If there is only one quote I remember from the last year of my undergraduate degree, that may be it. Today is my first Saturday of ‘freedom’ since finishing my course work for my undergraduate degree. I feel so…liberated…at a bit of a loss for what to do, still very tired, but most of all, extremely happy that I am soon going to be reunited with my family and friends back at home. And of course, for the excited summer adventures to be had with them and with new friends I will make once I move back home.
So, that quote…it literally means, “I love, you love, he loves, we love, they love, you love. If only it were not a (verb) conjugation but reality.” If you have ever studied a ‘Romance’ language (one based on Latin, including Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and many other less known languages and dialects in southern Europe) this should make you chuckle.
Uruguayan poet, novelist and journalist who was unfortunately hardly known in the English-speaking world, Benedetti was a Latin American icon literary icon. After 88 years of passionate living, he passed away in 2009 in Montevideo, the city he had long called home after growing up in Paso de los Toros (b.1920). I studied some his poems in a Latin American Poetry of XX century class in the fall semester and many of them are still stuck in my head!
Benedetti will be remembered as a member of the ‘Generation of 45’, a Uruguayan intellectual and literary movement which included individuals such as Mario Arregui, Amanda Berenguer, Juan Carlos Onetti, Líber Falco, Manuel Flores Mora, Tola Invernizzi, Mauricio Muller, José Pedro Díaz, Carlos Real de Azúa, Emir Rodríguez Monegal and Idea Vilariño, among others.
He wrote in the famous weekly Uruguayan newspaper Marcha. From 1973 to 1985, when a military dictatorship ruled Uruguay, Benedetti lived in exile in Buenos Aires, Lima, Havana and Spain, as did many other Latin American intellectuals in the 70s and 80s in order to continue publishing with less risk of persecution.
Once democracy had been restored, Benedetti divided his time between the capitals of Uruguay and Spain. In 1986 he was awarded Laureate Of The International Botev Prize. In 2005, he was named the recipient of the Premio Menéndez y Pelayo.
His poetry was used in the 1992 Argentine movie The Dark Side of the Heart (El lado oscuro del corazón) in which he read some of his poems in German.
In 2006, Mario Benedetti signed a petition in support of the independence of Puerto Rico from the United States of America. I’ve made a friend (José) from Puerto Rico this semester and I now understand just how contentious this issue is, although it is certainly never mentioned in North American news. José is also a fan of Benedetti, because after all, he is a legend in América Latina.
Just to give you a small hint of the beautiful person Benedetti was, consider this: before dying he dictated to his personal secretary, Ariel Silva, what would become his last poem.
What I find most fascinating about his poems is that they are a superb blend of love and other emotions, politics, and a play on words and grammar, yet they still have a simple elegance. My favourites are “Bienvenida” (“Welcome”), “El Sur También Existe” (“The South Exists Too”), “Arco Íris” (“Rainbow”), “Hagamos un trato” (“We’ll make a deal”), “Un hombre preso mira a su hijo” (An imprisoned man looks at his son”), “Ser y Estar” (“To be and To be”-because in Spanish there are two verbs which mean ‘to be’) and of course, the classic of classic Benedetti poems: “Te Quiero” (“I Love You”).
There are now some English translations of poems by this outstanding writer online. I wish you pleasant times reading some of them. And hopefully many more enjoyable times reading my blog. Welcome! ¡Bienvenido! Bienvenue! ¡Bem-vindo!