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Video: Walking Around by Pablo Neruda: Summary & Analysis



‘Walking Around’ is a rather dark poem by South American poet Pablo Neruda. This lesson will summarize the content of the poem and analyze what deeper meaning can be found.


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Walking Around by Pablo Neruda: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:03 Pablo Neruda’s Poetry

  • 1:01 Summary of the Poem

  • 3:52 Analysis

  • 4:51 Lesson Summary


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Lesson Transcript

Instructor:
Ginna Wilkerson

Virginia has a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Development and a Ph.D. in English

‘Walking Around’ is a rather dark poem by South American poet Pablo Neruda. This lesson will summarize the content of the poem and analyze what deeper meaning can be found.

Pablo Neruda’s Poetry

Often, talented people are discouraged by parents from pursuing those talents. This was the case with Pablo Neruda, whose father discouraged the young poet from any career in literature or the arts. Yet he persisted with his urge to write poetry.

Pablo Neruda is the pen name of Ricardo Eliezer Neftali Reyes y Basoalto, born in Chile in 1904. Neruda adopted his famous pseudonym early in life; under this name, he became perhaps the greatest South American poet of the 20th century.

Although Neruda and his poetry are known world-wide, sometimes Americans, in particular, have trouble with the man’s strong association with the Communist Party. In addition, his poems often prove difficult to translate from the original Spanish. Yet most students of literature will recognize at least one of Neruda’s poems.

This lesson will summarize and look at the meaning behind one of Neruda’s well-known poems, ”Walking Around.”

Summary of the Poem

You may know that some poems are called narrative poems, because they tell a story. Those that do not have a story-like format are called lyric poems. ”Walking Around” actually has elements of both narrative and lyric formats.

The narrator describes things he sees on a walk. The reader can easily imagine a man walking about in his daily life and observing gardens, houses, shops on the street, and birds in the environment.

There is also a lyric element in this poem, as the walk the narrator takes is not chronological. The reader gets the sense that it may be many walks that together add up to a particular impression or emotion. This is a sad, despairing poem, and this emotion of hopelessness is strongly communicated to the reader.

The opening line states:

”It so happens I am sick of being a man.”

This line, along with the negative impressions the poet gives us of everyday sights, tells us right away that the narrator is emotionally distraught. Think for a moment about the difference between wishing for death and wishing not to be a person. The difference is subtle, almost a break in the man’s ability to look at life in a realistic way.

In the second and third stanzas, we are told that he is tired of everything involved in daily living: the shops, the material objects (goods), and even his own body parts. Even his shadow is seen as a troublesome attachment.

The third stanza lets the reader know what might still motivate the narrator to keep living; and the images are a bit scary:

”to go through the streets with a green knife / letting out yells until I died of the cold”

Have you ever felt, even for just a while, that everyday activities seem to pile up and overwhelm you? This seems to be what Neruda is telling us about his own mental state in the next two stanzas. Things we might think of as positives, such as eating, or trees having roots in the earth, are turned around; there is nothing that the poet doesn’t see through the lens of death and decay.

In stanza seven, even on that most expectedly mundane day of the week, Monday reacts against the narrator and his ”convict face.” The narrator’s Monday is a tragic mixture of nature and machine, which ”howls on its way like a wounded wheel.”

The next two stanzas bring the narrator (and the reader) further into a state of despair, finding a way to describe everything in sight as treacherous or disgusting. Benign material objects like coffee pots have teeth in them, and cracks in the inanimate pavement are equated to painful cracks in the skin. What can be more ordinary than a simple umbrella? Yet, for Neruda in this poem, the umbrella appears paired with ”venoms, and umbilical cords.”

The last stanza seems to depict the narrator as apathetic, no longer paying attention to his own misery. In fact, the urge to cry has been transferred to more everyday objects: the laundry that hangs in the courtyard.

Analysis

”Walking Around” is a poem of one man’s despair at the futility of everyday life. The poet does not give us any background or motivation for the narrator’s despair. Perhaps this is so the reader can see his or her own life in the lines of the poem.

There is an element of mixing together nature and inanimate objects: wheels and blood, barbershops and vinegar, house doorways and intestines. What meaning is there in this pairing? The poet tells us at the start that he is sick of being a man. It may be that all the disturbing images of physical existence are so potent for him that they invade everyday sights and objects in his town.

Some critics might say that the poem has an element of apathy, as when the narrator seems at the end not to remember or care about his misery. As with all literature – and especially poetry – works are always open to interpretation. Perhaps the poet has not become indifferent, just so down in his own despair that he can’t see the individual pieces anymore.

