Friday, April 15, 2011

Pedro Salinas's Lost Angel and Other Poems

The next book I have read in my research marathon is Lost Angel and Other Poems. Pedro Salinas allows Eleanor L. Turnbull to translate several poems from Presagios (1923), Seguro azar (1929), and Fábulo y signo (1931), from Spanish to English (vi). Salinas also adds a preface to this edition as well as a new poem called “Ángel extraviado” (“Lost Angel”). The Johns Hopkins Press in Baltimore, Maryland publishes this edition in 1938.

In Salinas’s preface, he wonders about the public that he is writing to. Writing poetry is not like writing a play or even a novel. Authors of plays and novels have the opportunity to see their public and receive their reactions to their works. Poets, on the other hand, cannot see their “invisible” audiences, the “very world of phantoms” (xv, vii). Poetry is a different kind of animal because, “It brings us face to face with ourselves, […]. It reaches to the deep waters of the inner being and touches [us] or moves [us], but always breaking [our] tranquillity” (ix). He reflects upon the nature of poetry and how the majority of the public do not accept it, because poetry does not tell the public about its subjects; instead, it shows them. “It is not that poets wish to write for the few,” Salinas continues, “no: it is that poetry is for the few” (xii, emphasis in original). As I read that sentence, I wonder if I am part of the few he is talking about. I check the back to see how many times this book has been checked out by students and patrons. The card shows only a few times in the 1970s, once in 1988, once in 1997, once in 2000, and now my turn in 2011. So far, Salinas’s gumption proves correct.

I still read Pedro Salinas’s poetry with a phenomenological eye. He is a poet that pays attention to the spiritual vision of objects. The poems that I will share below deal with certain phenomenological concepts which I will relate briefly in each case.

Presence and absence deal with a person’s consciousness towards an object that is either present or absent. The concepts involve more detail than what I here define, but this is pretty much the nutshell. In “Posesión de tu nombre” (“Possession of Your Name”), he writes, “Tu presencia y tu ausencia / sombra son una de otra, / sombras me dan y quitan” (“Your presence and your absence / shadows are one of the other, / shadows they give and they take”) (74-75). If the poet keeps a consciousness towards an object, either present or absent, it remains in reality; therefore, it exists.

Another term in phenomenology is the invisible. Maurice Merleau-Ponty explained that objects outside our bodies form parts of the visible. Another person and I can see any visible object. However, how the other person sees the object is what is invisible to me. And how I see the object is invisible to the other person. In order to see the invisible, either the other person or I must produce the invisible perception in a visible way. The favorite medium Merleau-Ponty uses to express this idea is painting. When I show a painted object to the other person, I allow him to see my point of view, a privileged point of view. Salinas uses this concept in “Mirar lo invisible” (“Seeing the Invisible”).

La tarde me está ofreciendo

en la palma de su mano,
hecha de enero y de niebla,

vagos mundos desmedidos

de esos que yo antes soñaba,

que hoy ya no quiero.

Y cerraría los ojos

para no verlo. Si no

los cierro

no es por lo que veo.

Por un mundo sospechado

concreto y virgen detrás,

por lo que no puedo ver

llevo los ojos abiertos

The evening is offering to me

in the open palm of her hand,
made of January and of mist,
vague worlds not unlike to those
that in days gone by I have dreamed of,
and now no longer desire.
And I should close my eyes
not to see. If I do not
now close them
it is not for what I see.
For a world I have imagined
substantial and untouched is behind,
’tis for what I cannot see
that I keep my eyes open wide. (76-77)

The next phenomenological term relates to absence in that the person consciously directs his mind to an object that is not in his presence. This object can be imaginary, real, waiting in anticipation, or remembered. This is called empty intention. Note this empty intention in the following:

No te veo. Bien sé

que estás aquí, detrás
de una frágil pared

de ladrillos y cal, bien al alcance

de mi voz, si llamara.

Pero no llamaré.

I see you not, though well

I know you are here, behind
a wall so slightly built
of mortar and bricks, yet within the sound
of my voice, if I should call.
But no, I shall not call. (88-89)

Appearances and non-appearances have significance in phenomenology. It takes no object for granted. Any object need not reveal or conceal a meaning, but meanings can be found. The senses of a person exhibits a reality through which a person navigates. A seen object exists. The sense of touch perceives an object more fundamentally than sight. Salinas uses this idea in his poem “Busca, encuentro” (“Seeking, Finding”):

Llevo los ojos cerrados.

No te veo, ya te siento,
ya te tengo. Mía

estás, estoy, a tu lado:

estás dentro de la niebla.

I keep my eyes tight closed.

I do not see you, now I feel you,
now I own you. You are
mine, I am by your side:
you are enclosed in mist. (92-93)

The last concept of phenomenology I will relate is that of the third eye as explained in Merleau-Ponty’s article Eye and Mind. Pretend that you are in a museum and you see a painting by your favorite artist. Physically, you are standing in front of canvas that hangs on a wall. The painting itself, its flat surface, is a two-dimensional object. Yet you see the colors, shapes, textures, and proportions in such a way that you perceive a three-dimensional scene. You contemplate the painting deeply. You imagine that you could step through the frame and observe the scenery from a particular angle of the painting, from inside it, or from behind it. You can do this without having to move your body, and you playfully see the painting in ways that entertain you. This is the concept of the third eye. It is another way of navigating through the objects of your world. You can even turn the third eye around and see yourself seeing the painting. Salinas uses his third eye with a mirror.

En el espejo la mirada hundo

y en lo que veo en él: como en entraña
palpitante del mundo,

la sangre del ocaso hacia él afluye

y por encima, las iniciaciones

de vagas ilusiones estelares

y el signo del apóstata—mas no la cruz—

y el “vencerás conmigo,”

clave de todo el arco.

I plunge my eyes in the mirror

and in that which I see in it: as in the palpitating
bowels of the earth,
the blood red of the setting sun flows towards it
and above the vague glimmering
of the first illusive star,
and the sign of the apostate—but not the cross—
and “by this shalt thou conquer,”
keystone of the whole arch. (142-145)

Of course, these are not all the concepts of phenomenology or all the poems from the book. However, I hope these samples will encourage a reader to pick up a book of poetry, preferably one of Pedro Salinas’s books, and ponder the spiritual abstractions of these appearances. In this way, you may become one of the few phantoms that Salinas imagines when he writes.


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