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‘From I Explain A Few Things’ is a poem written by Pablo Neruda. It talks about the Spanish Civil War and the destruction it left in its wake. It has an air of desolation in it, punctuated by gruesome imagery.
About the Poet:
Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was a Chilean writer. His poems range from themes of erotic love to historical. Famous works of his include ‘Odas elementales’, ‘Your Laughter’ and ‘Ode to Tomatoes’.
The theme of the poem is despair. The persona talks about the horror and misery they felt over the destruction of life and beauty of their beloved Spain.
This excerpt has stanzas and lines of varying lengths. It has no apparent rhyme scheme and is written in blank verse.
Explanation of the stanzas:
I lived in a quarter In Madrid, with bells With clocks, with trees.
This is a stanza containing simple description. It talks about the person’s residence. It is a rather pleasant atmosphere.
From there could be seen The dry face of Castille Like a sea of leather.
In this stanza, more descriptions follow. He describes the view he gets out of his place in Spain, the dry look it portrayed.
My house was named The house of the flowers, because everywhere Geraniums exploded: it was A beautiful house With dogs and little children.
This stanza poses a contrast to the previous stanza’s ‘dry’ness. He states how his house was named after flowers for Geraniums seems to have filled it. It is with a tinge of visible nostalgia that the persona recounts the beauty of his house, filled with dogs and children.
Raúl, you agree? You agree, Rafael? Federico, you agree Beneath the earth, You agree about my house with balconies where The light of June drowned flowers in your mouth? Brother, brother!
Raul, Rafael, and Federico are poets who had perished during the Spanish Civil War. The persona invokes their name, asking them a rhetorical question of whether or not they agreed with his sentiments found in the previous stanza. He calls them ‘brother’, signifying his pain over the recollection the camaraderie they had once shared.
The build of roofs with a cold sun on which The weather vane tires, The fine frenzied ivory of potatoes, Tomatoes multiplied down to the sea.
In this stanza, the persona details on what a lush, prosperous land Spain was. He talks about the fine potatoes and tomatoes they had had the capacity to export once via the sea.
And one morning all of that burned And one morning the bonfires Leapt from the earth Devouring beings, And from that moment fire Gunpowder from that moment, And from that moment blood. Thugs with planes, and the Moors, Thugs with signet rings, and duchesses, Thugs with black friars blessing Came through the sky to slaughter children, And through the streets the blood of the children Flowed easily, like the blood of children.
The poem takes a dark turn here. The persona recounts how all of this had been destroyed in the blink of an eye. Fire and gunpowder ravished the lands of Spain, making blood run like a river. Children too were mercilessly slaughtered, their blood too painting the city with a gruesome shade of red.
Jackals that the jackal would drive away, Stones that the dry thistle would bite and spit out, Vipers that the vipers would hate!
More gruesome imagery can be found in this stanza. The worse of the worse had happened. The persona brings this notion out with reference to jackals, dry thistles and vipers, emphasising on the vile acts that had been committed in Spain.
Opposed to you I have seen the blood Of Spain rise up To drown you, in a single wave Of pride and knives! Generals Traitors: Consider my dead house, Consider Spain, broken: But from every dead house burning metal flows In place of flowers, But from every hollow of Spain Spain rises, But from every dead child rises a gun with eyes, But from every crime are born bullets That will find you one day in the house Of the heart.
This stanza has a gory image painted by the persona. The blood that ran seems to have the ability to drown a person in one single wave. He states that not only were people dead but house and Spain itself. For in place of flowers, metals seemed to burn everywhere. Bullets from Guns took the lives of any and everyone.
You will ask why his poetry Has nothing of the earth, of the leaves, Of the grand volcanoes of his native country?
The persona poses the readers with a rhetorical question that he assumes will run in their minds: Why would his poetry not have the beauty of nature portrayed instead?
Come and see the blood through the streets, Come and see The blood through the streets, Come and see the blood Through the streets!
He answers his own question by painting yet another sordid image- inviting the readers to see the blood that ran through the streets of Spain.
This is a heart-wrenching poem that vividly expresses the horrors of the civil war Spain had to undergo. Inhumane acts were rampant in those times. The poet captures this in his haunting verse, effectively enabling the readers to envision what he himself was unfortunate enough to see.