El Cartero de Neruda

“What are metaphors?” my son asked me. It’s the same question that Mario poses to the poet  Pablo Neruda in the book “The Postman” by  Antonio Skármeta (El cartero de Neruda, but the original title was Ardiente Paciencia).  I remember the words the Chilean poet Neruda says in the book when  explaining the meaning of metaphors  to his postman Mario: metaphors are, more or less, a way to say something by comparing it to another thing. For instance, when we say “tha sky is crying”, we have already  made a metaphor , as it means that “it’s raining”  :

– ¡ Metáforas, hombre!

–  ¿Qué son esas cosas?

El poeta puso una mano sobre el hombro del muchacho.

– Para aclarártelo más  o menos imprecisamente, son modos de decir una cosa comparándola con otra.

– Deme un ejemplo.

Neruda miró  su reloj y suspiró .

-Bueno, cuando tú dices que el cielo está llorando.  ¿Qué es lo que quieres decir?

– ¡Qué fácil! Que está lloviendo.

– Bueno, eso es una metáfora.

(“El Cartero de Neruda , A.Skármeta, Ed.Ave Fénix)

Maybe you will remember the beautiful film based on Skármeta’s  novel  “The Postman” (1994) directed by Michael Radford and with a moving interpretaion by the Italian actor  Massimo Troisi. Though there are some differences between the novel and the screen adaptation, as regards the setting and the end of the story, both impress for their poetic quality.

Antonio Skármeta’s book tells the story of  a young Chilean fisher Mario Jiménez,  hopelessly in love with the sensual and beautiful Beatriz González. One day Mario decides to leave his job and become a postman in Isla Negra,  where the only person who is recieving and sending letters is the great chilean poet Pablo Neruda. A strong friendship as well as a poetic complicity begin between the young postman and the poet Pablo Neruda, in the background Chile is approaching its  tragic destiny.

There’s a curious anectode told by Skármeta about his first meeting with Neruda. Skármeta was still a young writer and gave Neruda a copy of  his first book to have the poet’s  opinion about it. Neruda assured him he would say something the following month, but the impatient Skármeta went back to Neruda after two weeks. Neruda appreciated the book but he also added that opinion did not mean anything, because all the Chilean writers’ first books are good:

-Pero eso no quiere decir nada, porque todos los primeros libros de escritores chilenos son buenos. Esperemos el segundo.

Antonio Skármeta

Something about  Skármeta: Antonio Skármeta was born in Antofagasta, Chile, in 1940, a grandson of Dalmatian immigrants. He managed to begin a course in Philosophy and Literature, at first in Chile and from 1964 to 1966 at the Columbia University. He completed his course with a study of the Argentine Julio Cortázar. He left Chile in 1973, lived for a year in in Argentina and then went to exile in Berlin where he worked until 1989 as a freelance writer, screenplay author and lecturer at the ‘Berlin Film and Television Academy’. Here he wrote, too, in 1975 his first novel, ‘Soñé que la neve ardia‘ (Engl: I Dreamt the Snow was Burning, 1985) which at the same time was conceived as a screenplay.

In 1989, after the collapse of Pinochet’s military dictatorship,  Skármeta returned to Chile. He represented his homeland as Chilean ambassador between 2000 and 2003 in Berlin.   He is considered as one of the most important contemporary Latin American writers. He is also a director, an actor and a translator.