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Pablo Neruda (1904 – 1973)

The ode has a long and illustrious history, from the ancient Greeks to the Romantics. Notable examples include Keats’s Ode on a Grecian Urn and Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind. It is usually a lyrical stanza in praise of, or dedicated to someone or something that has captured the poet’s imagination, thus serving as inspiration for the poem.

Naturally, classical odes use all the devices of prosody; meter, rhyme etc.

But it doesn’t have to be so. Nobel Prize-winning, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda developed his own style of ode, producing numerous examples dedicated to such every-day objects as tomatoes, lemons, his suit, or – as below – a pair of socks.

Oda a los calcetines

Me trajo Maru Mori
un par
de calcetines
que tejió con sus manos
de pastora,
dos calcetines suaves
come liebres.
En ellos
meti los pies
como en
con hebras
del crepusculo
y pellejo de ovejas.

Violentos calcetines,
mis pies fueron
dos pescados
de lana,
dos largos tiburones
de azul ultramarino
por una trenza de oro,
dos gigantescos mirlos,
dos cañones:
mis pies
fueron honrados
de este modo
por estos
tan hermosos
que por primera vez
mis pies me parecieron
como dos decrépitos
bomberos, bomberos
de aquel fuego
de aquellos luminosos

Sin embargo
la tentación aguda
de guardarlos
como los colegiales
los luciérnagas,
como los eruditos
documentos sagrados,
el impulso furioso
de ponerlos
en una jaula
de oro
y darles cada dia
y pulpo de melón rosado.
Como descubridores
que en la selva
entegran el rarisimo
venado verde
al asador
y se lo comen
con remordimiento,
los pies
y me enfundé
los bellos
luego los zapatos.

Y es ésta
la moral de mi oda:
dos veces es belleza
la belleza
y lo que es bueno es doblemente
cuando se trata de dos calcetines
de lana
en el invierno.

Pablo Neruda (1956)

Ode to My Socks

Maru Mori brought me
a pair
of socks
which she knitted with her own
sheepherder hands,
two socks as soft
as rabbits.
I slipped my feet
into them
as if they were
with threads of
and the pelt of sheep.

Outrageous socks,
my feet became
two fish
made of wool,
two long sharks
of ultramarine blue
by one golden hair,
two gigantic blackbirds,
two cannons:
my feet
were honored
in this way
by these
They were
so beautiful
that for the first time
my feet seemed to me
like two decrepit
firemen, firemen
of that embroidered
of those luminous

I resisted
the sharp temptation
to save them
as schoolboys
as scholars
sacred documents,
I resisted
the wild impulse
to put them
in a golden
and each day give them
and chunks of pink melon.
Like explorers
in the jungle
who hand over the rare
green deer
to the roasting spit
and eat it
with remorse,
I stretched out
my feet
and pulled on
then my shoes.

And the moral of my ode
is this:
beauty is twice
and what is good is doubly
when it’s a matter of two
woolen socks
in winter.

Translation © 1997 Stephen Mitchell

As you look at this poem the most obvious thing about it – other than that it is in Spanish – is the length, or rather the brevity, of Neruda’s lines. The use of such short lines has several effects: first, it gives the poem a long and sinuous appearance on the page; second, the brief lines propel the poem – and the reader – down the page at an exhilarating pace; third, the short lines allowed Neruda to isolate and emphasise key words, images and units of sense.

And it is the cascade of images and metaphors that make Neruda’s odes so successful. In Ode to My Socks (above), Neruda compares his feet to fish, sharks, blackbirds, cannons and firemen! In Ode to the Lemon, the sliced fruit is compared to a cathedral:

Oda al Limón

En el limón cortaron
los cuchillos
un a pequeña
el ábside escondida
abrió a la luz los ácidos vitrales
y en gotas
resbaralon los topacios,
los altares,
la fresca arquitectura.

Ode to the Lemon

In the lemon
knives cut
a small
the hidden apse
opened acid windows
to the light
and drops poured out
the topazes,
the altars,
the cool architecture.

This week’s Form for All challenge is to try writing your own Ode in the style of Neruda. So how do you do that?

First, you need to choose an object or a person to write a praise poem about. Next, explore the subject of your poem from as many different angles as possible. Push the boundaries as far as you dare – and then push some more. Look for any and every association you can find for your object; religious, scientific, historical, sociological, cultural and linguistic associations are all fair game and can open up new ways of presenting every-day, ordinary, taken-for-granted objects. You might find that you need – even want – to do some research to help in finding all these links.

For example, if you wanted to write an ode to an apple, you might want to think about the uses of apples, the stories – religious and otherwise – in which apples feature; you could think about the many different varieties of apple and the rich soundscape of their names etc. There really is no limit to where you might go. Not every line of enquiry will be fruitful (sorry – bad pun there); not everything you write in your first draft will succeed, but that’s what editing is for … smiles.

Don’t forget to use lots and lots of concrete images in your poem; try to avoid abstraction and focus on real-life objects. Here’s an excerpt from Neruda’s Ode to the Tomato which should help to show the type of thing we’re aiming at:

Oda al tomate

En Diciembre
se desata
el tomate,
las cocinas,
entra por los almuerzos,
se sienta
en los aparadores,
entre los vasos,
las mantequilleras,
los saleros azules.

Ode to the Tomato

In December
the tomato
cuts loose,
the kitchens,
takes over lunches,
sits down
on sideboards
among the glasses,
the butter dishes,
the blue salt-cellars.

Don’t be afraid to pile up your images – one to a line, or even one over a couple of lines. This is your chance to really go to town, to show us the world – or at least a small part of it – in a completely new way, to show us the mundane in an extraordinary light, to make bratwurst, or pigeons, or ketchup, or … exciting again.

You don’t have to write your poem in Spanish … smiles … but you do need to stick to the short lines of Neruda’s style. Oh, come on, there has to be one rule, right?

What to do now.

• Write your Nerudan ode and post it to your blog.
• Add a link to your poem via the ‘Mr Linky’ below.
• This opens a new screen where you’ll enter your information, and where you also choose links to read. Once you have pasted your poem’s blog URL and entered your name, click Submit. Don’t worry if you don’t see your name right away.
If you write more than one ode, it’s OK to link them separately … smiles.
• Read and comment on other people’s work to let them know it’s being read.
• Share your work and that of your fellow poetsvia your favourite social media platforms.
• Above all – have fun!