Valentine’s Day Poet—Pablo Neruda

The 1971 Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda was a prolific writer of love poems. His first poetry was published in Chile in a small volume titled in Spanish: Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair).

Twenty Poems was first published in 1924 when Neruda was 19 years old. These poems are still in print: a dual-language edition of the poems with English translations by American poet W. S. Merwin was published in 2006.

Poem 20 begins with dreamy meditation; the poet muses about a lost love:

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me, and sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes?

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

Chilean author Luis Sepúlveda quotes Poem 20 in his short story La Isla (The Island). As the story opens, the narrator says: “Goodbye, my love.” as he steps down from her doorway and sadly walks off into a cold Hamburg winter night. The narrator then reflects on the beautiful June day when he first met his love, and shares with the reader the story of how her husband had saved his life. This is a bittersweet tale of the conflicts between the narrators’  passion for a woman and his bond of friendship with her husband. Truly, these are the emotions explored by the poetry of Neruda.

[Unfortunately, the short stories of Sepúlveda have yet to be translated into English. La Isla is available in the Spanish language collection: La lámpara de Aladino (Aladdin’s Lamp), TusQuets, 1997. This is a great collection of stories that calls out to be translated into English.]

Neruda was a world traveler and celebrity, but he always retreated back to his home in the tiny costal village of Isla Negra near Santiago, Chile. Isla Negra is the setting for the novel El cartero de Neruda (The Postman) by Chilean writer Antonio Skármeta.

In Skármeta’s novel, the fictional character Mario is a mail carrier who delivers the mail to Neruda’s home in Isla Negra. The poet himself introduces Mario to the power of poetry, and Mario soon discovers the metaphor that wins the heart of the beautiful barmaid Beatriz. In quick order, Mario woos her; they marry and a son is born—he is named Pablo after the poet.

However, Mario’s joy is short-lived. The Chilean military overthrow the legitimate government of Salvador Allende and the mail carrier liberal Mario is arrested. Sadly, Mario disappears (like so many others). Perhaps Mario’s son Pablo will continue on the tradition of liberal poetry so hated by the dictatorship.

This story has been brought to the screen in the Oscar winning movie Il Postino (The Postman). Directed by Michael Radford, Pablo Neruda is convincingly played by Philippe Noiret, and Massimo Troisi is a perfect Mario. The Italian actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta plays the beautiful barmaid Beatrice (Beatriz). She is stunning in the role. This is one of my favorite movies. It is suspenseful, sad, and the voices are beautiful to listen to.

Daniel Catán turned Il Postino into an opera. Plácido Domingo portrayed Pablo Neruda in the premiere at the Los Angeles Opera, 2010. I haven’t seen the opera.

Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Chile on February 14. It is known as the Día de los Enamorados (Day For Lovers) and is celebrated by all lovers—engaged, married and just hopeful.

Maybe, now that a strong Democracy has returned to Chile, lovers can celebrate again. What better way to remember the day than to read the love poems of Pablo Neruda.

Week 6-2012: El cartero de Neruda, Antonio Skármeta (1985);
Translated into English by Katherine Silver as: The Postman (Il Postino): A Novel.

About carto

Retired software engineer who grew up in Montana, went to Montana State College in Bozeman, and moved to California to work at Stanford Research Institute (SRI). Carto's Logbook is about photography, travel and adventure; Mt. Maurice Times is tall tales mostly biographical; Carto's Library is about books I've read and liked.
This entry was posted in Fiction, Poetry, Spanish, Theater, Translation and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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