Poetry Response: Odes

“Ode to Broken Things” by Pablo Neruda


  Things get broken  
at home  
like they were pushed  
by an invisible, deliberate smasher.  
It’s not my hands  
or yours  
It wasn’t the girls  
with their hard fingernails  
or the motion of the planet.  
It wasn’t anything or anybody  
It wasn’t the wind  
It wasn’t the orange-colored noontime  
Or night over the earth  
It wasn’t even the nose or the elbow  
Or the hips getting bigger  
or the ankle  
or the air.  
The plate broke, the lamp fell  
All the flower pots tumbled over  
one by one. That pot  
which overflowed with scarlet  
in the middle of October,  
it got tired from all the violets  
and another empty one  
rolled round and round and round  
all through winter  
until it was only the powder  
of a flowerpot,  
a broken memory, shining dust. 




Let’s put all our treasures together  
— the clocks, plates, cups cracked by the cold —  
into a sack and carry them  
to the sea  
and let our possessions sink  
into one alarming breaker  
that sounds like a river.  
May whatever breaks  
be reconstructed by the sea  
with the long labor of its tides.  
So many useless things  
which nobody broke  
but which got broken anyway. 



     In his “Ode to Broken Things” Pablo Neruda adds sentimentality and philosophy to simple broken household items. He paints these mundane, worn items as memories alive as their owners through unifying symbolism and repetition.


     The first stanza’s use of repetition and parallel structure reinforces the futility of blame in the face of destruction. The curious lines “It wasn’t the girls… It wasn’t anything or anybody It wasn’t the wind… I wasn’t even the nose or the elbow.” A similar repetition attaches “hips,” “ankles,” and “air” to the possible causes of these broken items. These eliminations of the perpetrators for broken things form a pathway to the answer: simply “The plate broke, the lamp fell.” In other words, the repetition is echoes the ticking of a clock. And the overall effect reinforces the message that nature gives these items life through good use and destroys them with time.


     In the last stanza, Neruda gives the reader a haunting call to action. He asks the reader to take these broken “treasures… cracked by cold.” Again, nature is identified as the cause of broken items instead of human carelessness. Then he says that these broken items are “like a river” and, like rivers, can be “reconstructed by he sea.” Neruda symbolizes the broken things as rivers, which weld into the sea, which symbolizes the repair of these items. Therefore, the breaking and repair or rebirth of items is as natural as the cycle of elements.


      However, the final, paradoxical words are the most impacting: “So many useless things which nobody broke but which got broke anyway.” The contrast between a nonexistent cause and the clear results suggest the inevitability of the end of all things. Overall, last sentence sums up the senselessness and naturalness of destruction and death of everything, even the still life. 


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