Salinas writes this book in order to interpret the overall themes of Rubén Darío’s poetry. His skills in literary criticism help him to organize various symbols and patterns. He divides these themes into a dozen chapters, developing along the way Darío’s creative process by analyzing his preoccupations. Darío, regarded as the initiator of the Modernist movement in Spanish Literature, blurs the line between the poetry of love and the poetry of eroticism using trends in Hellenism, Greek mythology, and exoticism. Salinas sees the poetic self follow the tenets of eroticism without necessarily focusing on a particular woman or beloved. Everything is erotic in some form in Darío’s poetry, and every woman triggers the erotic. Later, Salinas sees Darío shifting moods from eroticism to disorientation when the poetic self contemplates existential abysses. Questions of sin and redemption occupy the rest of the poet’s attention. Darío’s poetic self then searches for a type of salvation through his erotic objects. However, a woman’s light has the ability to blind the erotic darkness of the beholder, thereby placing an obstacle in the way of the poetic self’s goal. Salinas ends the book with a couple of chapters explaining subthemes like social and political issues and art for art’s sake.
Of course, my main purpose in reading this book is to look into Salinas’s mode of thinking, not Darío’s. I understand why Salinas would pick Darío as his poetic predecessor. They both share the same fascination for the beloved, the surrounding landscape, and the meaning of appearances that come to the poetic self’s vision. They also share the same idea that light can blind a beholder while darkness reveals the essence of truth through sensations. Some of Salinas’s observations about Darío sparked my curiosity, making me want to look into the latter’s work. However, other observations and references flew over my head because I had not read a good portion of Darío’s poetry. Salinas’s explanations can be boringly verbose sometimes. The points that I do understand relate to Salinas’s educational upbringing and philosophical opinions.
I have mentioned in a previous review about the role Ortega y Gasset had in influencing Pedro Salinas. Although they did know each other, I argued that they did not see eye to eye in many things. So, to my pleasant surprise, I found an implicit reference that Salinas makes to Ortega y Gasset’s essay “The Dehumanization of Art,” and it is not positive. Ortega y Gasset, in his essay, sees art eschewing the representation of the human object and focusing on the delivery, or form, instead. This method can, and should, be the next standard in art. This same method of creation provides, for an elitist or exclusive group of consumers, an avenue for the enlightened few to find their way out of popular tastes and preferences. Salinas disagrees with this ideal. The fact that only a few may appreciate a work of art or a single poem does not indicate that the rest of humanity is less capable or less intelligent than the few. The act of dehumanizing a piece of work may be the next challenge, but can an artist succeed in this endeavor? He writes:
“No hay hechura del hombre que no provenga de su vida. Por eso no existe arte que no sea humano, y aunque esta o aquella obra puedan aparecérsenos tan extrañas que las califiquemos de inhumanas, en el fondo responden a un modo de ser raro, extraño, de lo humano. El arte que se llamó deshumanizado es teoría de un hombre. ¿Cómo puede ser que el artista deshumanice el arte, si fatalmente ha de hacerlo desde su condición inescapable de humano?” (9).
“There is no creation of man that does not come from his own life. Therefore there is not an art form that exists that is not human, and although these works or those ones can appear to us so strangely that we categorize them as inhuman, deep down they respond to a way of being peculiar, strange, that is still human. Art that was called dehumanized is just a theory of a man. How can it be that an artist dehumanizes art, if inevitably he is to create it from his inescapable condition of being human?”
Salinas does not disrespect the philosopher completely; he does make some good points. At one point in the book, Salinas makes a correlation between Ortega y Gasset’s cultural observation and Darío’s poetic creation. Salinas then infers that Darío is more Spanish than a Spaniard. Salinas sets forth his observation thus:
“Ortega y Gasset ha dilucidado en unas famosas páginas la íntima relación entre sensualismo y superficie. La cultura latina es, según él, cultura de las superficies. Por eso debe llamarse mejor cultura mediterránea porque el Mediterráneo ‘es una ardiente y perpetua justificación de la sensualidad, de la apariencia, de las impresiones fugaces que dejan las cosas sobre nuestros nervios emocionados’. Todo esto concuerda con el curso de la poesía erótica rubeniana: desfile de variantes del sensualismo, color, música, impresiones sensoriales, directas, a lo helénico o a lo versallesco. […] Este nicaragüense resultaba más mediterráneo —en la acepción orteguiana— que los mismos hijos de la península. Diosas griegas y divinidades parisienses fueron acogidas con mixto sentimiento, recelo, pasmo, alegría y entusiasmo. Y desde entonces se le prendió a Rubén el calificativo de poeta de lo sensual, porque esa primera impresión que dio al mundo se quedó fija en la mayoría de sus lectores” (169).
