An Insight Into “Keeping Quiet” by Pablo Neruda

An insight into ‘Keeping Quiet’ by Pablo Neruda

Introspection is a virtue which seems to have exited the contemporary world. Pablo Neruda is affirming the importance of this venerated virtue in his reflective poem ‘Keeping Quiet’. The poem begins with a couplet in which the poet offers to count to twelve and he asks the whole world to keep quiet for a while.

Here, a question arises. Why does the poet count till twelve? When an activity is to start in unison, it is customary to count till three (in most cases) or four before the commencement of the activity. But the relevance of the number 12 is a matter of contemplation. The poet may be referring to the number in the clock; but why so long? Is it because the poet thinks that the present world, where everybody talks and no body listens, is so used to talking, that it will take time before the poet’s message gets registered?

The poet wants the whole world, irrespective of territorial or linguistic barriers, to stop all activities for a while. Pablo Neruda indirectly points out that the talks and activities of the present world are more destructive than constructive, and so let it cease for a time. His tone in the next stanza shows that he is more or less savoring this ‘exotic’ moment when the whole world shares a rare togetherness of strange inactivity.

This inactivity is not of a negative quality. This induces man to think about the things he has never considered before. The fishermen would not harm whales and the salt gatherer will tend to his affected hands. In short, man will start thinking about himself as well as others. The whales represent ‘others’ and the salt gatherer tending to his own hands, represents man thinking of himself.

The poet presumes that when man gets time to think about himself and others, perhaps those who are engaged in different kinds of warfare (green wars, wars with gas, wars with fire) will realize the futility of their triumphant wars with few survivors and mingle with their fellow beings in a new found friendship and love. Green war may mean wars fought in jungles or man bringing about environmental degradation. The second explanation seems to be more relevant.

Here Neruda wants to clarify one point. When he recommends inactivity, he does not mean death or lethargy. He means life in which profound thoughts take place. Man is now concerned about his own life. When he is concerned only about his own life, he will be most afraid of death. Pablo Neruda advises man to allow himself a certain amount of introspection by which he understands himself and his fellow humans. Then he may not be that very threatened by death. The poet wants human beings learn a lesson from earth. While the winter Earth seems to be all dead and inactive, it will be undergoing a rejuvenation process and when spring comes, it comes out all exuberant with vibrant life. Likewise, man should undergo this quiet introspection and then emerge with a new energy that will provide him and all around him with a new life.

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