Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pedro Salinas's Reality and the Poet in Spanish Poetry

I am currently in the revision process of one of my papers that I plan to submit within a month. The most recent book I have read is Reality and the Poet in Spanish Poetry by Pedro Salinas. Edith Fishtine Helman translates this book into English. Jorge Guillén, a very close friend of Pedro Salinas, writes an introduction giving first-hand experiences of their friendship and the author’s passion for poetry and literature. Guillén states that Salinas’s first half of his life prepared him for the second half of his life, “Thirty years of preparation. Thirty years of production” (ix). He writes a sweet tribute to his friend who had died some time before. Elias L. Rivers translates Jorge Guillén’s prelude. The Johns Hopkins Press in Baltimore, Maryland publishes this edition in 1966.

This book, divided into six chapters, records the lectures Salinas gives in Baltimore during a literary conference. He discourses about the following: The Poem of the Cid, A Ballad, Jorge Manrique, Calderón de la Barca, Garcilasso de la Vega, Fray Luis de León, San Juan de la Cruz, Luis de Góngora, and José de Espronceda. Each poet or work fits within a time period in which poets or fashions treat reality in a particular way. Salinas describes what reality means for each poet by analyzing portions of their poems. Salinas labels each period by how poets portray reality in their works in this way: Reproduction (The Poem of the Cid and A Ballad), Acceptance (Jorge Manrique and Calderón de la Barca), Idealization (Garcilasso de la Vega), Escape (Fray Luis de León and San Juan de la Cruz), Exaltation (Luis de Góngora), and Revolt (José de Espronceda) (xxxiii). As Salinas examines each period, reality of life and reality of poetic creation separate until a metaphysical chasm lies in between.

I easily read this book in a couple of days. Salinas’s ideas flow very naturally. He also gives clear instruction in these lectures. There is no hint of esoteric pride in these pages. My favorite part of the book comes from the Idealization chapter. In describing the purpose of writing an elegy, he almost confesses how he writes his own poetry. He says, “The elegy always uses a curious psychological procedure: it longs for what is lost, dead, what can no longer be possessed in reality because death has taken it from us. But that lost good can still be redeemed or recovered in one last form: memory” (88). This revelation recalls two poems from Salinas’s production that exactly express this sentiment and I wish I had found this while revising my thesis. The other chapters hold a treasure of information that every literary student can take advantage of. I figure Salinas must have been a great teacher. I would have loved to be one of his students if I had lived in a different time period.

I have no scruples recommending this book to the general public.


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