Mario Benedetti and the Golden Key

Kazimir Malevich, Sportsmen, 1930-31, oil on canvas, 142 × 164 cm.


The Uruguayan, one of the giants of Latin American literature, best known in Brazil as a poet and novelist, is an absolute master of short storytelling.

“Gold key” is a consecrated expression, in literature, to designate the last verse of a sonnet, the one that perfectly synthesizes or concludes the idea developed in the poem. By extension, it is also applied to everything that ends successfully, in a masterful way, be it a short story, novel or long poem.

It should be remembered that good fables are also closed in an exemplary way, since the times of Aesop. The sometimes surprising moral is always saved for last. Even in the most prosaic and vulgar forms of fiction, such as saloon or bar jokes, the more the golden key is well elaborated, the more applause – or laughter – it elicits from the audience.

Short stories and detective novels make great use of this formula, as the mystery should only be revealed at the end. Probably many writers, fabulists, poets and jokers first grasp the potentiality of a phrase or image, and build a plot that has its corollary in that key.

In the XNUMXth century, with the fragmentation and deconstruction of genres and styles, the golden key was put in check. Outdated model, for some, mainly those who cultivate a more formalist, experimental language, for whom full fruition must permeate the entire literary project, through language. There is something Parnassian about this vision, of considering the text a kind of sculpture that must be appreciated from all angles, but it is undeniable that there are contemporary masterpieces that do not need such a golden key, whether in verse or prose.

Let's stay with the latter, with some examples. In his short stories, Machado de Assis carved his golden key with the playful feather and the ink of melancholy, as he himself revealed. Guimarães Rosa, while not discarding it, bet on the enchantment of language, on the challenging and melodic construction of language.

Why melodic? Because, unlike literature, music does not need a golden key. We marvel at the sound architecture of a symphony or a concert, whether or not it has that golden closure. It's not the last chord that moves or surprises us,[1] but the aesthetic discourse, the way in which it develops. In popular music, the lyrics sometimes use the ingenious resource, literary heritage, but it is not essential for it to become a esteemed success.

This small reflection occurs to me at the end of a rereading of Montevideans, collections of short stories by Mario Benedetti. The Uruguayan, one of the giants of Latin American literature, best known in Brazil as a poet and novelist, is an absolute master of short storytelling. Montevideans, published in 1959, focuses on his country's small middle class, which equals that of all countries. Pettiness, concealed hatred, rivalry, ambition, the absence of solidarity, all of this is placed under the microscope of Mario Benedetti, who analyzes and describes his countrymen with fierce humor and acute vision.

Astute investigator of the greatness and smallness of the human being, the writer uses that golden key with such mastery that it leaves us amazed. One of the founders of the continent's literary modernity, cultivator of a fluid, clear language, without unnecessary flourishes, he describes a situation in a few pages and solves it in an exemplary way.

Obviously, I'm not going to reproduce here some of those final phrases, usually seasoned with humor and sarcasm. The risk of revealing the secret that guides the narrative is immense. The left-wing humanist, who was exiled by the dictatorship, lived in several countries, and was able to write verses like “If I want you, it's because you are / My love, my partner and everything / And on the street, codo by codo / Somos mucho más que dos” (verses from the song I love you, recorded by several artists) united like few reason and feeling, revolt and compassion. A prolific writer, but never repetitive, he knew how to value the heritage of those who preceded him, smoothing out the excesses and offering us a distillate of the most refined extraction. But without ever losing the irony.

* Daniel Brazil is a writer, author of the novel suit of kings (Penalux), screenwriter and TV director, music and literary critic.


Mario Benedetti. Montevideans. Translation: Ercilio Tranjan. São Paulo, Mundaréu, 2016, 168 pages.


[1] The Bolero de Ravel is, in this sense, an astonishing exception.

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