Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Ruth Katz Crispin's Memory in My Hands: The Love Poetry of Pedro Salinas

On December 16, 2010, at 4:45 PM EST, I posted my original book review on the book’s web page hosted by Barnes & Noble. I entitled my review “A Great Starting Point to Reading Salinas’s Poetry.” Pedro Salinas, one of my favorite Spanish poets, wrote several collections of poetry during his life. The three most popular collections today are La voz a ti debida (The Voice I Owe to You), Razón de amor (A Reason for Love), and Largo lamento (Long Lament). You can say the three collections perform like a trilogy or a play with three acts about two lovers in a sweet but illicit relationship. Ruth Katz Crispin provides a valuable service to the English-speaking literary community by translating most of the poems in these three collections and placing them into one volume entitling it Memory in My Hands: The Love Poetry of Pedro Salinas. For those who want to find this volume in libraries or at bookstores, it helps to know that Tamara Alvarez-Detrell and Michael G. Paulson are the editors for the series called Currents in Comparative Romance Languages and Literatures. It is Volume 171 of the series. Peter Lang of New York published this volume in 2009. (Sorry for my choppy writing; I’m just covering my bases.) The reason for posting this review on the blog is because I just received my final draft of an article about Pedro Salinas. The article is going to appear in an upcoming publication of the Utah Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters. To say that I am a little excited for my first publication in an academic journal is an understatement. Forgive me for tooting my own horn.

I can go on and on about Pedro Salinas or his poetry. But to spare you the long story, I want to share a portion of one of my favorite poems.

Qué alegría, vivir
sintiéndose vivido.


a la gran certidumbre, oscuramente,

de que otro ser, fuera de mí, muy lejos,

me está viviendo.

What a joy, to live
feeling yourself lived.

To surrender

to the great certainty, darkly,

that another being, outside of me, very far away,

is living me. (Salinas,
La voz 792-97; Crispin 39)

Beautiful, isn’t it? I love the pure and simple language. One of my professors said the lines sound like lyrics in songs you hear today. I think anyone can read this without feeling intimidated or anxious. The best part is you can read it in English as well as in Spanish. If you are interested, you can access the review by clicking on the following address:

This translation is a very good attempt to give English readers a taste of Pedro Salinas’s poetry. The book showcases many poems from three specific collections and places them into one volume. Many, if not all, of these poems can pass as official English translations. For those who are learning Spanish, this book conveniently places the original poems on even-numbered pages with the English translations on the odd-numbered ones. The poems are refreshing and whimsical. Certain poems leave a remarkable impression because the goal is to define the essence of the beloved in very simple language. However, the simplicity of the language hides a very deep and philosophical discourse.

I do not give this book a five-star rating because there are some minor problems with the text. There are some typing errors in various places, including extra spaces and misspelled words. Both the English and Spanish versions have these errors. I question whether or not the editors kept a very good eye out for these mistakes. For a student or scholar needing an official source in Spanish, I recommend finding a more reliable source. One needs to be careful when comparing words between the two versions, as they might not be the official wording or the most correct translation (despite the translator’s system of methodology explained in the introduction). This volume also does not contain all the poems found in other official versions, so keep in mind this book is an abridgement.

This is a very good book to purchase if you are a fan of love poetry. Lovers may find this book a pleasure to read in an intimate setting.



  1. Hi! I'm your newest follower! Fun blog! Feel free to check me out too!

  2. Thanks Jen. Interesting blog you have. Thanks for posting.

  3. Hi,

    thank you for this post. I love Salina's poetry, the language is pure and simple, as you say. Just have one question (even if you're not the translator of the poems, I dare to state it), concerning the translation of the second verse of the quoted passage (I'm spanish native speaker):

    feeling yourself lived

    In the original, this verse is put in the first-person: "sintiéndose". The literal translation of the verse would we thus "feeling oneself lived". How does that sound in English?

    I specially love this poem, and would like to translate it on my own for some English speaking friends interested in Salinas. Therefore my question.

    Best regards,

  4. You're welcome Felipe.

    In this post, no, I'm not the translator of the poem. But yes, I agree with you that the line should read "feeling oneself lived." It is logically and grammatically sound, but normally English-speakers tend to use the "narrative you" when it applies to the general public. It sounds more natural, more conversational, and not stilted. When English-speakers are told to write in the third person (like in an essay), their instinct is to use he or she. In the majority of instances, he is used. But problems come up regarding sexism, and so Crispin uses the second person pronoun, which is gender neutral than he or she, himself or herself. An ingenious way to overcome this would be to use the plural, but the sense would be completely lost in translation.

    I recommend referring to C. Edward Good's A Grammar Book for You and I ...oops, Me!: All the Grammar You Need to Succeed in Life, pages 122-27. He explains the problem English-speakers have with "Antecedents: Agreement in Number and Gender." Also, I believe Crispin brings this subject up in her introduction, but I don't remember if she specifically refers to this line or not.

    Good luck with your translation. I understand that it can be very challenging. And thank you for the question.



Have you read this book? What did you think of it?


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