“He is a Communist since he is loved by women”, says the postman Mario Ruoppolo (late Massimo Troisi). “No, no, he is loved by the people,” corrects the telegrapher friend (Renato Scarpa).
Loved, he was throughout, as the movie “Postino Il” so flawlessly depicted. It just could not have been otherwise, when it came to the peoples’ poet Pablo Neruda. Not just the greatest living poet of the 20th century in any language, as the great novelist Gabriel García Márquez called him, but also one of the most outspoken Communists of the age, Neruda represented the unsung, unheard and unwept. Leftwing activism to free love, surreal philosophy to existential angst of the atheist, Neruda symbolized the brilliance as far as brilliance could be.
Today he would have turned 101. And perhaps a bit sadder at the way world events have changed. After succeeding in actively supporting the first democratically elected Socialist government of the world in Chile, Neruda denounced in no uncertain terms the US-supported military coup to destabilize the region (as vocal as he was during Cuban missile crisis and Vietnam War). When his house was ransacked, he remarked “Look around — there’s only one thing of danger for you here — poetry”.
Salutes, Comrade Neruda.
And here are four of my picks from the legendary words. When Mario used Neruda’s poems to impress upon his love, Neruda said he could not help the rebuff since they were his words, not Mario’s anyway. Mario quipped: “Poetry doesn’t belong to those who write it; it belongs to those who need it.” Neruda fully agreed with his new friend.
When the postman asked of the metaphors, Neruda could not explain well, “when you explain poetry, it becomes banal. Better than any explanation is the experience of feelings that poetry can reveal to a nature open enough to understand it.” And our postman finally got the most beautiful woman in the town, by singing to her that her smile spread like a butterfly and her laugh was a sudden silvery spoon. His inspiration: Pablo Neruda.
I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way
that this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.
I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.
To think I don’t have her. To feel that I’ve lost her.
To hear the immense night, more immense without her.
And the poem falls to the soul as dew to grass.
I no longer love her, true, but perhaps I love her.
Love is so short and oblivion so long.
Because on nights like this I held her in my arms,
my soul is lost without her.
Although this may be the last pain she causes me,
and this may be the last poem I write for her.
And it was at that age…Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.
I happen to be tired of being a man
I happen to enter tailor shops and movie houses
withered, impenetrable, like a felt swan
navigating in a water of sources and ashes.