April 13, 2018

Keeping Quiet

My father, Don Irish, died one year ago at age 97.  He was not one to keep quiet or to stay still. Even so, this Pablo Neruda poem has me thinking about him, and how we might all benefit from not rushing around so much. The next-to-last verse below is especially compelling: It does seem as if not understanding ourselves threatens us terribly. I seek stillness on this spring evening, thinking of Don, wherever he went.



by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.

Life is what it is about…

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Extravagaria: A Bilingual Edition
by Pablo Neruda (Author), Alastair Reid (Translator)
Noonday Press; Bilingual edition (2001)

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