For most of us—especially those with a formal literary education—metaphor is, at best, an important rhetorical device. But Chilean author Antonio Scalmeda’s novella “The Postman” will change our minds.
The novel mainly tells the story of the postman Mario and the poet Neruda: Mario is unwilling to become a fisherman like the people around him, but forced by his father, he has to go out to find a job. By chance, Mario found a job delivering letters to the Black Island, and the only person he served was Neruda, because all the other residents of the Black Island were illiterate. With reverence for the poet, Mario readily accepted the job. He consulted poets for poetry and learned the important “speaking style” of metaphors. Later, Mario fell in love with a barmaid, he asked the poet for guidance. As time goes by, in the constant “metaphors”, Mario’s love has been harvested, and the friendship between him and the poet has grown stronger day by day. However, the poet is increasingly caught up in political fluctuations. He was first elected as a presidential candidate, then sent to Paris for diplomatic work, and finally returned to Black Isle, but was persecuted by the military coup d’état and died in pain. After the poet’s death, a new poet emerges, and he is Mario.
For the theme of the novel, people can make various interpretations, such as the theme of love, the theme of politics, the theme of poetry, etc., but the author believes that its real theme is metaphor. The metaphor occupies an absolute core position in the novel. It is not only a language skill, but also a life attitude.
1. Metaphor as a rhetorical device
In the Chinese class of elementary school, we have learned the rhetorical device of metaphor. But Mario Hermenez, the protagonist of The Postman, has read for a few years, but he doesn’t know what a “metaphor” is, even when he has already said a lot of metaphors. So, what is a metaphor? The definition and requirements of a metaphor are complex, as far as I have been educated; however, in this book, the explanation given by the author (through Neruda) is fairly straightforward: “A metaphor” is a way of using one thing to describe another thing by contrast. In fact, the metaphor that the poet is talking about here also includes the rhetorical devices we talk about such as contrast, metaphor, symbolism, and personification.
The “way of speaking” of metaphors is very ancient, and metaphors can be found in their respective literary sources, whether in foreign countries or in China. For example, in the Iliad, Homer compares the warrior to a “lion” and death as a “black mist”; another example is the Book of Songs, which compares the unearned to a “big rat”. Metaphors make ordinary language colorful, and make plain images defamiliar, concrete, and three-dimensional. Not only that, metaphors also play an extremely important role in the success of the work. Take Shakespeare, for example – his work is called “the heart of the Western canon” by Harold Bloom, and one of the important reasons for Bloom to come to this conclusion is the originality of similes/metaphors in Shakespeare’s plays Sexuality and insurmountability. This is the fact that when we read Shakespeare, we are often bumped unsuspectingly by those subtle, rich metaphors that we don’t feel weird because they seem to be written exactly as we feel in our hearts. from. For example, he likened life to “shadows”, “players” and “story” (“Macbeth”), compared his friends to “asphalt” (“Henry IV”) that “cannot be wiped off” once contaminated, and Compare to “Flame” (“Othello”) and so on.
The same is true of The Postman—although it is difficult to say that it surpasses, but in the richness and subtlety of metaphors, it can directly match Shakespeare’s works. The main story of the novel is to write about love, so a lot of metaphors are related to love. For example, when Mario first met the charming Beatrice Gonzalez (who would later become Mario’s wife). He felt that “her white teeth shone in this dilapidated courtyard, like a shower of silver pouring down on him”: playing table football with this girl would make him nervous “bewildered”, “like being in a Some kind of hypnotic state”; by contrast, playing a game with another humble country girl was “as ridiculous as a snail race”.
Under the guidance of the poet, Mario slowly learned to use metaphors to speak and think, and occasionally think of some wonderful metaphors. However, when he faced the girl he liked, he still felt “like a mute, unable to say a word”. He asked Neruda for help, asking the poet to write a poem for him to impress the girl. The poet did not agree to his request, but gave him a complete collection of his own poetry. Mario repeated the name of his sweetheart while reading the works of the poet. Gradually, he became a “poet” who could tell a lot of subtle metaphors. For example, just to describe the girl’s laughter, he used six metaphors: “like a butterfly unfolding in front of me”, “like a rose, like the sound of broken arrows, falling like grains, like rolling away The boiling water…like the rapid rise of silvery white water.” Here, the author demonstrates the beauty of colorful language through Mario’s analogy from multiple perspectives such as hearing, vision, and feeling.
It was under the “wheel tactics” of this metaphor that Mario finally captured the girl’s heart. In the novel, Neruda is Mario’s teacher of poetry, and in reality, he is also the “teacher” of the author of this book. Li Hongqin, the translator of the book, said: “Neruda’s verses or Zeruda-style verses can be found in almost every piece of his works, and traces of his ingenious quotations can be seen.” In this novel, this This “trace” is more of a “Neruda-esque” metaphor. For example, the following metaphors: “The breasts are like two clusters of burning flames”, “the tongue is like a bright red flame”, and the “nipples” are like “two savory raspberries”… From which we can clearly see Neruda’s poems The shadow of the metaphor in the metaphor – the kind of metaphor used to describe the vitality of a woman’s body and the vitality of love with a natural scene with a sense of color and shape.
