Introduction

The poem Keeping Quiet written by Pablo Neruda is about peace, fraternity and prosperity. This poem during 1950s, a time when the world had suffered a dead war.

The poet too has experienced the repercussions of war and his appeal for peace shows that he is fed up seeing humans killing each other for power and money.

In this poem, the poet asks us to keep quiet for a while and stop doing the worldly things and instead think about ourselves, our nature and our brothers whom we hate, Poet believes that, this way we will be able to build a better world.

The poem has been divided into five stanzas. The lines vary from stanza to stanza. The poem is quite easy to understand. However we will go word by word to make everything clear.

Poem

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.

In the first stanza, the poet says asks the audience to hold on, stop doing anything and count to twelve and then keep still i.e. silent. The phrase “count to twelve” is symbolic. I may signify our daily routine or even unity (as clock’s hand unite at 12).

Whatever the meaning be, the poet is asking us to keep silent. At this moment, we will not speak in any language (because languages create barriers and divide us) and instead, keep silence which is the universal language and thus uniting factor.

In the next line, the poet again says that let us stop for a second and not move our arms i.e. let us leave our work and quest for worldly things and instead keep silence.

The first stanza, depicts that the poet is not in the favour of barriers which divide us and even our worldly desires

Stanza 2

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

According to the poet, when we will leave all our worldly affairs aside and remain silent, it will be an exotic (strange) moment as there will be no rush and no engines (i.e. machines). We will all be together in a sudden strangeness which will be the uniting factor (as we all will be silent which is a universal language).

The poet further says that during the moment of stillness, no fisherman would harm any whales in the cold sea i.e. there will be no killing of any animal for our benefits.

In addition, the person who gathers salt at sea coast would stop doing his work and instead look at his hands which are hurt and wounded because of excessive work.

During this stillness, all of us would wonder why we are doing anything and it will surely have some impact on us and our thinking.

Stanza 3

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.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

In this stanza, the poet talks about war,. According to him, all the people who prepare green wars (i.e. destroy the environment by cutting the trees), wars with gases (pollute environment with their industries and factories), wars with fire (destroy and kill others with weapons) and those who have victories with no survivors (i.e. the powerful people who defeat others by killing them) may put on clean clothes and instead of doing that, walk with their brothers in the shade (of tree) and do nothing.

Here, the poet discusses everything which humans do for selfish reason including deforestation, industrialisation, wars and battles. According to him all these people should stop for a moment and instead of hate, they may preach fraternity and love.

In the next line, the poet makes us understand that he does not mean total inactivity. Instead, he is asking for no more harm to anybody.

According to him, life is what it is about i.e. we have life and we should live instead of fighting. The poet further says that he is saying this because he does not want any truck with dead bodies.

This line is deep and emotional. As I said in the beginning, the poet has experienced the worst effect of world war II and hence he does not want to see the mass deaths and destruction.

Stanza 4

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could perhaps a huge silence       
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.

In this stanza, the poet says that if we were not so single-minded (i.e. selfish, greedy and materialistic) about keeping our lives moving (i.e. for growing ourselves), this keep silence for sometimes, it will definitely interrupt (i.e. take away) the sadness of never understanding ourselves and of threatening ourselves with death.

In other words, the poet considers our greed, our selfishness and materialistic mindset as the root cause of wars, murders, and destruction. According to the poet, this mentality never allows us to understand ourselves, i.e. our soul which always wants peace and fraternity.

The poet believes that if we keep silence for a moment, we will be able to cure our sadness which is a part of our lives.

Stanza 5

Perhaps the Earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

In the last stanza, the poet takes the example of Earth to make us understand the importance of patience. According to the poet, Earth can teach us everything because nature is slow and at one instance, it may look dead. However, with patience and perseverance, it proves to be alive. e.g. trees grow so slowly that they may look dead. But with time, they grow huge.

In the end, the poet again repeats the first lines. After saying everything, he says that it is the time for action. He asks us to count up to twelve and then keep quiet so that he may go now (as his aim will be accomplished which is changing our mentality).

Further Reading

  1. Play quiz on Keeping Quiet Poem
  2. Questions-Answers of Keeping Quiet