“Ortega y Gasset has elucidated in a few famous pages the intimate relation between the sensual and the surface. The Latin culture is, according to him, a culture of surfaces. That is why it is better to call it the Mediterranean culture because the Mediterranean ‘is a burning and perpetual justification of sensuality, of appearance, and of fleeting impressions that leave things on top of our excited nerves.’ All this matches with the course of Rubén’s erotic poetry: a procession of differences of sensualism, color, music, sensory impressions, directions, to what is the Hellenic or pertaining to Versailles. […] This Nicaraguan was turning out to be more Mediterranean —in the sense of Ortega— than the same descendents of the peninsula. Greek goddesses and Parisian divinities were welcomed with mixed feelings, suspicion, astonishment, joy and enthusiasm. And from then on Rubén was branded the epithet of poet of the sensual, because that first impression he gave to the world remained fixed in the majority of his readers.”
Salinas gives credit to Ortega y Gasset when it comes to the enduring traditions of the Mediterranean cultures, but he believes there is more to it than just the surface appearances. Salinas, like Darío, finds deeper and hidden meanings lying below the surface of the poetic images. There are two sources of light, of revelation or knowledge, for the poet to gravitate to: “la luz de los sentidos y la luz de la conciencia” (“the light of the senses and the light of conscience”) (168). The conscience or consciousness operates on the opposite side of sensations, giving the poetic voice the disquieting choice between the two. Salinas explains: “Esa nueva dimensión no lleva consigo necesariamente mejoría ni peoría. Muchos son los artistas, que por querer meterse en honduras han desaparecido, sin salir nunca a la superficie. La lírica de Darío se ahonda con perfecta naturalidad, se profundiza porque su arte de superficies le llevaba, paradójicamente, a la profundidad” (“That new dimension does not mean it gets better or worse. Many artists, for wanting to dive into the depths, never leave the surface. The lyric poetry of Darío goes deep with perfect ease; it gets deeper because his surface art was taking him, paradoxically, to the depths”) (168). The same observation Salinas gives to Darío applies to his own poetry as well.
Strangely enough, the clarity of the Mediterranean symbol has the power to provide an obscurity that disillusions the poet. For Darío, he beholds the abysses; for Salinas, he returns to shadows.
“Rubén va volviendo el Mediterráneo del revés: la superficie, abismo; la luz, tinieblas; la claridad, duda. El poeta nos desengaña del mar más rico en engaños, depósito de encantamientos, habitación de mitos y sirenas: mar de lo erótico. Es desengaño de gran alcance porque en él quedan desengañados todos los deliciosos embaimientos de los sentidos, el mundo entero de lo sensual; la barca de Citerea, echada a pique un día, en su mismo mar, por uno de sus más ardorosos pasajeros. Es el gran desencanto del Mediterráneo” (172).
“Rubén goes turning the Mediterranean inside out: the surface, abyss; the light, darkness; clarity, doubt. The poet disillusions us about the richest sea of deception, a tank of enchantments, a habitation of myths and mermaids: sea of the erotic. It is an eye-opener of great reach because in it lie disappointed all the delicious obfuscations of the senses, the whole world of the sensual; the boat of Cythera, beginning to sink one day, in its own sea, by one of its most ardent passengers. It is the great disenchantment of the Mediterranean.”
I suspect that once I get the chance to read more of Darío’s poetry, I will recognize Salinas’s interpretations in its verses. Salinas has certainly earned his place within the Generation of 1927’s prestigious club. As for José Ortega y Gasset, I get a kick out of finding more evidence that he and Salinas are more different than they are alike. Does the philosopher inspire the poet? Not really. Does the poet respect the philosopher? A little.