His hand was warm and comforting, as usual. The almost childlike, yet passionate contact between her palm and his, of the man she loved, helped her find the words to tell him. She had been sure for a few days and now was the moment to tell him. The way to Monte Solaro had become familiar and all this helped her.
Spring scattered the sky with swallows, blew the rocks green and splashed bold, but exquisitely harmonious fuschia-coloured bougainvillea here and there: flower blooms that seemed to echo her tousled, red curls that he adored, which had transformed her into “beautiful chascona” in the affectionate language of lovers. Capri was a dream, a dream of love and magic that they had sought for so long, and while they strolled to the silent music of the island, Matilde took a deep breath of the crisp air of freedom around them and told him. Hand in hand still swinging, her grasp slightly tighter betraying emotion, she uttered aloud her thought: “We’re expecting a baby”, words that rang in Pablo’s soul as confirmation.
At once Pablo became simply Ricardo Eliecer Neftalì Reyes Basoalto, the man before becoming an artist, before deciding to adopt the name of the poet Jan Neruda he had just finished reading on the bus to Santiago one morning in 1921. Memories swept through him of the teacher who had encouraged him to write, the same one who had given him that book, a woman, Gabriela Mistral, whose life was permeated by her country and literature, and in whose footsteps he had in a sense followed. Footsteps that years later would lead him to being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. “We’re expecting a child”, almost a password that conjured up a host of memories.
A child reduces you to your essence and his essence was Chile. What would it be like to become a father? Would he better understand his father’s reasons for wanting him to be a state worker and who opposed his dreams of becoming an author? Even if he weighs a hundred and forty kilos, his stomach still rumbles at the thought of all the meals he had skipped when his family stopped sending him money, when he decided to leave his hometown in search of his future.
A future that started in Santiago, where he had come into contact with intellectuals, the capital of Chile that in the 1920s was at the height of its cultural splendour, where people fell in love and suffered, where poetic inspiration, more than the body, was nourished, the inspiration that his teacher had seen shine in him since he had been a child. But from a financial point of view his life was a disaster. One day, which now seemed so distant, in a moment of despair he had even decided to sell his father’s watch at a pawn shop, the only valuable object left. He did not do this to have something to eat, but to publish his first book of poems: “Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada”. What a long time ago, yet “I want to do with you what Spring does to the cherry trees” was still more than ever his guiding principle.
He had been a diplomat, then a militant Communist against his country’s government which had led him to flee to Europe, crossing the Andes on horseback, which was difficult considering his robust constitution. However, he had made it. Now he was happy, indeed they were both happy. He was with Matilde Urrutia, the woman he loved. They were together. They were in Italy. A post-war Italy aided by the Americans, though not without idealogical complications, which almost led to his expulsion, but then, fortunately, was immediately revoked. Capri had welcomed them, despite the diffidence of some who considered the Chilean poet a “dangerous Communist”. No matter. His blood had coursed more quickly through his veins at the news of Matilde’s new life within her, so what more could he want?
He removed his beret and rubbed his head, as if he were stroking his thoughts, loosened his silk scarf and took his pipe out his pocket. He never went anywhere without it. This was the moment to light it up. Right here, amidst the happiness and rocks of Capri, enjoying the calm sea that embraced the island and his lover. And while the tobacco aroma filled his mouth and soul, he had an idea. He would marry Matilde on the first night of the full moon.
A symbolic marriage, seeing that in Chile he was still officially married to Delia del Carril. But it is love that chooses the spouse, not a contract. Thus, the day after they started to make preparations. A dressmaker on the island, instructed by Neruda, prepared the wedding dress made of black-and-green-striped cloth shimmering with gold thread, woven on traditional looms. The house was decorated with branches of broom, wild flowers and poetry, poetry that had crowded his mind since he had landed on the Island. Matilde saw to the dinner, duck à l’orange and seafood. The ring that Pablo put on her finger at full moon said: “Capri, 3 May, 1952. Your Captain”, thus sealing a “forever” that would never be forgotten.
"If You Forget Me" - The Captain’s Verses (Pablo Neruda)
I want you to know
You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.
If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.
if each day,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.