Demasiados Nombres
by Pablo Neruda

Demasiados Nombres
Se enreda el lunes con el martes
y la semana con el año:
no se puede cortar el tiempo
con tus tijeras fatigadas,
y todos los nombres del día
los borra el agua de la noche.
Nadie puede llamarse Pedro,
ninguna es Rosa ni María,
todos somos polvo o arena,
todos somos lluvia en la lluvia.
Me han hablado de Venezuelas,
de Paraguayes y de Chiles,
no sé de lo que están hablando:
conozco la piel de la tierra
y sé que no tiene apellido.
Cuando viví con las raíces
me gustaron más que las flores,
y cuando hablé con una piedra
sonaba como una campana.
Es tan larga la primavera
que dura todo el invierno:
el tiempo perdió los zapatos:
un año tiene cuatro siglos.
Cuando duermo todas las noches,
cómo me llamo o no me llamo?
Y cuando me despierto quién soy
si no era yo cuando dormía?
Esto quiere decir que apenas
desembarcamos en la vida,
que venimos recién naciendo,
que no nos llenemos la boca
con tantos nombres inseguros,
con tantas etiquetas tristes,
con tantas letras rimbombantes,
con tanto tuyo y tanto mío,
con tanta firma en los papeles.
Yo pienso confundir las cosas,
unirlas y recién nacerlas,
entreverarlas, desvestirlas,
hasta que la luz del mundo
tenga la unidad del océano,
una integridad generosa,
una fragancia crepitante.
Too Many Names
Mondays are meshed with Tuesdays
and the week with the whole year:
Time cannot be cut
with your weary scissors,
and all the names of the day (5)
are washed out by the waters of the night.
No one can claim the name of Pedro,
nobody is Rosa or Maria,
all of us are dust or sand,
all of us are rain in the rain. (10)
They have spoken to me of Venezuelas,
of Paraguays and of Chiles,
I have no idea what they are saying
I only know the skin of the earth
and I know it is without a name. (15)
When I lived among the roots
they pleased me more than the flowers did,
and when I spoke to a stone
it rang like a bell.
It is so long, the spring (20)
which lasts all winter.
Time has lost his shoes.
A year is four centuries.
When I sleep every night
what am I called or not called? (25)
And when I wake, who am I
if I was not I while I slept?
This is to say that scarcely
have we landed into life,
than we come as if new-born,(30)
let us not fill our mouths,
with so many faltering names,
with so many sad formalities,
with so many pompous letters,
with so much of yours and mine, (35)
with so much signing of papers.
I have a mind to confuse things,
unite them, bring them to birth,
mix them, undress them,
until the light of the world, (40)
has the oneness of the ocean,
a generous, vast wholeness,
a crepitant fragrance.
Pablo Neruda's poem, Demasiados Nombres or Too Many Names is a testament to the feelings of such revolutionaries as Che Guevara when faced with the issue of South America's divisions amongst its many diverse peoples. The poem is an examination of the true meaning of identity. In this case, identity is not to be found in “faltering names” and “sad formalities.” To Neruda, the identity of a singular person as well as the identity of a people does not change with the name it is given.

Che Guevara was very much in support of a unified Latin America where the people were joined by a common ancestry instead of divided by political boundaries. His ideas could have very well been influenced by Neruda of whom he was an avid reader.

They have spoken to me of Venezuelas,
of Paraguays and of Chiles,
I have no idea what they are saying.
I only know the skin of the earth
and I know it is without a name.

Neruda acknowledges the political boundaries that exist but also chooses to recognize the singular identity of the continent itself and its cultural unity. The “skin of the Earth” is without a name. The use of the term “skin” in line 14 makes the land seem almost human. This being that Neruda is describing cannot be named and thus cannot be divided.

The next section of the poem makes a clear reference to the common ancestry that Neruda wishes would unite his people. He states in line 16 that when he lived “among the roots” they pleased him “more than the flowers did.” Line 18 has him talking to a rock which “rang like a bell.” The sound of a bell is what calls a traditional Latin American town to church; in Neruda's case, the rock, the foundation of his people is what unites them. To Neruda, the idea of going back to one's roots is more appealing than branching out like the petals of a flower.

