Critical Analysis of Keeping Quiet:
Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda is a powerful piece of poetry penned by the poet in favor of peace, humanity, and self-actualization. We live in troubled times these days in which our utilitarian take on life has not just divorced us from fellow human beings but also from our own selves. We have nations embroiled in power struggles with each other and humans who are so busy trying to attain the superficial goals in life that they have no comprehensive idea of who they really are as an individual. This is the reason why we have so much chaos on a societal level and depression on an individual level. The poet provides us with a very simple solution in the poem to help us combat all of these problems. This solution lies in keeping quiet. The poet asks us to just engulf ourselves in a moment of inactivity in which we will not talk or move but will look inwards in introspection. This powerful Silence will bring about an epiphanic moment for us in which we will begin to see ourselves as who we really are and not in terms of all the goals and achievements which we have chalked out for our existence. The poet hopes that in this moment of self-discovery the world will come together in unison by virtue of their common bond of Silence. Neruda envisions a resultant world in which Nations will give up their power feuds and once humans realize that life is much more than a rat-race, they will stop hurting each as a means to their ends.
It is wonderful to note the plethora of values which Neruda has imparted by means of a simple poem. He has motivated us towards assuming humanity as our identity since keeping quiet will help us consider our place first as humans and then as belonging to a certain race or religion. He has also tried to instill in us an anti-war attitude by speaking in favor of ‘clean clothes’. Neruda has exposed for us the big farce that wars are in which lives are shed for the benefit of just a bunch of bureaucrats. He wants us to stand against this inhumane bloodshed which turns one brother against another because at the end of the day we are all children of this world. Neruda has also given value to the self – as we are and not as we should be. He has inspired us to let go of our ego to attain self-actualization in the spiritual sense of the term as opposed to a materialistic sense. One major criticism of this poem is that it cuts a very Utopian figure of existence for us. All the philosophies forwarded by Neruda sound brilliant but we cannot help but be compelled to question its practicality. Is it really possible to attain world peace and a meaningful existence just by keeping quiet? Perhaps, Neruda has oversimplified this matter for us but at least he has provided us with a model towards which we can work.
The real brilliance of the poem cannot be gauged during the process of reading; it lies in the ripples of thought and the residual realizations which the poem creates after we have set it down.
Poetic Devices in Keeping Quiet:
Figures of Speech:
The usage of the term ‘language’ is an instance of metonymy, in which a symbol or sign is used for the thing signified. Language here stands in for culture/race.
Arms: ‘Arms’ is an instance of pun. In puns, duplicity of sense is created because of the unity of sound. Arm here stands for a body part as well as weaponry.
Sudden Strangeness: Instance of alliteration. The same syllable is repeated at the beginning of successive words.
His hurt hands: This is an instance of alliteration.
Wars with fire, Wars with gas: This is an instance of Palilogia. In Palilogia, there is a repetition of same words in a line or sentence – ‘Wars with’ occurs twice.
The Earth can teach us: This is an instance of personification. Earth is given the human attribute of teaching.
Extended Metaphor: An extended metaphor can be found in the lines – “Perhaps the earth can teach us/as when everything seems dead/and later proves to be alive”. Here the stillness which Neruda advocates is being compared to the stillness of winter. Just like winter leads to rejuvenation, even the quietness recommended by Neruda leads to re-growth.
Symbolism: Symbolism is abundant in Keeping Quiet. Fisherman and whale stands for the oppressor and oppressed respectively. Salt gatherer is symbolic of humanity whereas ‘clean clothes’ symbolize peace.
Just like most of Pablo Neruda’s poems, even Keeping Quiet has no rhyme scheme. The poem has been written in blank verse.
Central Idea of Keeping Quiet:
Introspective quietness is the crux around which Keeping Quiet revolves. The poet implies in course of the poem that the reason why there is a lack of peace and contentment in the world, both personal and societal; is that people have been so busy in mindless action that they fail to stop and take stock of what they are doing. Once people just halt their daily grind and begin to really weigh the pros and cons of their actions and undertake a path of self-discovery, there will be no problems in the world. Wars will cease and people will begin to stop hurting each other because upon discovering the real self in a moment of complete tranquility; people will rise above their petty selfish needs and unite on a plane of humanity and brotherhood. Neruda believes that the soul housed within the human body is capable of performing this feat if given a chance to shine out through introspection, for which absolute silence and stillness is essential. History bears testimony to the fact that meditative reflection has changed many lives. Great historical figures like Gautam Buddha and Ashoka gave up riches and warfare once they discovered through introspection and meditation that the self can never be fulfilled through power and riches. It is always spiritualism which completes a human being. Neruda encourages his readers to also work towards that level of self-actualization.
Themes of Keeping Quiet:
Silence and Stillness:
Neruda is all for silence and stillness in Keeping Quiet. It is also the central theme of the poem. According to the poet, adopting silence and stillness in our life, even if it is for just a while is very essential, as it will help us reflect on ourselves and the world. Doing this will put us on a meaningful track in life, first on an individual plane and then on a larger societal plane. Once we start working towards self-actualization, our focus will shift from external to internal. As a result, there will be peace and harmony among individuals and nations. However, for this to happen it is essential that the silence and stillness which the poet recommends is not mistaken for absolute inactivity. It is imperative for this moment of calm and rest to be accompanied by deep meditation. This brings us to the second theme of the poem which is introspection. It is only through introspection and reflection that we can attain the perfect Utopian world described in the poem.
Brotherhood is an important theme of the poem, to which the theme of anti-violence is also linked. Neruda has showcased an anti-war attitude in the poem and has branded war as meaningless since it brings the illusion of victory at the very heavy price of human lives. No one really benefits from the war; instead, one brother turns against another. Neruda wishes for people across the world to unite together in their moment of silence and stillness. He hopes that doing so will make humans aware of the values of brotherhood and their religion of humanity.
A disapproving attitude towards utilitarianism is another important theme. Neruda speaks against a very materialistic approach towards life. According to him, life is about a lot more than achieving is a certain check list of goals before death puts an end to us. One can only have a successful life by really understanding oneself, away from the rat-race which we usually attach to our existence.
The theme of rejuvenation has also been touched upon in the poem. The poet says that the phase of stillness which he wants his readers to undergo should not be mistaken as death. Just as spring takes away all the dormancy of winter, the phase of keeping quiet will also be followed by a burst of meaningful philanthropic activity.
The Tone of Keeping Quiet:
The tone of the poem is calm all throughout. Since the poet is urging his readers to stay silent and still, he himself adopts a very tranquil serene tone, to set the mood of the poem. Although the topic being addressed by the poet is a very pressing one, he goes on about it in the most composed way possible. The tone of the poem is also highly reflective. In course of the thirty-five lines of the poem, the poet ruminates over problems pertaining to humans individually and collectively as a society and reflects upon the most plausible solution which is self-actualization through meditation.
Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda is a reflective piece of poetry which has philosophized a solution to the problems caused in the world due to growing materialism, greed and power-lust. The poem speaks in favor of inward self-fulfillment, independent of external factors. It is highly spiritual in the way it urges readers to shed one’s ego and realize one’s identity as a human being. The poet’s writing style in the poem is very soulful and it seems to come straight from the heart. This is probably why the poem appeals to the heart more than the faculties of the intellect. This poem is not an activist’s call to action but a philosopher poet’s call to introspection.