Lesson Summary

”Walking Around” by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda features elements of two poetic formats: narrative and lyrical. Using the idea of walking around his town, the poet expresses his own despair at the futility of life. One literary device used is the mixing of images: pairing body parts and fluids with inanimate objects. The reader may or may not sense a tone of apathy near the end of the poem.


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Monday, February 05, 2007

quiet

Everyone else is doing it ( The Anti-Essentialist Conundrum , AngryBrownButch , Truly Outrageous , The Valve , and plenty more ), so here’s a poem by Pablo Neruda. Specifically, Poem 15 from Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada:

Pablo Neruda Me gustas cuando callas porque estás como ausente,
y me oyes desde lejos, y mi voz no te toca.
Parece que los ojos se te hubieran volado
y parece que un beso te cerrara la boca.

Como todas las cosas están llenas de mi alma
emerges de las cosas, llena del alma mía.
Mariposa de sueño, te pareces a mi alma,
y te pareces a la palabra melancolía.

Me gustas cuando callas y estás como distante.
Y estás como quejándote, mariposa en arrullo.
Y me oyes desde lejos, y mi voz no te alcanza:
déjame que me calle con el silencio tuyo.

Déjame que te hable también con tu silencio
claro como una lámpara, simple como un anillo.
Eres como la noche, callada y constelada.
Tu silencio es de estrella, tan lejano y sencillo.

Me gustas cuando callas porque estás como ausente.
Distante y dolorosa como si hubieras muerto.
Una palabra entonces, una sonrisa bastan.
Y estoy alegre, alegre de que no sea cierto.

[Hear Neruda himself recite it, albeit rather dolefully, here (mp3).]

It’s a tough poem to translate (though there are a couple of egregiously bad attempts out there, notably this one , which gets the last line utterly wrong).

Above all, no doubt, there’s the question of how to translate “me gustas cuando callas.” Among other efforts, I’ve seen “I like you calm,” “I like it when you’re quiet,” and “I like for you to be still.” And callarse does indeed have a range of meanings.

The Collins Spanish Dictionary provides the following: “to keep quiet, be silent, remain silent; (of noise) to stop; to stop talking (or playing etc); to become quiet; (of sea, wind) to become still, be hushed.”

The Real Academia Española gives us:

callar. (Del lat. chalāre, bajar, y este del gr. χαλᾶν).

  1. tr. Omitir, no decir algo. U. t. c. prnl.
  2. intr. Dicho de una persona: No hablar, guardar silencio. Calla como un muerto. U. t. c. prnl.
  3. intr. Cesar de hablar. Cuando esto hubo dicho, calló. U. t. c. prnl.
  4. intr. Cesar de llorar, de gritar, de cantar, de tocar un instrumento musical, de meter bulla o ruido. U. t. c. prnl.
  5. intr. Abstenerse de manifestar lo que se siente o se sabe. U. t. c. prnl.
  6. intr. Dicho de ciertos animales: Cesar en sus voces; p. ej., dejar de cantar un pájaro, de ladrar un perro, de croar una rana, etc. U. t. c. prnl.
  7. intr. Dicho del mar, del viento, de un volcán, etc.: Dejar de hacer ruido. U. t. c. prnl. U. m. en leng. poét.
  8. intr. Dicho de un instrumento musical: Cesar de sonar. U. t. c. prnl.

It’s clear from both that the word’s primary meaning concerns voice or sound, and so only by extension the other senses implied by calmness or stillness. Moreover (as Ashea notes), the range of signification also encompasses, without being limited to, the Spanish equivalent of “shutting up”: “¡Cállate!”

At first sight this is a disconcerting image: the poet silencing the woman’s voice, or even suggesting that she shut up. Such silencing is a familiarly gendered move, of course, but we’d rarely expect such explicitness, in a love poem at least.

And the image remains disconcerting at second sight, too, because it is the beloved’s imagined absence that’s celebrated; this appears to be an encomium to distance: “I like you when you’re quiet because it’s as though you were absent.”

Worse still, at third sight, the poet seems also to be delighting in positing the woman’s death: “Distant and doleful as though you had died.”

Can then it be redeemed–if indeed we should want to “redeem” it–by the final line’s ironic twist, “And I’m happy, happy that in fact it’s not true”? Perhaps indeed the mistranslation “And I am happy, happy of what, isn’t certain” is symptomatic: the poem surely leaves the reader with a shiver of uncertainty. Can Neruda really mean what he’s saying?