One might initially believe that the mentions of time are not consistent with the political theme of a unified people. However, Neruda uses time to drive across a certain point: the world is constant and no political lines or divisions can destroy the movement of time. He writes that Time cannot be cut with your weary scissors (3). The scissors are the political divisions and names that society attempts to use. Time and identity go hand in hand; no names can change them. Neruda makes the observation in lines 24 - 27 that between the time when he goes to sleep and wakes up, a time where his name is of no use, his identity does not change.

The second to last stanza contains a plea for simplicity; despite the flowery language, the poem in itself is a simple one. Neruda asks the reader to take life as it is and not hamper himself with useless formalities and gestures. In a way, we could relate this poem to the book we read earlier, A Gesture Life. The gestures that hampered down the main character's life are exactly what Neruda is warning against. These useless motions create divisions between people and the empty space is filled with formalities and etiquette. Neruda seeks to remind his readers of a common heritage. The mention in line 35 of "yours and mine" is asking readers to put away their phony individual claims and focus on the community as a whole. From this type of language, one might understand why Guevara made the transition from the ideas presented by Neruda to communism.

The simplicity and the meaning of the poem is well represented through Neruda's use of water. In lines 5 - 6, he remarks that all the names that are applied throughout the day are "washed out by the waters of the night." The night, a time when a name is useless (also referenced in lines 24 - 27), is the sea and the labels that have been applied during the day are simply washed away. The final stanza lets the reader see into Neruda's mind in an almost intrusive way. He shows how he sees the world through the imagery of a vast, uninterrupted ocean, serene and magnificent.

The political undertones of the poem can be better understood through the following video. It is a dramatic representation of Che Guevara's ideals in the movie The Motorcycle Diaries:

Oda A La Cebolla
by Pablo Neruda

Oda A La Cebolla

luminosa redoma,
pétalo a pétalo
se formó tu hermosura,
escamas de cristal te acrecentaron
y en el secreto de la tierra
oscura se redondeó tu vientre
de rocío.
Bajo la tierra
fue el milagro
y cuando apareció
tu torpe tallo verde,
y nacieron
tus hojas como espadas
en el huerto,
la tierra acumuló su poderío
mostrando tu desnuda
y como en Afrodita
el mar remoto
duplicó la magnolia
levantando sus senos,
la tierra
así te hizo,
clara como un planeta,
y destinada
a relucir,
constelación constante,
redonda rosa de agua,
la mesa
de las pobres gentes.
tu globo de frescura
en la consumación
ferviente de la olla,
y el jirón de cristal
al calor encendido
del aceite
se transforma en rizada
pluma de oro.
También recordaré
cómo fecunda
tu influencia el amor
de la ensalada
y parece que el cielo
dándote fina forma
de granizo
a celebrar tu claridad
sobre los hemisferios
de un tomate.
Pero al alcance
de las manos del pueblo,
regada con aceite,
con un poco de sal,
matas el hambre
del jornalero en el
duro camino.
Estrella de los pobres,
hada madrina
envuelta en delicado
papel, sales del suelo,
eterna, intacta, pura
como semilla de astro,
y al cortarte
el cuchillo en la cocina
sube la única lágrima
sin pena.
Nos hiciste llorar
sin afligirnos.
Yo cuanto existe celebré,
pero para mí eres
más hermosa que un ave
de plumas cegadoras,
eres para mis ojos
globo celeste, copa de
baile inmóvil
de anémona nevada
y vive la fragancia
de la tierra
en tu naturaleza
Ode to the Onion

