Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda
A word about the poet .. Reading Pablo Neruda’s poems will remain an incomplete exercise if one does not get to know of this colourful, thoughtful, and universalist person. Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto (1904 – 1973), was the real name of Pablo Neruda, which was his pen name. Neruda showed his literary flourish when he was a young 13-year-old Chilean boy. He got into politics, diplomacy, prose writing, philosophy, and anything stimulating that came his way. But, poetry was his forte and he excelled in it. His heart pined for peace, love, pacifism, and universal brotherhood. He loathed war, and was saddened to see the way humans take to arms to resolve their differences. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. More than the Nobel, the thinking humans acclaim him for rekindling the noble ideas of peace and comradery.
The poem ..
Now we will count twelve
and we will all keep still
Meaning .. The poet asks his readers to get into a calm, contemplative mood. To calm the restless mind, he wants us to count twelve and remain motionless. This is a prelude to listening to his later thoughts.
For once on the face ……………………… arms so much
Meaning .. He urges his listeners to eschew bellicosity. Language divides us as much as it unites us. At times, it can be devastatingly divisive. In the past, and even today, nations have been roiled by linguistic strife. So, the poet gives us a sagely advice. He wants us to not speak, and not stretch our arms. This is a metaphor that implies that his readers should shun the tendency to dominate, acquire, and spread their wings. By withdrawing ourselves to our bare existence, we can moth-ball the demon in us, and rein in our aggressive tendencies from overpowering our noble selves.
It would be an exotic ……………….. sudden strangeness
Meaning … It would be a strange, calm, and muted moment, which we have seldom experienced before. There will be no frenzy of action, no push to stride past others, and no urge to trample on other’s shoes. An unusual tranquility will pervade casting its spell on all around us. It would truly be a un-flustered, angst-free environment.
Fisherman in the cold ………………. hurt hands
Meaning …The fisherman in the cold sea would stop the cruel practice of hunting whales. This is a metaphor to describe how curbing our tendency to acquire, exploit, and plunder the earth’s precious and limited resources, we can bring to an end the toxic consequences of reckless and avaricious disemboweling of Mother Earth. When the exploitation stops, the perilous consequences of environmental degradation will stop too. The salt-gatherer in the sea beaches can find time to see his hand blistered by the constant exposure to corrosive salt. In other words, life will become easy-paced, balanced, and environment-friendly.
Those who prepare green …………….. doing nothing
Meaning … Modern warfare has become unimaginably deadly due to the massive destruction the weapons cause. Weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological weapons, and the most cruel—the nuclear weapons – cause death, destruction, and mayhem in mind-boggling scale. Political leaders, prodded on by their war-mongering generals use these weapons of annihilation with no qualms, no remorse. They do not suffer the aftermath of their actions. Instead, when fellow humans in distant lands get suffocated, burnt, and suffer radiation hazards, the leaders who ordered the use of the weapons move around in their nice clothes, and enjoying power, glory, and adulation from their countrymen.
What I want ………………………. ourselves with death
Meaning … The poet wants to dispel any confusion in the minds of his readers by clarifying that his persuasive arguments to go slow in life is not to glorify inaction or languidness. We must work to feed ourselves, to thrive and forge ahead in life. If we cocoon ourselves in a shell of inactivity, we are doomed. By retreating from the world of action, we will bring starvation, disease, and death onto ourselves. That will be catastrophic.
Perhaps the earth ……………………… be alive
Meaning .. The poet knows that his advice has created some confusion in the minds of the readers. How to decide where and when to draw the line between optimal activity, and exploitative activity? The best guide can be Mother Earth, if we care to listen to her muffled voice. She would tell us about the fine balance between over exploitation and sustainable exploitation. Over-exploitation spells death, where as sustainable exploitation keeps us alive and going.
Now I will ………….. I will go
Meaning .. The philosopher-poet, the wise man now prepares to leave the scene letting us to reflect on his advice and introspect. Figuratively, he says he will count twelve, and the readers have to remain quiet. Then he will walk away, and the readers would then draw the required lessons.
QUESTION AND ANSWERS …
Q1. What agitates Pablo Neruda? Answer .. Pablo Neruda is a humanist. He is also a wise and compassionate man. The never-ending strife, the discords, and the wars cause him great unease. The disharmony among races, nationalities and countries leads to battles and bloodshed. He wants peace and harmony to prevail. Apart from this, the urge to engage in ruthless competition to spread influence, garner resources, and elbow out the weaker nations and ethnic groups leaves him sad. Over exploitation of Mother Earth’s resources such as minerals, coal, fishes, and forests causes irreversible damage to Earth. He wants people to realize that senseless greed for resources must be curbed.
Q2. Why does the poet want us to count twelve and remain quiet till then? Answer … We all are in constant active mode — thinking, working, talking, arguing, or fighting. The poet wants us to pause, and bring all such activities to a standstill. By remaining quiet physically and mentally, we can prepare our mind to get into a contemplative mode. Only then, we can receive the poet’s sagely advice, and appreciate the well-meaning advice of the philosopher-poet.
Q3. Why does the poet wants us not to speak or stretch our hands? Answer … Speaking often chafes other’s senses. It causes arguments, rancor, and incites beastly tendencies in us. Quite naturally, remaining silent will bring an end to the bitterness caused by lose and aggressive talking. He wants s not to raise our hands. It is a symbolic gesture. When we keep our hands folded, we stop all work, all sorts of belligerence behavior, and all offensive action. This self-imposed inactivity will prepare us to listen to and appreciate the poet’s sagely sermons.
Q4. What evils of mankind troubles the poet most? Answer .. Intolerance towards other people’s language, faith, and ethnicity has resulted in needless rivalry, and armed conflicts. There is also the urge among nations to compete and stay ahead in terms of wealth and military power. The wealthy and powerful nations tend to dominate over smaller nations. Such extreme competition bruises the soul of mankind, and leaves the smaller and weaker nations humiliated. The poet feels that fierce competition to stay ahead in wealth creation must be moderated.
Q5. Does the poet want us to become inactive? Answer .. The poet certainly does not support, laziness, and indolence. Rather, he wants us to strive our best to prosper and flourish. At the same time, he wants us to curb our tendency to corner other people’s shares or opportunities. Hard work is desirable, but exploitative tendencies are not.
Q6. What solutions the poet suggests to make this world a more livable place? .. Answer … We must learn to be tolerant, and be accommodating towards people of different origins and faiths. We need to curtail our extraction of earth’s resources like minerals, water, forests and marine wealth, so that the practice is sustainable, and the Earth gets time to regenerate the lost quantities. Call to arms to resolve conflicts must be eschewed at all costs.