Pablo Neruda

Odes to Common Things

“I have a crazy, crazy love of things.”

Pablo Neruda (1904 – 1973), Chilean poet and politician wrote poetry about simple things. He urged us to notice the inconsequential. Odes to Common Things includes Spanish and English odes to quotidian items like salt, a chair, table, socks, and soap.

“Ode to a Bar of Soap”

Do I detect
your pungent
odor
in cut-rate
dry goods and unforgettable
cologne, in barbershops
and the clean countryside,
in sweet water?

The poignancy of things, perhaps not physically small but consequentially meaningless reminds me of Polish poet Wislawa Syzborska’s poem about the importance of microcosmos, the tiny things we cannot even see but which determine our life. Is it a poetic right of passage to see the universe in a spool of thread?

“Ode to a Pair of Socks”

My feet were
two woolen fish
in those outrageous socks,
two gangly,
navy-blue sharks
impaled
on a golden thread.

But of course, it is these things that comprise life itself. The things we cannot abandon, the things which essayist E. B. White tried to dismantle from his life and self when he moved, only to find himself easily defeated.

The things that we keep close and thus, make special, like wondrous pets.

“Ode to the Cat”

Nothing hangs together quite like a cat
neither flowers nor the moon have
such consistency
It is a thing by itself
like the sun or a topaz

Lewis in his bedroom. Photograph by Ellen Vrana.

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Mark Strand wrote: “Neruda was a genius but in whose writing beauty and banality are inextricably mixed. […] Mundane items, modified by adjectives denoting the rare or celestial, are elevated to a realm of exceptional value.”

“Ode to the bed”

We go from one bed to the next
in this journey,
life’s journey.
The newborn, the afflicted,
the dying,
the lover and the dreamer alike
they arrived and they will depart by the bed.

Others share this exceedingly important gift of elevating the commonplace to the celestial. Read Marianne Moore’s heroic efforts to notice and care and Oliver Sacks’ collection of adored things.