The poet, Pablo Neruda, advises us to be silent for some time during our busy, frustrated, insecure and selfish life. He promises us lasting peace of mind and endless happiness that we have never experienced in our lives. Shut up! This is what he asks us to do.

Here are the Steps!

  1. Count as long as twelve. Twelve is a long count so it keeps your heart slow!
  2. Stop communication with others by words or by signals of hands. No hands, no languages.
  3. If you live by harming others (fisherman), stop harming.
    1. Fishermen, catch fish, not whales. Stop being greedy.
  4. If you live by harming yourself (salt gatherer), stop gathering.
    1. By looking at your hurt hands, you can accept yourself.
    2. Acceptance is the beginning of achieving happiness.
  5. Stop wars against the living organisms using any weapon. Wars don’t settle any crisis.
    1. Wars against the nature
    2. Wars with gas
    3. Wars with fire
  6. Put on the clean clothes of peace and harmony.
    1. No blood-stained war uniforms.
    2. Walk with your brothers (enemies)
    3. Do nothing for a while.
  7. No more agreement/truck with death
  8. Start talking to one’s mind, search in the depth of the mind for causes of sadness, realize that the solution for your sadness is not committing suicide, there is a better way: accept that your ego/being selfish is the cause of your sadness.
  9. Kill the ego, die with your ego and wait for a new birth.
  10. Definitely you will live a new life without selfishness. Come back fresh to a world devoid of wars of any kind, selfishness of any sort and sadness of any depth.
  11. Now you are prepared so start KEEPING QUIET.

Fruits of keeping quiet:

  1. We will feel exotic
  2. We will feel a sudden strange peace of mind
  3. We will understand ourselves
  4. We will not commit suicide
  5. We will be devoid of ego.

Stanza 1

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.

Paraphrase

We are going to be silent for some time. For this we need to count to twelve, a longer counting for a peaceful meditation. Once the counting is done, we will start our meditation. By the way, we are not going to talk to anyone during this silent process. Neither any verbal language nor any sign language.

Meaning

  • Twelve – Longer the counting, the more relaxed you are.
  • On the ace of the earth – During one’s life span
  • Language – Medium to communicate with others
  • Arms – Hands and fingers. Communication made possible by arms.

Questions & Answers

  1. What is the significance of ‘counting to twelve?’
    Twelve is an extended counting. While counting for a longer time one feels more relaxed than counting for a short time such as one or three. As the counting is followed by a relaxed time of silent meditation, one needs to keep his mind at ease by counting steadily for a longer time.
  2. Why does the poet ask his hearers to stop using any language?
    Language helps us to communicate with other people. As the poet wants this time of silence for talking to oneself, not for talking to other people, he doesn’t want us to use any language.
  3. Why does the poet ask his hearers to make no movements of the arms?
    Like any language, movements of arms can also communicate with other people. The poet wants his hearers to stop all sorts of communication with others to achieve a silent meditation and therefore he asks his hearers to stop any movements of the arms.

Next – The Result

It would be an exotic moment
Without rush, without engines,

We would all be together
In a sudden strangeness.

Paraphrase

Once we have completed this meditation, you will see a great change in your outlook. We will not be selfish any more. We will not compete (rush) with any one. We will turn off all the engines (factories, cars, etc) that pollute or destroy the Nature. Once we have got the selfishness out of us, we will feel a sudden unity, a strange kind of oneness – belongingness.

Meaning

  • Exotic – A new kind of happiness that one has not experienced before
  • Rush – Competition
  • Sudden strangeness – A new feeling of togetherness

Questions & Answers

  1. How does the time of silent introspection become an exotic moment for us? 
    The result of a silent introspection of this kind guarantees a perfect peace of mind. When this peace is achieved through silence, the happiness it provides is equal to no other happiness. It is exotic.

    • Tail: This self-imposed silence will turn out to be inexplicably pleasant. You will experience the happiness you have been after all these years.
  2. What does the poet mean by ‘rush?’ 
    Rush means the rush that people make to defeat others, to reach before the others reach and the rush for achievements.
  3. What sort of ‘togetherness’ can we experience while keeping quiet?
    By keeping quiet we are able to understand our true self and its limitations. We realize how selfish we are and wipe out our ego through meditation. By eliminating a vast world of ego we give room for our brothers and feel a new togetherness.
  4. What does the poet mean by the sudden strangeness?
    By stopping all activities that one has been doing without pause, one feels a sudden silence and peace of mind which leads to a complete strangeness. When one starts feeling this silence, peace and togetherness, it appears sudden and strange.

