Now we will count to twelve

and we will all keep still.

The poet uses the number twelve that probably represents the dial of a clock.

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.

Let’s not speak in any language. Here the poet is encouraging a unified movement among people, with no discrimination based on race or language. This would be a mass movement for the first time on the face of the earth, and would greatly enhance unity. Let us stop for a moment and not move our hands so much in violence i.e. Let us not fight and argue so much.

It would be an exotic moment

without rush, without engines,

we would all be together

in a sudden strangeness.

It would be an splendid moment with reduced industrial activity (engines). The silence or the peace would form the common link between all of us, bringing us all together.

Fishermen in the cold sea

would not harm whales

and the man gathering salt

would look at his hurt hands.

Fishermen represent proficient hunters of all kinds. The whales represent the oppressed class of human beings, because of their helplessness. It is therefore a cry for the oppressed. In this quiet moment of introspection, people would stop hurting others in an attempt to understand themselves. The whole of humankind is in a mad rush to finish off their existence and achieve whatever goals they set. People are so occupied with the daily rush of things and the flurry to accomplish their various goals that they never take the time to look into themselves and understand themselves. Mankind has been personified as the salt gatherer in the poem. In an exotic moment of peace, people would finally slow down and look into themselves in an act of introspection, identify their follies and rectify them, making them better human beings.

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.

Green wars can be thought of as wars wherein people utilize nature – to hide (conceal) themselves among the foliage of forests or make use of the environment. “Victory with no survivors” is a paradox. People who win a war claim to possess victory; but is that so? Have they not lost tremendous lives in the process? How then can they claim to have had victory? All wars originate from the lack of self-understanding, and the understanding that all individuals are equal, which is why the poet stresses on introspection. There can be two interpretations drawn out from the last few lines of the stanza. One interpretation expounds that the people responsible for wars such as politicians, scientists, trigger the war and later stay in the shade walking hand in hand with the rival as brothers, while thousands of lives are lost in the battle. Another explanation is that people are never happy to go to war. They realize the absurdity of victory from war. As a result of this reflection, People can be friendly as brothers, and walk about in the shade doing no violence.

What I want should not be

confused

with total inactivity.

Life is what it is about;

I want no truck with death.

The poet’s words should not be confused with death or a state of complete dormancy. The poet’s message is about life and he does not want it to be related in any way to death. It is not a state of inactivity but rather of continued action at a slower pace.

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.

As mentioned before, the basic concern of all human beings is being alive. Human beings are single-minded about survival. Human beings are in a mad rush to finish life and accomplish all their varied targets. If people could slow down for once and do nothing, the massive silence will intrude the despair of never appreciating or recognizing ourselves. When we look around, all we see is an extremely pathetic condition wherein people are only concerned or afraid of dying and never of understanding themselves. Death is a threat to many of us because it means that we will not be able to fulfill all the targets that we create. We will not be able to accomplish the task of survival in peace.

Perhaps the Earth can teach us

as when everything seems dead

and later proves to be alive.

This paragraph is possibly empathetic toward human beings, persuading them to take a lesson from nature. During winter, the earth is blanketed with a coat of ice, and it appears as though there is no life in the environment. Even the air is frigid (frosty) and draughty. However, this is not the end and this does not last for long. The earth gets itself refined of all these trivial discrepancies, counting them all as a part of the rejuvenation process. Despite all natural disasters and calamities, the earth continues its journey. After a certain period of time, the cycle of reconstruction continues. The earth rejuvenates itself and moves on, alive once again.

Now I’ll count up to twelve

and you keep quiet and I will go.

Maintaining a third person viewpoint to the entire dilemma, the poet leaves us on a train of thought. Now that he has passed on the message, his work is done and he quietly leaves the scene.

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85 thoughts on “Pablo Neruda’s Keeping Quiet – finally makes sense

  1. really nice….intelligently brought out what the poet actually meant! thnaks alot …though the language is not that tough to get..but the deepest of d meanings are hard to! ty again! keep it uo 😀 🙂

  2. Thank you! So much!
    Although the lesson we could learn from the Earth could be that of life under apparent stillness. The earth appears dead on the surface, completely still, but underneath the surface is beautiful life…
    Just a thought…

    1. no, i think the fact that that they’ve said ‘LATER proves to be alive’ sort of implies that in time, we see life from what we thought was death… I think the given explanation is spot on. Spring after winter… life after apparent lifelessness.