Yet this is hardly the only poem in the collection that praises the beloved’s silence: “Ah silenciosa!” [“Ah, silent woman!”] is Poem 8’s refrain. Or compare Poem 14: “Ah déjame recordarte cómo eras entonces, cuando aún no existías” [Ah let me remember you as you were then, when you still did not exist”].

The woman (or women) addressed throughout the twenty poems is always a shadowy figure, however often she is compared to the most concrete and tactile of substances: the earth, for instance, in Poem 1. She hovers perpetually between presence and absence and that, it seems, is how Neruda likes her.

Because in the end what’s affirmed her is not the beloved herself, let alone “the real subjectivity of another person” as Joseph Kugelmass argues about a poem (14) that states, of all things, “Since I’ve loved you, you’ve seemed like nobody” [“A nadie te pareces desde que yo te amo”].

What’s affirmed is the poet’s voice. He has “forged” his beloved “like a weapon” [“te forjé como una arma”] (Poem 1), and throughout the collection runs the double sense of this forgery: as both something unreal, insubstantial, untrue; and also a creation that pays homage more to the creator than to to the created. No wonder the final poem resounds with the self-affirmation “I can write” [“Puedo escribir”] (Poem 20).

I can write… I can write… I can write… And Neruda can surely write. There’s no question that these are marvellous, beautiful poems, deservedly famous. But we shouldn’t perhaps lose sight of the disconcert–and indeed discordance–the shiver of uncertainty induced by the spectral presence of the woman who is invoked only to be despatched, conjured up to be absent even in her presence, excessively haunting but also enabling the master poet find his voice through her silence.

[Meanwhile, Marta Brunet provides a rather different take on subaltern silence–and treachery.]

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Monday, February 05, 2007

quiet

Everyone else is doing it ( The Anti-Essentialist Conundrum , AngryBrownButch , Truly Outrageous , The Valve , and plenty more ), so here’s a poem by Pablo Neruda. Specifically, Poem 15 from Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada:

Pablo Neruda Me gustas cuando callas porque estás como ausente,
y me oyes desde lejos, y mi voz no te toca.
Parece que los ojos se te hubieran volado
y parece que un beso te cerrara la boca.

Como todas las cosas están llenas de mi alma
emerges de las cosas, llena del alma mía.
Mariposa de sueño, te pareces a mi alma,
y te pareces a la palabra melancolía.

Me gustas cuando callas y estás como distante.
Y estás como quejándote, mariposa en arrullo.
Y me oyes desde lejos, y mi voz no te alcanza:
déjame que me calle con el silencio tuyo.

Déjame que te hable también con tu silencio
claro como una lámpara, simple como un anillo.
Eres como la noche, callada y constelada.
Tu silencio es de estrella, tan lejano y sencillo.

Me gustas cuando callas porque estás como ausente.
Distante y dolorosa como si hubieras muerto.
Una palabra entonces, una sonrisa bastan.
Y estoy alegre, alegre de que no sea cierto.

[Hear Neruda himself recite it, albeit rather dolefully, here (mp3).]

It’s a tough poem to translate (though there are a couple of egregiously bad attempts out there, notably this one , which gets the last line utterly wrong).

Above all, no doubt, there’s the question of how to translate “me gustas cuando callas.” Among other efforts, I’ve seen “I like you calm,” “I like it when you’re quiet,” and “I like for you to be still.” And callarse does indeed have a range of meanings.

The Collins Spanish Dictionary provides the following: “to keep quiet, be silent, remain silent; (of noise) to stop; to stop talking (or playing etc); to become quiet; (of sea, wind) to become still, be hushed.”

The Real Academia Española gives us:

callar. (Del lat. chalāre, bajar, y este del gr. χαλᾶν).

  1. tr. Omitir, no decir algo. U. t. c. prnl.
  2. intr. Dicho de una persona: No hablar, guardar silencio. Calla como un muerto. U. t. c. prnl.
  3. intr. Cesar de hablar. Cuando esto hubo dicho, calló. U. t. c. prnl.
  4. intr. Cesar de llorar, de gritar, de cantar, de tocar un instrumento musical, de meter bulla o ruido. U. t. c. prnl.
  5. intr. Abstenerse de manifestar lo que se siente o se sabe. U. t. c. prnl.
  6. intr. Dicho de ciertos animales: Cesar en sus voces; p. ej., dejar de cantar un pájaro, de ladrar un perro, de croar una rana, etc. U. t. c. prnl.
  7. intr. Dicho del mar, del viento, de un volcán, etc.: Dejar de hacer ruido. U. t. c. prnl. U. m. en leng. poét.
  8. intr. Dicho de un instrumento musical: Cesar de sonar. U. t. c. prnl.

