On World Poetry Day, remembering the friendship between Pablo Neruda and a postman

Posted on March 21, 2019


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Ardiente paciencia (Burning Patience), by the Chilean writer Antonio Skármeta, was published in 1985. The story, set in Chile, imagined a fictional friendship between Pablo Neruda and a shy postman named Mario. The #poetryRocks conceit was as Romantic as it gets. The entire village (fisherfolk, mostly) is illiterate, and then we have Neruda, one of the most reputed man of letters in the world. Naturally, he’s the only one getting mail (he hopes one of those letters will be from the Nobel committee), and after some hesitation, Mario summons up the courage to talk to him. They talk about poetry. They talk about politics. They talk about women. The book’s title comes from a line by Arthur Rimbaud that Neruda worked into his Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “Only with burning patience shall we conquer the splendid city that will give light, justice, and dignity to all men. Thus poetry will not have sung in vain.”

Ardiente paciencia is one of the great literary bromances, and it was made into a movie of the same name (directed by the author himself). But most of the world knows this story through the super-successful Italian film, Il Postino (The Postman, 1994), directed by the New Delhi-born Michael Radford. I haven’t seen the film version of Ardiente paciencia, but Il Postino is a sweetly sentimental tale about how poetry can transform lives. As in the book, the Mario character falls for Beatrice, who works in her aunt’s restaurant – and poetry becomes his way to woo her. At first, he is tongue-tied. But as his interactions with Neruda become more frequent, everything changes. Skármeta writes: “First with a vehemence and then as if he were a puppet and Neruda the ventriloquist, [Mario] gained such fluency that images flowed magically out of him, and the conversation – or rather the recital – lasted until dark.”

Continued at the link above.

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