More Memoirs & Icons (this time fiction?)

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The Postman and the Poet

In 1994 an Italian film “El Postino” (“The Postman”) was released to some acclaim (Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor).  It is the story of a postman, Mario, who is  assigned to deliver mail to the exiled Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, living in the film on an island off the coast of Italy.  The film is based on the novel Aridente Paciencia (Burning Patience) by Chilean writer, Antonio Skarmeta and published in the mid 1980s (later editions of the novel can be found under the English language title The Postman).

In this memoir Neruda and his wife are banished to an island for his political/Communist leanings yet as a poet he remained beloved by the people of Chile.  The postman, having lived all his life on the island, is not a learned man.  Yet his curiosity about this famous man who writes poetry (& who seems to receive a lot of letters from women) motivates him to make Neruda his friend.  As their friendship evolves, the postman begins to understand poetic language.  When he finds himself falling in love with a local woman, the postman asks the poet for love advice.

The story, both funny and heartwarming, originally had fairly overt political undertones related to Chilean politics.  This 1994 film changes the location, however, to an Italian island in the Mediterranean rather than taking place on the book’s truer location of Isla Negra off the coast of Chile.  The timeframe of the film is also changed, and in the original story the postman is much younger in age than the Mario portrayed in the film.  It is not clear if this was an attempt on the part of the filmmakers to steer the story away from its original political nuances and more towards a story of how an unsophisticated man learns with poetic language how to woo and win the woman whose affection he desires.  Not all the political aspects of the original story are ignored in the film, however.

After seeing this movie people have wondered if this story is based on fact.  For some it doesn’t matter one way or another, it is a beautifully rendered situation regardless.

I had heard of the poet Pablo Neruda before seeing this film, however I didn’t know much about his poetry.  Here is a selection of his love poems.  These are translations from Spanish.

Leaning into the Afternoons

Leaning into the afternoons I cast my sad nets
towards your oceanic eyes.

There in the highest blaze my solitude lengthens and flames,
its arms turning like a drowning man’s.

I send out red signals across your absent eyes
that move like the sea near a lighthouse.

You keep only darkness, my distant female,
from your regard sometimes the coast of dread emerges.

Leaning into the afternoons I fling my sad nets
to that sea that beats on your marine eyes.

The birds of night peck at the first stars
that flash like my soul when I love you.

The night gallops on its shadowy mare
shedding blue tassels over the land.

–Pablo Neruda

Clenched Soul

We have lost even this twilight.
No one saw us this evening hand in hand
while the blue night dropped on the world.

I have seen from my window
the fiesta of sunset in the distant mountain tops.

Sometimes a piece of sun
burned like a coin in my hand.

I remembered you with my soul clenched
in that sadness of mine that you know.
Where were you then?
Who else was there?
Saying what?

Why will the whole of love come on me suddenly
when I am sad and feel you are far away?

The book fell that always closed at twilight
and my blue sweater rolled like a hurt dog at my feet.

Always, always you recede through the evenings
toward the twilight erasing statues.

–Pablo Neruda

For people who know Neruda’s poetry there are some who have favorites among his poems.  I stumbled upon this web page recently where two additional love poems (Sonnets) have been posted:


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