It’s clear from both that the word’s primary meaning concerns voice or sound, and so only by extension the other senses implied by calmness or stillness. Moreover (as Ashea notes), the range of signification also encompasses, without being limited to, the Spanish equivalent of “shutting up”: “¡Cállate!”

At first sight this is a disconcerting image: the poet silencing the woman’s voice, or even suggesting that she shut up. Such silencing is a familiarly gendered move, of course, but we’d rarely expect such explicitness, in a love poem at least.

And the image remains disconcerting at second sight, too, because it is the beloved’s imagined absence that’s celebrated; this appears to be an encomium to distance: “I like you when you’re quiet because it’s as though you were absent.”

Worse still, at third sight, the poet seems also to be delighting in positing the woman’s death: “Distant and doleful as though you had died.”

Can then it be redeemed–if indeed we should want to “redeem” it–by the final line’s ironic twist, “And I’m happy, happy that in fact it’s not true”? Perhaps indeed the mistranslation “And I am happy, happy of what, isn’t certain” is symptomatic: the poem surely leaves the reader with a shiver of uncertainty. Can Neruda really mean what he’s saying?

Yet this is hardly the only poem in the collection that praises the beloved’s silence: “Ah silenciosa!” [“Ah, silent woman!”] is Poem 8’s refrain. Or compare Poem 14: “Ah déjame recordarte cómo eras entonces, cuando aún no existías” [Ah let me remember you as you were then, when you still did not exist”].

The woman (or women) addressed throughout the twenty poems is always a shadowy figure, however often she is compared to the most concrete and tactile of substances: the earth, for instance, in Poem 1. She hovers perpetually between presence and absence and that, it seems, is how Neruda likes her.

Because in the end what’s affirmed her is not the beloved herself, let alone “the real subjectivity of another person” as Joseph Kugelmass argues about a poem (14) that states, of all things, “Since I’ve loved you, you’ve seemed like nobody” [“A nadie te pareces desde que yo te amo”].

What’s affirmed is the poet’s voice. He has “forged” his beloved “like a weapon” [“te forjé como una arma”] (Poem 1), and throughout the collection runs the double sense of this forgery: as both something unreal, insubstantial, untrue; and also a creation that pays homage more to the creator than to to the created. No wonder the final poem resounds with the self-affirmation “I can write” [“Puedo escribir”] (Poem 20).

I can write… I can write… I can write… And Neruda can surely write. There’s no question that these are marvellous, beautiful poems, deservedly famous. But we shouldn’t perhaps lose sight of the disconcert–and indeed discordance–the shiver of uncertainty induced by the spectral presence of the woman who is invoked only to be despatched, conjured up to be absent even in her presence, excessively haunting but also enabling the master poet find his voice through her silence.

[Meanwhile, Marta Brunet provides a rather different take on subaltern silence–and treachery.]

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Monday, February 05, 2007

quiet

Everyone else is doing it ( The Anti-Essentialist Conundrum , AngryBrownButch , Truly Outrageous , The Valve , and plenty more ), so here’s a poem by Pablo Neruda. Specifically, Poem 15 from Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada:

Pablo Neruda Me gustas cuando callas porque estás como ausente,
y me oyes desde lejos, y mi voz no te toca.
Parece que los ojos se te hubieran volado
y parece que un beso te cerrara la boca.

Como todas las cosas están llenas de mi alma
emerges de las cosas, llena del alma mía.
Mariposa de sueño, te pareces a mi alma,
y te pareces a la palabra melancolía.

Me gustas cuando callas y estás como distante.
Y estás como quejándote, mariposa en arrullo.
Y me oyes desde lejos, y mi voz no te alcanza:
déjame que me calle con el silencio tuyo.

Déjame que te hable también con tu silencio
claro como una lámpara, simple como un anillo.
Eres como la noche, callada y constelada.
Tu silencio es de estrella, tan lejano y sencillo.

Me gustas cuando callas porque estás como ausente.
Distante y dolorosa como si hubieras muerto.
Una palabra entonces, una sonrisa bastan.
Y estoy alegre, alegre de que no sea cierto.

[Hear Neruda himself recite it, albeit rather dolefully, here (mp3).]