crystalline sack,
your beauty formed,
petal after petal,
of luminous scales (5)
that increased you
and your belly grew with dew
in the mystery of the
dark earth.
Underground (10)
this mystery
and when your cumbersome
green stem burst forth,
and your leaves were born (15)
like sabers
in the garden,
the earth heaped up
her power
showing your naked (20)
and as the withdrawn sea
lifting Aphrodite's breasts
duplicated the magnolia,
so did the earth (25)
fashion you,
clear as a planet,
and destined
to bedazzle, (30)
constant constellation,
round rose of water,
the tabletops
of the poor. (35)
you undo
your globe of freshness
in devout consummation
of the cooking pot, (40)
and the crystal shred
in the flaming heat
of the oil
is transformed into
a curled feather of gold. (45)
Again, I will recall how fertile
is your influence on
the love of the salad,
and it seems that
the sky must aid (50)
by giving you hail's
clever form
to celebrate your
chopped brightness
on the borderlands (55)
of the tomato.
But within reach
of our communal hands
sprinkled with oil,
dusted (60)
with a nip sea salt,
you kill the hunger
of field-laborers
on the hard road.
Star of the oppressed, (65)
pixie godmother
in delicate
paper, you rise from
the ground (70)
infinite, intact, perfect
as any astral seed,
and on chopping you up
the kitchen knife
will raise one single tear (75)
without agony.
You force us to cry
but never hurt us.
I have praised all
the world that exists, (80)
but to me, you
onion, you are
more handsome
than any bird
of dazzling feathers, (85)
a heavenly orb,
a platinum bowl,
an unmoving dance
of the snowy windflower
and the aroma of (90)
wet earth burns
in your luminous being.

In my previous post I talked about Neruda's tendency to use his poems as a medium for his political ideals and societal beliefs. Having considered his communist background, one might be ready to believe that the poem above is simply an extended metaphor for some great philosophy that Neruda wishes his readers to understand. However, Neruda's Oda a la Cebolla or Ode to the Onion is not gravely serious nor political - it is a celebration of new life. The onion is a symbol of life and the beauties it contains.

Although Neruda had a deeply political and philosophical side to his poetry, he also took great pleasure in admiring the little things: an onion for example. In his famous book of odes, he writes dozens of poems dedicated to the celebration of life's little pleasures. The most widely acclaimed of these odes is his Ode to the Onion. His use of dazzling imagery in his metaphors and similies transforms the onion from a simple vegetable to a "luminous being." This imagery also helps the onion become a symbol of new birth into the world.

The poem is a linear telling of an onion's life, from its humble beginnings beneath the earth to its end in a salad bowl. The onion begins as a "crystalline sack" - this seems to imply the image of a uterus, as if the onion is just being born. Similarly, line 7 says that the onion's "belly grew with dew" - the image of a pregnant belly or that of a baby slowly growing to maturity is paired with that of the uterus early on. In lines 10-12, the English translation says that "underground this mystery occurred" but a perhaps more accurate translation (at least in terms of Neruda's meaning) would be "underground this miracle occurred". The word "miracle" once again suggests the idea of birth and the joy of new life in the world.

In lines 22-27, Neruda uses an allusion to Greek mythology in order to create a metaphor comparing the birth of the onion to the birth of Aphrodite. He writes that "as the withdrawn sea lifting Aphrodite's breasts duplicated the magnolia, so did the earth fashion you, onion..." In both cases, it was nature that formed the beings. Aphrodite rose from the sea in the same way that the onion rose from the earth. This gives the birth of an onion a romantic and almost dramatic feel. The mundane event has suddenly become awe-inspiring.

It in lines 32-35, Neruda does make a very subtle commentary on Latin American social classes. It is not a political argument - it is simply a statement meant to emphasize the importance of the onion itself, not just as a symbol, but also as a food. He calls it a "round rose of water, upon the table tops of the poor." This is a reference to the onion's status as the "common man's food." It is not expensive nor rare. Much like corn, it is a staple of the poor population's diet. This reference is again made in lines 61-64 when he writes that "with a nip of salt" an onion can "kill the hunger of field-laborers on the hard road." This serves to emphasize the onion's importance in everyday life.

The onion's greatest importance is, of course, in the kitchen. Neruda gives mouth-watering descriptions of the onion's purpose in all kinds of food. In lines 41-45, he writes that "the crystal shred in the flaming heat of the oil is transformed into a curled feather of gold." This is a detailed account of the process an onion goes through in the frying pan. Although the act of frying a sliver of onion may seem mundane, the "curled feather of gold" seems incredibly valuable when the process is finished. The metaphor of the feather of gold serves to elevate the status of a sliver of onion to that of a valuable resource.

