“Keeping Quiet”

April is National Poetry Month, and though I didn’t post about it on here, I observed it as I always do. I love poetry. I truly think poetry is the only voice that many people have in this world. I know my students connect to poetry, and I know when I was their age, I connected to it as well. And as I’ve grown, I still connect to it, but in a very different way. Instead of writing poetry about my complex feelings, I’ve read the poetry of others. I’ve enveloped myself in the musings of others as they deal with their own complex emotions.

If I had to name my favorite poet of all time, I think it’d be Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto, better known by his pen name (and later his legal name) Pablo Neruda. Neruda’s poetry has always touched me. Last year I wrote about my favorite love poem of his, “Tu Risa.” This year, however, I’m sharing a different poem.

This poem, “Keeping Quiet” is one that resonates with me in today’s atmosphere. I don’t just mean the political atmosphere, though to talk about Neruda’s poetry is to talk about the political atmosphere. I mean in this world that is full of hate and greed and envy. This atmosphere in which we spend more time tearing each other down than building each other up. Sometimes I am truly overcome with grief at the way people behave toward one another. I’ve caught myself crying at interactions on Facebook and at the grocery store. I just want to shout a refrain of, “why can’t we all get along?”

Neruda has taught me that I’m not alone in this sentiment. Maybe if we all took a moment to count to twelve, if we all stood still and looked around as brothers and sisters, maybe we could find love for one another, instead of hatred.

“Keeping Quiet”

Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve

and we will all keep still.

This one time upon the earth,

let’s not speak any language,

let’s stop for one second,

and not move our arms so much.

It would be a delicious moment,

without hurry, without locomotives,

all of us would be together

in a sudden uneasiness.

The fishermen in the cold sea

would do no harm to the whales

and the peasant gathering salt

would look at his torn hands.

Those who prepare green wars,

wars of gas, wars of fire,

victories without survivors,

would put on clean clothing

and would walk alongside their brothers

in the shade, without doing a thing.

What I want shouldn’t be confused

with final inactivity:

life alone is what matters,

I want nothing to do with death.

If we weren’t unanimous

about keeping our lives so much in motion,

if we could do nothing for once,

perhaps a great silence would

interrupt this sadness,

this never understanding ourselves

and threatening ourselves with death,

perhaps the earth is teaching us

when everything seems to be dead

and then everything is alive.

Now I will count to twelve

and you keep quiet and I’ll go.

“A Callarse”

Pablo Neruda

Ahora contaremos doce

y nos quedamos todos quietos.

Por una vez sobre la tierra

no hablemos en ningún idioma,

por un segundo detengámonos,

no movamos tanto los brazos.

Sería un minuto fragante,

sin prisa, sin locomotoras,

todos estaríamos juntos

en una inquietud instantánea.

Los pescadores del mar frió

no harían daño a las ballenas

y el trabajador de la sal

miraría sus manos rotas.

Los que preparan guerras verdes,

guerras de gas, guerras de fuego,

victorias sin sobrevivientes,

se pondrían un traje puro

y andarían son sus hermanos

por la sombra, sin hacer nada.

No se confunda lo quiero

con la inacción definitiva:

la vida es solo lo que se hace,

no quiero nada con la muerte.

Si no pudimos ser unánimes

moviendo tanto nuestras vidas

tal vez no hacer nada una vez,

tal vez un gran silencio pueda

interrumpir esta tristeza,

este no entendernos jamás

y amenazarnos con la muerte,

tal vez la tierra nos enseñe

cuando todo parece muerto

y luego todo estaba vivo.

Ahora contare hasta doce

y tú te callas y me voy.

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