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Love Poems by Pedro Salinas: My Voice Because of You and Letter Poems to Katherine
Love Poems by Pedro Salinas: My Voice Because of You and Letter Poems to Katherine
Pedro Salinas
University of Chicago Press, 2010
256 pp., $46.00

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Brett Foster


Love Poems by Pedro Salinas

Poems for the day after Valentine's.

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I need that day
each day tell me
it is day, that it is
day and night: and you there.

Less subtly, here's the poet at his most whimsical:

O how I would like to see
sand, sun, in summer!
So you might lie down
refreshed to relax.
So when you go you might leave me
your body as a tender
warm unforgettable print.

Random, yes, but also looking back to mighty predecessors—Dido cherishing the imprint on the divan where the departed Aeneas has lain, or the desire drawn from John Donne's roving, blood-commingling flea.

For all of these ecstasies, the speaker frequently suffers from his disorientation (the word "ecstasy," after all, means "out of the body"). In the above vein of levity, the speaker begs the mirror to "get me away from her. / … / Make her—who fills the world—/ make her minute, minimal." He seems to pass through his own funhouse here, while elsewhere he more darkly recognizes a great vulnerability in loving the adored: "To surrender / darkly to the great certainty / that another being, outside me, remote / is living me." Sometimes he can savor this dependence ("To you / I'd like to owe it all"), but more palpably this uncertainty brings an attendant pain that never vanishes: does she truly see me, he worries, is her love as real as my own? "My only lover now always, / and I beside you without you. / I alone with the truth." Constantly, therefore, the lover is harmed by his own extravagant idealizations; he cannot resist his imaginative flights, yet realizes that to make of his beloved a Dulcinea from Don Quixote is to settle for no real, sustainable love. Willfulness toward the lover can also verge on violence: "Forgive the hurting, at times. / It's that I want to take out / of you the best you." Like a dictatorial Cupid, the lover here displays a dangerously assured imperiousness. As the relationship deteriorates, the speaker is even grateful for his lingering pain. Salinas provides a more intensified version, by addressing the pain itself, of what sympathetic mothers lilt—better to have loved and lost than never loved at all—whenever a heart-broken teenager, recently broken up with, lies raw and saddened on the family sofa: "I don't want you to go, / pain, last form / of loving. // … you stick with me. / Your truth assures me / that nothing was a lie." What remains, then, is a welcomed hell: " 'We had so much to say, and so much / still left us for us!' " The letter writer, the one closer to the real Salinas, we suppose, also accepts this state. If life sometimes cuts him in two, he writes in a 1933 note, so much the better. "I'll live in the wound," he writes. Despite the tonal and emotional variety in My Voice Because of You, Salinas claims in later letters that the book was an "inspiring collaboration" that featured, for him, "poems of pure / and happy love."

The sequence's final poem argues differently. It laments the "disheveled terrible beasts" that beg for realities. These beasts are the lovers' shadows, enlarging as the pair grows apart and forges "this great bed of distances." It all leads to the book's famous final lines about how love invents its infinity, but does so in a problematic place—"esta corporeidad mortal y rosa." That promise of the infinite hollowly sounds, following so quickly after the admission of a "mortal body." The poet and poem are left needing some love that is greater than what has been conceived in this book.

It should be clear by now that lovers of, and those who give lovers gifts of, Pablo Neruda's poetry will be among the most keen to discover Salinas. His love poetry survives comparison with Neruda's greatest amorous books—Twenty Love Poems and One Desperate Song, The Captain's Verses (written with "furious blood," the poet said), and One Hundred Sonnets of Love. That last volume (its paperback is a shiny hot pink, prepare yourself) has for its frontispiece a priceless, grainy photo of Neruda hugging his longtime wife and romantic inspiration Matilde with a wonderfully boyish, utterly self-satisfied grin. It is as if he has tricked the entire world when Matilde simply deigned to choose him. Nevertheless, they are each other's. My favorite Neruda love poem eschews the surrealistic or visionary sweeps and Whitmanian utterances for which he is often celebrated. It's called "Finale," and it appears at the end of The Sea and the Bells, which was one of several books Neruda worked on in 1973, the year of his death. He knew he was dying. At one point he writes the following: Fue tan bello vivir / cuando vivías. "It was beautiful to live / when you lived."

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