Thursday, April 15, 2010

Poetry of Neruda: Walking around and Ode to Clothes

This week's Neruda poem is an interesting piece, quite different to the others I have selected  previously.  If you missed my previous posts on the April is Poetry Month Neruda series go here to catch up.  I like Neruda the romantic, but to say that he wrote romantic poetry would be to deny the other equally stunning and important types of poetry he wrote.

Walking Around can be interpreted a few ways.  Poetry is like that because when we each read a poem we bring to the table our background, experiences and mood and we are allowed to read into the poem what ever we like. Poetry speaks to each of us in its own way amplifying that upon which our psyche needs to focus and allowing us to interpret it in our own context.

Upon initial read, this poem might bring to mind the the exhausting amount of random memories and ideas we all carry with us even while doing the most mundane tasks.  In my interpretation it is also about continuing on through the exhausting pace of modern life.  This line brings out my zen interpretation:
I stroll along serenely, with my eyes, my shoes,
my rage, forgetting everything,

My thought: Amid some a whole lot of stuff going on around me, I stroll along serenely and let everything wash over me.

One might think that Neruda's wrote this poem while exiled from his home country during the communist takeover there. It could echo his frustration and isolation from having been ejected from his home country and set on a wanderers path from country to country as he tried to find a way back home.  

Actually, Pablo Neruda wrote this poem when he was consul of Chile in India and at that time, the British controlled India.  Some suggest that he is using surrealism to exaggerate the poverty and death he sees.  They interpret the line, I don't want to continue as a root and a tomb, differently, reasoning that a root is underground, oblivious to the events taking place above the earth as is a tomb. They believe this line means that he does not want to live in ignorance. 

That is the fun about poetry - we can take from them what we will and use them to make sense of the world around us or to explore our feelings about a topic in any way we wish.

On that note, let me next introduce this tremendous video I found to accompany the poem Walking Around.  I am not so thrilled with the visuals, although you might find it less kitch than I,  but I am absolutely blown away with the audio ... the wonderful interpretation of the verse and made all the more an audio treat by the accompanying jazz piano and occasional horn.

Walking Around
It so happens I am sick of being a man.
And it happens that I walk into tailorshops and movie
dried up, waterproof, like a swan made of felt
steering my way in a water of wombs and ashes.

The smell of barbershops makes me break into hoarse
The only thing I want is to lie still like stones or wool.
The only thing I want is to see no more stores, no gardens,
no more goods, no spectacles, no elevators.

It so happens that I am sick of my feet and my nails
and my hair and my shadow.
It so happens I am sick of being a man.

Still it would be marvelous
to terrify a law clerk with a cut lily,
or kill a nun with a blow on the ear.
It would be great
to go through the streets with a green knife
letting out yells until I died of the cold.

I don't want to go on being a root in the dark,
insecure, stretched out, shivering with sleep,
going on down, into the moist guts of the earth,
taking in and thinking, eating every day.

I don't want so much misery.
I don't want to go on as a root and a tomb,
alone under the ground, a warehouse with corpses,
half frozen, dying of grief.

That's why Monday, when it sees me coming
with my convict face, blazes up like gasoline,
and it howls on its way like a wounded wheel,
and leaves tracks full of warm blood leading toward the

And it pushes me into certain corners, into some moist
into hospitals where the bones fly out the window,
into shoeshops that smell like vinegar,
and certain streets hideous as cracks in the skin.

There are sulphur-colored birds, and hideous intestines
hanging over the doors of houses that I hate,
and there are false teeth forgotten in a coffeepot,
there are mirrors
that ought to have wept from shame and terror,
there are umbrellas everywhere, and venoms, and umbilical

I stroll along serenely, with my eyes, my shoes,
my rage, forgetting everything,
I walk by, going through office buildings and orthopedic
and courtyards with washing hanging from the line:
underwear, towels and shirts from which slow
dirty tears are falling.

Translated by Robert Bly

Ode to Clothes

I couldn't find a video reading of the following poem but I was so struck by it that I had to include it in this post as an "easter egg" (OK, so Easter was last week and I am late).  It is amazing to me how the man can write an ode so full of love, reverence, tenderness and even passion with words describing his clothes and the relationship he has with them.  He is able, through the use of very concrete and simple phrases use the ordinary things we do with and around our clothes and create an image of symbolic allegory to a  loving relationship with a real person.

But then, that is just my interpretation and of course he may well just be writing about his clothes.  Somehow I think not.

Ode to Clothes

Every morning you wait,
clothes, over a chair,
to fill yourself with
my vanity, my love,
my hope, my body.
risen from sleep,
I relinquish the water,
enter your sleeves,
my legs look for
the hollows of your legs,
and so embraced
by your indefatigable faithfulness
I rise, to tread the grass,
enter poetry,
consider through the windows,
the things,
the men, the women,
the deeds and the fights
go on forming me,
go on making me face things
working my hands,
opening my eyes,
using my mouth,
and so,
I too go forming you,
extending your elbows,
snapping your threads,
and so your life expands
in the image of my life.
In the wind
you billow and snap
as if you were my soul,
at bad times
you cling
to my bones,
vacant, for the night,
darkness, sleep
populate with their phantoms
your wings and mine.
I wonder
if one day
a bullet
from the enemy
will leave you stained with my blood
and then
you will die with me
or one day
not quite
so dramatic
but simple,
you will fall ill,
with me,
grow old
with me, with my body
and joined
we will enter
the earth.
Because of this
each day
I greet you
with reverence and then
you embrace me and I forget you,
because we are one
and we will go on
facing the wind, in the night,
the streets or the fight,
a single body,
one day, one day, some day, still.


  1. gazi saiful islamJune 1, 2011 at 3:01 AM

    It's very beautiful & important web- where i can find my favorite poems by p Neruda. I love neruda's poems, I translated some of them. And one I will traslate all of his poems.

  2. Thanks for visiting my web and glad you enjoy Neruda. I have blogged about quite a few of his poems.

    You will be very busy for a long time translating all of his poems my friend. Neruda was very prolific - he wrote thousands. I own 6 books of his poetry and I still don't have them all. A good starting point would be "The Essential Neruda, Selected Poems, Edited by Mark Eisner and translated into English from the original Spanish by various individuals. It is a compilation of his best work from various periods.


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