Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Keeping Quiet

I read Pablo Neruda's remarkable collection of poems, Extravagaria, in its entirety when I was in college. While the sense of Neruda's stature as a poet has never faded, the individual poems, the words themselves, certainly have succumbed to my failing memory.

I was reminded of it last Sunday in a service on Buddhism when the poem below was read. I am grateful. I just pulled my bilingual copy of Extravagaria off my bookshelf and wiped off the dust. Time to revisit the master. 

Keeping Quiet

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;
I want no truck with death.

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.

And in the original Spanish, should you be able to enjoy it that way: 

A callarse

Ahora contaremos doce
y nos quedamos todos quietos.

Por una vez sobre la tierra
no hablemos en ningun idioma,
por un segundo detengamonos,
no movamos tanto los brazos.

Seria un minuto fragante,
sin prisa, sin locomotoras,
todos estariamos juntos
en una inquietud instantanea.

Los pescadores del mar frio
no harian danio a las ballenas
y el trabajador de la sal
miraria sus manos rotas.

Los que preparan guerras verdes,
guerras de gas, guerras de fuego,
victorias sin sobrevivientes,
se pondrian un traje puro
y andarian con sus hermanos
por la sombra, sin hacer nada.

No se confunda lo que quiero
con la inaccion definitiva:
la vida es solo lo que se hace,
no quiero nada con la muerte.

Si no pudimos ser unanimes
moviendo tanto nuestras vidas,
tal vez no hacer nada una vez,
tal vez un gran silencio pueda
interrumpir esta tristeza,
este no entendernos jamas
y amenazarnos con la muerte,
tal vez la tierra nos ensenie
cuando todo parece muerto
y luego todo estaba vivo.

Ahora contare hasta doce
y tu te callas y me voy.


  1. Thank you for posting this! I am passing it on to Josie who opens the "Quiet" show at WPCA tonight. Beautiful.

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