(1904-1973) is the pen name of Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto who was born in the town of Parral in Chile. Neruda’s poems are full of easily understood images which make them no less beautiful. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in the year 1971. In this poem Neruda talks about the necessity of quiet introspection and creating a feeling of mutual understanding among human beings.
Before you read
What does the title of the poem suggest to you? What do you think the poem is about?
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 one 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 look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars, wars with gas, wars with fire, victory 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 death.
Perhaps the Earth can teach us as when everything seems dead and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve and you keep quiet and I will go.
to refuse to associate or deal with, to refuse to tolerate something
Think it out
1. What will counting upto twelve and keeping still help us achieve?
2. Do you think the poet advocates total inactivity and death?
3. What is the ‘sadness’ that the poet refers to in the poem?
4. What symbol from Nature does the poet invoke to say that there
can be life under apparent stillness?
Try this out
Choose a quiet corner and keep still physically and mentally for about five minutes. Do you feel any change in your state of mind?
Notice the differing line lengths of the stanzas and the shift in thought from stanza to stanza.