Translating poetry is a difficult job, and translating the novel “The Postman”—because it has a lot of poetry and poetic connotations—is not easy either. A little carelessness can cause readers to miss the rhythm of the work. . Of course, the vivid metaphors in the novel also reduce this danger—through these translated metaphors that are still fun and poetic, we can fully imagine the beauty and vividness of the original writing.
2. Metaphor as an attitude towards life
As mentioned earlier, the main content of the novel is Mario’s love story. But from the clues, we can find two clues for the development of the story: one is the development of Mario and Beatrice’s love and friendship with Neruda, and the other is the changes in Chilean politics and Neruda’s political fate. These two clues, one is the life of an individual, the other is the fate of the country; one is the story of Mario, the other is connected with the ups and downs of Neruda. For Mario, life was a dull and superficial thing: for Neruda, politics was too much of a burden. In the novel, metaphors become their common way of salvation.
The beginning of the novel is direct and concise, but it sends us an important message, which is Mario’s desire for an unusual life. Because of this desire, he does not want to be a mediocre fisherman who “can’t say anything” and “is a fish-brained”: because of this desire, he yearns for romantic love; because of this desire, he is willing to accept only Deliver a letter to Neruda alone for this job for a “little pennies” salary. More importantly, because of this desire, this young man who had only read the book for a few years suddenly developed a strong interest in “metaphor”, and thus changed the trajectory of his life.
The reason? Actually, the quick-witted and passionate Mario doesn’t see metaphors as more than just a “way of speaking.” For him, metaphor is more of a spirit, a life attitude; this attitude guides people to see things in an extraordinary and interesting way, to see beauty in the ordinary, and detachment from the heavy. This just fits Mario’s inner longing. We can see that Mario grasped this spirit when he first learned about metaphors: he learned to use metaphors to tease girls’ hearts, and to use metaphors to examine his own passions and impulses. Even ordinary or unpleasant things could be spiced up with metaphors: Beatrice’s mother’s hand was an “iron claw” because it blocked her sweetheart: her own appearance was very important to the mother. Said, “as annoying as a big rock hanging from the back of your neck”.
This metaphorical attitude towards life makes Mario the only person on the Black Island.
A person who can communicate with the poet Neruda also makes him eventually grow into a new poet.
The metaphor is also true of the poet Neruda. Neruda loved poetry, nature and women, but he was always involved in politics and was even elected as a presidential candidate. For Neruda, this was “bad news.” He doesn’t know what he will bring to the country, but he seems to know that politics is a subject too heavy for him to control, a language too complicated to control. He commented on his candidacy: “I was selected as a candidate. It was like lighting a fire.”
Contrary to politics, things in life, things in nature (especially the sea) are light and full for poets interesting. In his letter to Mario, he called the other party’s unborn son “the loveliest youngest prince of the Black Isle, an excellent swimmer in the warm placenta of his mother…the king of stones, the king of kites, the champion of driving seagulls”. The poet sent Mario a tape recorder from Paris in order for Mario to record the sounds of the Black Isle for him! This request is a poetic request as well as a figurative request, because it is also the kind of detached, Interesting attitude to life. In fact, for this novel, metaphor is naturally related to poetry, even naturally equal to poetry.
Neruda was ultimately overwhelmed by politics (coup). He fell ill at home and was closely monitored. At this time, however, he also quipped with a metaphor: “I feel like a grilled fish on a hot pan.” He then uses Shakespeare’s metaphor to describe his illness and impending death. In pain, the poet insisted on going to the window to see the sea. The drizzle over the sea is seen by the poet instinctively as a house “covered with rain” and “his eyes…are home to everything he sees: his lips…are everything The home of lexical discourse”. With the power of metaphor, the poet drifts away from reality and death.
The very artistic Calvino mentioned the word “lightness” at the beginning of his “American Lectures”. He said: “Literature is a survival function, a search for ease, and a reaction force to the burden of life.” Therefore, in literature, “light weight is not only a defect but a value.” The novel “The Postman” just embodies Calvino’s value of “lightness”: a metaphor is a magic pen that turns heavy into lightness, a pair of wings that help people escape from the “stone”-like reality (Calvino’s words). Therefore, the metaphor is not only the real theme of the novel, but also an aura that sublimates the novel, and it is also the real protagonist of the novel.
The most moving and unforgettable is the following set of dialogues. The poet, lying on the hospital bed, “smiles and voice is extremely weak,” he said:
”Tell me a good metaphor, child, and let me die in peace.”
”I can’t think of a metaphor, poet,” Mario said.