The onion's shape could easily be considered awkward and cumbersome. It is not perfectly round and its layers fall off easily. Neruda uses the image of a "pixie godmother wrapped in delicate paper..." (lines 66-69) to give the onion an identity that is delicate and beautiful, not cumbersome and awkward. The many layers are "delicate paper" and the heart is a "pixie godmother." This gives the onion a vulnerability that would otherwise remain unrecognized. Neruda attributes the tears that one generally has when chopping onion's to the horror and sadness that one feels when destroying this delicate beauty.

The final stanza elevates the onion to a level that is akin to divinity. The onion is, in Neruda's eyes, "more handsome than any bird of dazzling feathers" (lines 83-85). This juxtaposes the image of a colorful bird of paradise with that of a simple onion; the beauty is in its simplicity. He says it is "an unmoving dance of a snowy windflower" as if to say that the onion represents the beauty of a single moment captured in time. The poem ends by returning to the onion's simple roots. The reader is reminded of its humble beginnings by the "aroma of wet earth" which "burns in your luminous being." In this way, Neruda brings the onion full circle. It has been born, brought to an elevated status in the reader's mind, and once again returned to earth.

The 1994 Italian film, Il Postino features a fictional tale of a postman who meets and befriends Neruda. The film does include many of Neruda's actual quotes and many of his beliefs. The clip below features a dramatic representation of Neruda's ideas on metaphors:


Cien Sonetos De amor: XVII
by Pablo Neruda

Cien Sonetos De Amor: XVII

No te amo como si fueras rosa de sal, topacio
o flecha de chaveles que propagan el fuego:
te amo como se aman ciertas cosas oscuras,
secretamente, entre la sombra y el alma.

Te amo como la planta que no florece y lleva
dentro de si, escondida, la luz de aquellas flores,
y gracias a tu amor vive oscuro en mi cuerpo
el apretado aroma que acendio de la tierra.

Te amo sin saber como, ni cuando, ni de donde,
te amo directamente sin problemas ni orgullo:
asi te amo porque no se amar de otra manera,
sino asi de este modo en que no soy ni eres,
tan cerca que tu mano sobre mi pecho es mia,
tan cerca que se cierran tus ojos con mi sueno.
One-Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII

I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries (5)
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose
from the earth lives dimly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you directly without problems or pride: (10)
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.

Finally we come to one of Neruda's most recognizable themes: the theme of love. His political poetry made him popular with the common man and his love sonnets made him popular with women. Neruda's most prominent inspiration for his passionate poetry was his second wife, Matilde. She was his greatest love and all his love poems were dedicated to her. The poem above was no doubt inspired by his love for her.

He begins by dispelling the usual formula used in many love poems: the comparison of one's love to a "rose of salt", "topaz" or an "arrow of carnations." His love cannot be made concrete in the form of visible objects. Instead, it is an obscure love from deep within his soul. The use of the word "obscure" in line 3 is meant to do away with the reader's traditional understanding of romantic poetry in which the love being described is so concrete that it can be compared to other equally visible worldly objects. The love he expresses is described as "secret" as if to express that it is something of the soul that cannot be fully understood.

This idea is reflected in the metaphor he presents in the second stanza. He does not hypocritically compare his love to a rose in bloom; instead, he describes his love in line 6 as the "light of those flowers, hidden, within itself..." This comparison takes away the flamboyancy that one would perceive from the comparison of love to a flower and instead gives his love a secretive and abstract identity. This abstractness is further enhanced by the comparison of the love he shares with the person in question to an "aroma;" something that can be perceived but cannot truly be grasped.

The final stanza is intensely personal but it still makes Neruda's love relate-able. His love is not specific - his love knows no "how", no "when", and no "where." He loves her "directly without problems or pride"; there is no other emotions interfering with his devotion. In this way, he once again deviates from some of the traditional romantic poems. His poem is devoid of emotional conflict and drama; the feeling is pure and unhampered. The poem ends in lines 12-14 with a very simple conclusion. The love expressed is so pure that it is enough to join together two souls, two hearts, and two minds. The hand of his lover upon his chest is his and when she goes to sleep, her "eyes close with my dreams." The distinction of there being two separate beings is lost in the conclusion of the poem and the reader is left with the impression that one true, pure, unhampered love is enough to bring together two people to become one.