Next – 2 Messages

Fisherman in the cold sea
Would not harm whales

And the man gathering salt
Would look at his hurt hands…

Meaning

  • Fishermen – Symbolic of oppressors
  • Man gathering salt – Symbolic of the oppressed

Questions & Answers

  1. What does ‘fisherman’ symbolize? 
    Fisherman is a symbol to represent the mighty/rich/influential people of the world. There are many in every society who can rule the people and ruin anything. But the poet requests them to stop their atrocities for a while and think about themselves.
  2. Who are represented by the salt gatherers? 
    Salt-gatherer is another symbol, representing all the poor/crushed people of the society. His hands are hurt and wounded while collecting salt for making a living.
  3. What should the salt-gatherer do at the time of silence? 
    The salt-gatherer has to look at his miseries and accept his state of being. A life that doesn’t accept itself is always sad.

Next – No Wars

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.

Meaning

  • Green wars – Deforestation etc.

Questions & Answers

  1. What are green wars? 
    We use our deadly weapons to kill the mother earth. We have poisonous gases and explosives to kill the earth.
  2. Why is victory without survivors?
    Anyone can fight, kill and destroy. Anyone can defeat and be victorious. But no one can enjoy the victory of his wars.
  3. What does the poet want in the place of wars?
    It is not war we want. We want peace. It is time to hate wars and destruction. It is time to walk peacefully with everyone whom we call enemies.

Next – No Agreement with Death

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 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…

Meaning

  • Truck – Agreement

Questions & Answers

  1. What confusion, does the poet fear, has been created by him in his readers’ mind? Or, What misunderstanding does the poet want to clear? 
    The poet at this point fears that his readers might take him wrongly. He makes it very clear that he is not talking about inactivity but activity. He wants his listeners to keep silent and be inactive only for some time.
  2. Explain, ‘life is what it is about.’
    The poet reminds us that life is meaningful only in activity. Life is an ongoing process and everything and everyone should be moving at all time.
  3. What does “truck with death” mean? Why does the poet not want a truck with death? 
    Truck with death means an agreement with death. The poet believes that man has a tendency to get the help of death when he is surrounded by sadness and dullness. Poet doesn’t want any agreement with death because he believes that introspection is the right way to get rid of our sadness, not death.
  4. What happens when one is interrupted by silence? 
    When one is interrupted by silence, one gets time to introspect and thus get time to kill his ego and all the internal struggles caused by selfishness.
  5. Which are the two prerequisites for achieving the interruption of silence?
    The first prerequisite for achieving the interruption of silence is to keep our single-mindedness away while the other is to do nothing for a while.
  6. When do people threaten themselves with death?
    People tend to threaten themselves with the idea of committing suicide when they find themselves surrounded with sadness and inescapable dullness of mind.

Finally – I will Go!

Perhaps the earth can teach us
As when everything seems dead
And later proves to be alive.

Now I will count up to twelve
And you keep quiet and I will go.

Meaning

Questions & Answers

  1. What does the earth teach us about the significance of keeping silence? 
    The earth is full of examples that approve of the necessity to be silent. Everything keeps silent for some time in order to rejuvenate. Autumn dying in order to come fresh in the Spring season and seeds decaying to give life to a new plant, are examples for this.
  2. What is the importance of the closing lines?
    The poet concludes here. His instructions are completed. Now it is the time to put them in practice. He is going to start counting for his listeners at the end of what they are going to go silent and still. And you keep quiet and I will go. The process will begin soon. We will all keep silent as the poet has asked us to. We will introspect by diving deep into the abyss of our dark minds and find out great happiness that we have never experienced in our lives. We will then accept our limitations like the salt-gatherer, we will then stop harming others, we will finally cease to be selfish. Thus we will start shedding our ego which is in other words, our feeling of ‘I.’ Shedding of one’s EGO or ‘I’ness’ is what the poet means by, ‘I will Go!’

Next – Exam Pack Questions

Biju John is an educational writer, educator and the author of OM - The Otherwise Men. He gives live classes on Skype and Facebook. You can attend his 3 Day Classes (English & Business Studies) in Delhi, Bangalore, Qatar and Dubai. His Contact number is 91 9810740061.

Comments (3)

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  1. What type sadness does the poet refer to?

    1. The sadness of not understanding our real problems.

    • volt

    • December 5, 2017

    really very nice poem……… and well satisfying explanation…….. thank you

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