I wish.
Nurse (Entering swiftly) Nor I! Talk to us, unburden yourself; then we can be filled with tears the three of us, and share our feelings.
Rosita And what should I talk of? There are things that can’t be said because there are no words in which to say them; and if there were, no one would understand their meaning. You would understand if I asked for bread or water or even a kiss, but no one can understand or remove this dark hand, that freezes or burns my heart, I don’t know which, whenever I’m alone.
Aunt That is talking at least.
Aunt For everything there is consolation.
Rosita It’s a never-ending tale. I know my eyes will stay young always, while my back will curve more each day. After all what has happened to me happens to thousands of women. (Pause.) But why am I speaking of it? (To the Nurse) Go and arrange our things, because in a short while we’ll be leaving this house and garden, and you, aunt, must not think of me. (Pause. To the Nurse) Go on! I don’t like being looked at that way. That gaze like a faithful dog’s annoys me. (The Nurse goes out.) Those looks of pity disturb me and anger me.
Aunt Child, what do you want me to do?
Rosita Treat me as a lost thing. (Pause. She walks about.) Already I know you will be thinking of your sister the spinster….a spinster like me. She was sour and odious to children and every woman who put on a new dress….but I will not be like that. (Pause.) I ask forgiveness.
Aunt What nonsense.
(A boy about eighteen years old appears at the back of the room.)
Rosita Let’s go.
Boy Are you ready?
Rosita In a few moments. When it grows dark.
Aunt Who is this?
Rosita It’s Maria’s son.
Aunt Which Maria?
Rosita The elder of my three former girlfriends.
‘Who go to the Alhambra
three or four alone.’
Forgive my poor memory, child.
Boy I have only met you a few times.
Aunt Of course! But I liked your mother very much. How witty she was! She died at the same time as my husband.
Boy Eight years ago.
Rosita And he has the same face as hers.
Boy (Cheerfully) Not so pretty. It’s taken a bit of a hammering.
Aunt And the same wit, the same personality!
Boy Of course, I resemble her. At the Carnival I wore my mother’s dress…one from the old days…in green…
Rosita (Sadly) With black bows, and puffed out with green Nile silk.
Rosita And a broad velvet ribbon at the waist.
Boy That’s it.
Rosita That hangs down on either side of the skirt.
Boy Exactly! What a ridiculous style. (He laughs)
Rosita (Sadly) It was a lovely fashion!
Boy You don’t say! Well I nearly died laughing dressed in that old thing, filling all the hallway of the house with the smell of camphor, and suddenly my aunt started crying bitterly because she said it was like seeing the very image of my mother. I was upset, of course, and I left the dress and the mask on my bed.
Rosita There is nothing more living than a memory. They can make life impossible. That is why I have a profound understanding of those old drunken women who wander through the streets trying to erase the world, who sit and sing on the benches in the avenue.
Aunt And your aunt is married?
Boy He writes from Barcelona. Less each time.
Rosita Are there any children?
Nurse (Entering) Give me your keys to the cupboard. (The Aunt gives her them, for the Boy.) This lad here was with his girlfriend yesterday. I saw them in the Plaza Nueva. She wanted to hide in a side street but he wouldn’t let her. (She laughs.)
Aunt Ha, look at him blush!
Boy (Embarrassed) We were just fooling about.
Nurse Don’t blush then! (Exiting)
Rosita Hush, let’s be going.
Boy What a beautiful garden you have!
Rosita We had!
Aunt Go, and cut some flowers.
Boy Take care, Doña Rosita.
Rosita Go with God, my lad!
(He leaves. Dusk is falling.)
Doña Rosita! Doña…Rosita!
When it opens in the morning,
It glows as red as blood.
In the afternoon it’s white,
White as the white salt spray.
And when the night falls
It begins to fade.
Nurse (Entering with a shawl) Away with us!
Rosita Yes, I’m going to put a coat on.
Nurse Since I’ve taken the hangars, it’s hooked over the window catch.
(The Third Spinster enters, dressed in black, with a mourning veil over her head and face, which she has worn for twelve years. She speaks quietly.)
Third spinster Nurse!
Nurse We only have a few minutes left.
Third spinster I’m here to give a piano lesson nearby, and I came to see if you needed anything.
Nurse God bless you!
Third spinster What a terrible thing!
Nurse Yes, yes, but don’t trouble about me, don’t lift your veil for me, because I’m the one who should give encouragement in the midst of all this mourning with no death that you are witnessing.
Third spinster I would like to speak to them.
Nurse It’s better that you don’t see them. Go out the other way!
Third spinster Perhaps, it is better. But if you need anything, if there’s anything I can do, I am here.
Nurse Now bad weather’s coming! (They hear the sound of the wind.)
Third spinster The wind is rising!
Nurse Yes. Perhaps it will rain.
(The Third Spinster exits.)
Aunt (Entering.) With this wind blowing there won’t be a single rose left. The cypresses on the circle are almost brushing the walls outside my room. It seems as if something wants to make the garden ugly so that we won’t feel the pain of leaving it.
Nurse It has never been so beautiful, so beautiful. Put on your coat. And this shawl…There, you are wrapped up well. (She puts it round her.) Now, when we arrive, I have a meal ready. A flan; like a golden carnation. (The Nurse speaks in a voice clouded by deep emotion.) (A loud bang is heard.)
Aunt It’s the door of the conservatory. Why didn’t you close it?
Nurse It won’t close because of the damp.
Aunt It will make that banging noise all night.
Nurse Well we won’t hear it…!
(The stage is in gentle evening shadow.)
Aunt I will. I will hear it.
(Rosita appears. She is pale, dressed in white, with a coat covering her to the edge of her dress.)
Nurse (Courageously) Let’s go!
Rosita (In a faint voice) It’s begun to rain. So there’ll be no one on their balcony to watch us leave.
Aunt It’s for the best.
Rosita (Swaying a little, she leans on a chair and falls into it, supported by the Nurse and the Aunt, who prevent her fainting completely.)
Rosita ‘And when the night falls
It begins to fade.’
(They leave, and the stage remains empty after their exit. The door is heard banging. Suddenly the door to a balcony opens at the rear of the stage, and white curtains are seen blowing in the wind.)