It’s a tough poem to translate (though there are a couple of egregiously bad attempts out there, notably this one , which gets the last line utterly wrong).

Above all, no doubt, there’s the question of how to translate “me gustas cuando callas.” Among other efforts, I’ve seen “I like you calm,” “I like it when you’re quiet,” and “I like for you to be still.” And callarse does indeed have a range of meanings.

The Collins Spanish Dictionary provides the following: “to keep quiet, be silent, remain silent; (of noise) to stop; to stop talking (or playing etc); to become quiet; (of sea, wind) to become still, be hushed.”

The Real Academia Española gives us:

callar. (Del lat. chalāre, bajar, y este del gr. χαλᾶν).

  1. tr. Omitir, no decir algo. U. t. c. prnl.
  2. intr. Dicho de una persona: No hablar, guardar silencio. Calla como un muerto. U. t. c. prnl.
  3. intr. Cesar de hablar. Cuando esto hubo dicho, calló. U. t. c. prnl.
  4. intr. Cesar de llorar, de gritar, de cantar, de tocar un instrumento musical, de meter bulla o ruido. U. t. c. prnl.
  5. intr. Abstenerse de manifestar lo que se siente o se sabe. U. t. c. prnl.
  6. intr. Dicho de ciertos animales: Cesar en sus voces; p. ej., dejar de cantar un pájaro, de ladrar un perro, de croar una rana, etc. U. t. c. prnl.
  7. intr. Dicho del mar, del viento, de un volcán, etc.: Dejar de hacer ruido. U. t. c. prnl. U. m. en leng. poét.
  8. intr. Dicho de un instrumento musical: Cesar de sonar. U. t. c. prnl.

It’s clear from both that the word’s primary meaning concerns voice or sound, and so only by extension the other senses implied by calmness or stillness. Moreover (as Ashea notes), the range of signification also encompasses, without being limited to, the Spanish equivalent of “shutting up”: “¡Cállate!”

At first sight this is a disconcerting image: the poet silencing the woman’s voice, or even suggesting that she shut up. Such silencing is a familiarly gendered move, of course, but we’d rarely expect such explicitness, in a love poem at least.

And the image remains disconcerting at second sight, too, because it is the beloved’s imagined absence that’s celebrated; this appears to be an encomium to distance: “I like you when you’re quiet because it’s as though you were absent.”

Worse still, at third sight, the poet seems also to be delighting in positing the woman’s death: “Distant and doleful as though you had died.”

Can then it be redeemed–if indeed we should want to “redeem” it–by the final line’s ironic twist, “And I’m happy, happy that in fact it’s not true”? Perhaps indeed the mistranslation “And I am happy, happy of what, isn’t certain” is symptomatic: the poem surely leaves the reader with a shiver of uncertainty. Can Neruda really mean what he’s saying?

Yet this is hardly the only poem in the collection that praises the beloved’s silence: “Ah silenciosa!” [“Ah, silent woman!”] is Poem 8’s refrain. Or compare Poem 14: “Ah déjame recordarte cómo eras entonces, cuando aún no existías” [Ah let me remember you as you were then, when you still did not exist”].

The woman (or women) addressed throughout the twenty poems is always a shadowy figure, however often she is compared to the most concrete and tactile of substances: the earth, for instance, in Poem 1. She hovers perpetually between presence and absence and that, it seems, is how Neruda likes her.

Because in the end what’s affirmed her is not the beloved herself, let alone “the real subjectivity of another person” as Joseph Kugelmass argues about a poem (14) that states, of all things, “Since I’ve loved you, you’ve seemed like nobody” [“A nadie te pareces desde que yo te amo”].

What’s affirmed is the poet’s voice. He has “forged” his beloved “like a weapon” [“te forjé como una arma”] (Poem 1), and throughout the collection runs the double sense of this forgery: as both something unreal, insubstantial, untrue; and also a creation that pays homage more to the creator than to to the created. No wonder the final poem resounds with the self-affirmation “I can write” [“Puedo escribir”] (Poem 20).

I can write… I can write… I can write… And Neruda can surely write. There’s no question that these are marvellous, beautiful poems, deservedly famous. But we shouldn’t perhaps lose sight of the disconcert–and indeed discordance–the shiver of uncertainty induced by the spectral presence of the woman who is invoked only to be despatched, conjured up to be absent even in her presence, excessively haunting but also enabling the master poet find his voice through her silence.

[Meanwhile, Marta Brunet provides a rather different take on subaltern silence–and treachery.]

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