      1. Exactly. Thank you for clearing that out. However, the lines can be interpreted in a different way as well… 🙂 Thanks again. Have a great day!

  3. great explanation but i think the lines “perhaps the earth……….to be proved” are described some other way as compared to rest poem.

    1. Poetry in Literature always has multiple layers of meaning. There is never a single fixed meaning. It can be read in myriads of ways. That is where the use of imagination comes to play. 🙂 Have a creative day!

  4. Really excellent interpretation. However, if we look deeply at the poem, I find Neruda is vehemently criticizing the activities of mankind. We always look for material benefit at the cost of our lives. Thirst of man for power, pelf, name and fame and even accumulating wealth for his family to live in comfort has distorted the earth. Its all been done only because of our mind’s perception and execution of its desire by the other organs. Hence if we could keep our mind, intellect with five sense organs and five working organs=12, we would have better served our Mother Earth as well as ourselves. Our next generation would have safe from encountering death. Hence, according to me ‘Twelve’ suggests our twelve parts of body which try to exterminate mankind.

      1. what I was thinking was that can’t he just use a number.. See if he would have used 10 … Then we would be talking about.. Why ten… Can’t it be just a number? Just a number to be counted till? .. Like before a race we count till three… 1 2 3 go…. Before a launch we count from 10….. I don’t know if they have any specific reason ….

        What I was thinking was.. That we are trying to bring out a lot from that single word..
        I have three teachers of English in my school…. All have different views regarding it… And the one ‘organs’… Is another different view..
        And one more thing my friend… 5 sense organs + 5 working organs equals 12 … How come????

  5. please make some corrections! instead of paragraph (used in translation) write stanza! poems have stanza not paras. Also, instead of slowed use slower. slowed is not any form of verb.. and there are some more please correct them to make this translation even more effective! thankyou 🙂

    1. Dear,
      ‘Slowed’ is the past participle, past tense of slow.
      How else would you talk about a car that SLOWED down in the past? I would be highly interested in knowing how you use the past tense of the word SLOW.

  6. Yes, very rightly marvelous poetry has wide and large area.some how it can’t come wit an exact idea or thought,impornt is what our sight to see it and what thought xe have

    1. Well, it would help to look at the job of a Salt gatherer I suppose. A salt gatherer constantly gets bruised – gets cuts – in his hand. The salt just adds to the sting of the pain.
      The point is that no matter how much it hurts a salt gatherer, he has to do his job in order to get his daily pay. It is as though he is in a rush to live life and get his daily income that he has even become numb to pain that he undergoes.
      In one moment’s silence and introspection, he would hopefully stop thinking about his daily pay and about his rush to fulfill life. Instead he would hopefully look into himself, become sensitive – even to the pain that he undergoes.

      I hope this clears a considerable amount of your doubt. The problem is there are multiple interpretations. I see it this way. There could be any other way to read this as well. Please let me know if there is any thing else you would like to know…
      Have a pleasant day! 🙂

      1. Oh, and another way to look at it (The environmental view) would be:
        – the hurt, sore hands of the salt gatherer would enable him to realize how he hurts himself through his selfish, environmentally degrading acts.

  7. Thankyou so much. My exam is on cuming Teusday…
    ….before i do not understand the head and tail of this poem bt now i understood clearly..,
    Thankyou so much once’gain…

  8. “Perhaps the Earth can teach us
    as when everything seems dead
    and later proves to be alive.”

    While reading the poem, I came with an another interpretation of this stanza.

    At time of creation, there existing nothing except for the cosmic energy. Later on this energy manifested itself into finite form.

    By keeping quiet, we can experience the presence of the energy in our bodies which will provide us with relaxation and happiness.

    Thank you sir/mam for doing the great job of explaining the poem.

  9. I like the valuable info you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your blog and check again here regularly. I am quite certain I’ll learn a lot of new stuff right here! Best of luck for the next! fddccfafeebg

  10. Thank u so much for providing this summary ….It helped me a lot in my Exams .
    Keep on providing us with your information Thanx Again 🙂

  11. I’m really satisfied and it help me much to understand this poem and take this from heart…….again many many thanx…

  12. I actually referred to so many sites for the explanation of “keeping quite” and this blog helped me understand it the best! Excellent material in terms of content,description,info everythinggg!
    Thanksss alot 🙂

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