Monday, May 2, 2011

Jorge Guillén's Pedro Salinas: Poemas escogidos

The second to last book on my list is Pedro Salinas: Poemas escogidos, the fifth edition updated and edited by the author’s friend, Jorge Guillén. Espasa-Calpe, S. A. of Madrid, Spain publishes this edition on 2 March 1977. This book belongs to the series called Colección Austral, as volume number 1154. Guillén includes selections from Presagios to Todo más claro. This book is only in Spanish, so the English translations that follow are mine.

As I was reading this book, I thought about Margarita Bonmatí and Katherine Whitmore again. Katherine, Salinas’s mistress, was the inspiration behind three collections of poetry. I was playing with the idea that if Katherine was the sole inspiration to those three collections, what did Margarita, the wife, inspire before Salinas met Katherine? Only a few poems gave hints. As unfortunate as it was, there must have been something that Salinas did not like in Margarita that would impress him to look to someone else for love. I came upon “Sin voz, desnuda” (“Without Voice, Naked”). This poem oddly and vaguely focuses on the indifference or coldness of the poetic self’s object. I get the impression that Margarita, during marital problems and arguments, gives her husband the cold, silent treatment. Was she unforgiving? Was she too stubborn? Did she have a need to be reserved even to her husband? I can only guess, but I read some type of warning, maybe even a threat, in this following portion:

¡Cuidado!, que te mata

—fría, invencible, eterna—
eso, lo que te guarda,

eso, lo que te salva,

el filo del silencio que tú aguzas.

Take care!, it may kill you

—cold, invincible, eternal—
that thing, the thing that guards you,
that thing, the thing that saves you,
the edge of silence that you sharpen.

Then in the next poem, I see just one line negating the poetic description of the object’s voice in “La difícil” (“The Difficult One”). It shocks the reader, as well as the object, when the poetic self confesses saying, “Pero tu voz no la quiero” (“But your voice I do not want”) (33). What a disheartening thing to say! He effectively dismisses her. On top of that, Salinas writes these poems long before he knows Katherine. Then, he titles his greatest work The Voice I Owe to You, furtively giving credit to his mistress. The coincidence is very suspicious, if it is a coincidence at all. Ugh! Let’s change the subject, shall we?

I have to share the next poem in full because I find it clever and fun. “Underwood Girls” is a poem about a typewriter. My mother has an antique typewriter, although not the brand that the poem mentions, and I believe Salinas finds the contraption’s essence easily and convincingly, like a grandchild touching the keys for the first time. I include a photo of an Underwood Typewriter I found at the Weber County Pioneer Museum in Ogden, Utah.

Quietas, dormidas están,

las treinta redondas blancas.
Entre todas

sostienen el mundo.

Míralas aquí en su sueño,

como nubes,

redondas, blancas y dentro

destinos de trueno y rayo,

destinos de lluvia lenta,

de nieve, de viento, signos.


con contactos saltarines

de dedos rápidos, leves,

como a músicas antiguas.

Ellas suenan otra música:

fantasías de metal

valses duros, al dictado.

Que se alcen desde siglos

todas iguales, distintas

como las olas del mar

y una gran alma secreta.

Que se crean que es la carta,

la fórmula, como siempre.

Tú alócate

bien los dedos, y las

raptas y las lanzas,

a las treinta, eternas ninfas

contra el gran mundo vacío,

blanco en blanco.

Por fin a la hazaña pura,

sin palabras, sin sentido,

ese, zeda, jota, i… (49)

Motionless, asleep they are,

the thirty round whites.
Amongst them all
they sustain the world.
Look at them here in their dream,
like clouds,
rotund, whites and within
destinies of thunder and lightning,
destinies of slow falling rain,
of snow, of wind, signs.
Wake them up,
with bouncing touches
of quick fingers, light,
liking to ancient music.
They play another kind of music:
fantasies of metal
hard waltzes, upon dictation.
That they may rise up since centuries
all equal, distinct
like the waves of the sea
and a great secret soul.
That they may believe that it is a letter,
the formula, as always.
Get really crazy
with your fingers, kidnapping
them and launching them,
the thirty, eternal nymphs
against the great empty world,
white on white.
Finally at the pure exploit,
without words, without sense,

s, z, j, i…

Jorge Guillén also includes some poems from El Contemplado: Tema con variaciones. “Variación XIV: Salvación por la luz” (“Variation XIV: Salvation by the Light”) is one among many that gives an ode to the Caribbean Sea surrounding the island of Puerto Rico. The first time I saw an ocean from a shore, I became mesmerized by the awesomeness of its horizon. Like beholding God in a religious experience, the poetic self sees the value in becoming insignificant. It reflects John the Baptist’s declaration of the Son of God: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Viene a asomarse a estos

ojos con los que miro. ¡Qué sinfín
de muertos que te vieron

me piden la mirada, para verte!

Al cedérsela gano:

soy mucho más cuando me quiero menos.

They come appearing to these

eyes with which I look. What an endless number
of deaths that saw you
they ask for my gaze, for to see you!
Upon giving it to them I gain:
I am much more when I want myself less.

The last poem that I like is “Nocturno de los avisos” (“Nocturne of the Notices”) from Todo más claro. If memory serves me right, this collection of poems actually came out posthumously, so it may have been that Salinas was not intending to publish them. Nevertheless, I sense a coming back to his poetic roots. Without a definite object to observe, he goes back to writing about random things, but with more attention. The poems carry a melancholic mood, evident in a poet being exiled to another country. Salinas never returns to Spain. He lives the rest of his life in the United States. In this poem, he does not understand the ubiquitous billboard signs and flashing lights advertising worthless merchandise. Take for instance the advertisement of a popular American soft drink as he roams around some city:

Ya otra surge,

más trágica que todas: “Coca Cola.
La pausa
que refresca”. Pausa. ¿En dónde?
¿La de Paolo y Francesca en su lectura?

¿La del Crucificado entre dos mundos,

muerte y resurrección? O la otra, ésta,

la nada entre dos nadas: el domingo.

Now another emerges,

more tragic than the rest: “Coca Cola.
The pause that refreshes.” A pause. Where?
Like Paolo and Francesca’s in their story?
Like the one of the Crucified between two worlds,
death and resurrection? Or the other one, this,
the nothing between two nothings: Sunday.

The poem ends when the lights of the billboards go out (something that never happens today) and the poetic self sees the constellations of the heavens. There, he finds his center. Like a prophet that sees the oncoming consequence of idol worship, Salinas sees the oncoming influence of postmodernism.

Poetry does stir something within us, if we have the courage to reflect it in our souls. I am beginning to wonder if recent generations and I have been cheated out of this quality in the school system. Is Salinas right when he says that poetry is just for the few? Do we give up too easily to the easy access of information and entertainment? What do you think?



  1. Okay I like the typewriter poem. Now somebody needs to write a poem about a Selectric model.

  2. I'll put that on my bucket list.


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


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