Salinas Serrano, Pedro

Pedro Salinas

Professor, poet, playwright, essayist and editor, he was born in Madrid on November 27, 1891, and died in exile in Boston (United States) on December 4, 1951. Like other members, known as “teacher poets”, of the Generation of ’27, he stood out for his brilliant academic career that developed inside and outside Spain.

In 1914, at the age of 24, he obtained a lectureship at the Sorbonne, where he remained until 1917. In that period he took the opportunity to translate for the first time into Spanish the first three books of In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust, a version that is still reissued by the Alianza Publishing House. Before returning to Spain he married Margarita Bonmatí. In 1919, he became a professor in Seville, where he remained for a decade and where he met Luis Cernuda and other members of the Generation of ’27. With Federico García Lorca he was united by a friendship of mutual admiration forged between Seville and Madrid. Isabel García Lorca recalls in her memoirs how, living in the flat on the Acera del Casino, one “cold afternoon” the maid announced the arrival of a couple from Madrid. It was an unexpected encounter with the Salinas Bonmatí couple. “Don Pedro’s comments were as fair, original and tasty as the sweets we were eating […] Then I met the Salinas and there I saw the beginning of our long and close friendship”. The relationship expanded in Madrid when the Lorcas left the apartment on the Acera del Casino in Granada and moved in 1933. Later, around 1935, Isabel attests to other reunions at the Menéndez Pelayo University, and after the Civil War, in exile, in the United States.

The correspondence between Federico and Salinas in the 1920s maintains the characteristic tone of a professor with a student. In fact, they never became too familiar with each other

Salinas tried to convince Federico to complete his studies by obtaining a professorship. “If you want, you can prepare yourself to become a professor of literature. University or high school? If you choose the former, you need to do a doctorate, assuming, as I suppose, that you have a degree in Literature. But I think this is a bad time, Jorge [Guillén] and I have chosen a good tide […] Institute? I think that’s easier. In the same letter, dated October 2, 1926, Salinas also alludes to the possibility of obtaining a place as a assistant teacher in Toulouse or Strasbourg, which never materialized. García Lorca, an irregular student, obtained a degree in Law, but not in the Arts.

Federico García Lorca, Pedro Salinas and Rafael Alberti in Madrid in 1927. / Photo: FGL Foundation
Federico García Lorca, Pedro Salinas and Rafael Alberti in Madrid in 1927. / Photo: FGL Foundation

In poetic matters, Salinas encouraged Lorca to publish as soon as possible, but opposed the poet from Granada’s idea of printing at the same time three collections of poems of different period and tone: Poem of the Deep Song, Songs and Suites at the publishing house of Emilio Prados in Málaga. “For me it would be more pleasing if they appeared spaced out,” he recommends to him. Soon after, however, he urges him to go ahead with the project: “When do these books come out? The whole world (yes, yes, the world) is waiting for them”. In the end only Songs appeared in 1927.

The surviving correspondence between the two is fragmentary. Except for an allusion to Salinas contained in a letter to Jorge Guillén, published in the ‘Complete Works’ of García Lorca, the rest of the letters of the poet from Granada have been lost. There are, however, some letters from Salinas to Lorca during the time he held the chair in Seville.

The poetic work of Salinas is usually divided into three stages: an initial one, with influences of pure poetry, of Rubén Darío and of the avant-garde movements of the time such as ultraism and futurism, which opens with Omen (1924) and extends until 1931 with Fable and Sign. The main stage, the most recognized, focuses on poetry of an amorous nature and includes the long poem My Voice Because of You (1933), a title taken from Garcilaso; Love’s Reason (1936), where love is transformed into its opposite, oblivion, and already in the middle of the Civil War Long Lament (1939), works dedicated to Katherine Whitmore, a woman he fell in love with in 1932 during the preparations to create the Menéndez Pelayo Summer University in Santander.

During his exile he published The Contemplated One, a long poem in which he interrogates the sea of San Juan de Puerto Rico; later he published Everything Clearer and Other Poems (1949) and posthumously Confidence (1955). As an essayist he published books focusing on Jorge Manrique, Fray Luis de Granada, San Juan de la Cruz and Rubén Darío.

During the Spanish Civil War he moved to Boston at the invitation of Wellesley College, where he taught until 1939. He then moved to John Hopkins University in Baltimore and from there he managed to attract his family, who resisted in exile in Algeria and France. He was also a professor, between 1943 and 1946, at the University Río de Piedras in Puerto Rico, continuing his teachings in Baltimore, where he lived until his death from cancer in 1951. “Salinas dies in exile,” wrote José Moreno Villa, “not because he is a politician, but because he is incompatible with the current regime and life in Spain.”

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