Introduction

In this poem ‘To the foot from its child’ poet Pablo Neruda has used ‘foot’ as a metaphor for the trials and tribulations of human life, his birth and his death, his dreams and realities. The child ‘foot’ when it is born, does not have the awareness to be a Butterfly or an Apple.

Central Idea

The poem is about a child’s foot that has various dreams when it is small but soon understands that it cannot achieve any of them because it is condemned to live in a shoe like a prisoner. Separated from its fellow, it slowly gets used to the dark world of the shoe, and moves around life like a blind man.

Poetic Device

  1. Anaphora: It means to use words at the beginning of the next clause such as “without surrender, without stopping” and “without” here is shown as an anaphora.
  2. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /o/ in “A child’s foot doesn’t know it’s a foot yet”, /a/ in “And it wants to be a butterfly or an apple” and the sound of /e/ in “Then the child’s foot / was defeated, it fell.”
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /th/ and /s/ in “But then the rocks and pieces of glass”, /k/ and /f/ in “keep teaching the foot that it can’t fly,” and the sound of /l/ and /t/ in “Little by little without light.”
  4. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example;

“Those smooth toe nails

of quartz in a bunch,

got harder, they changed into

an opaque substance, into hard horn

and the child’s little petals.”

  • Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. The poem shows the use of imagery such as “But this blind thing kept going”, “this foot worked with its shoes” and “because there everything was dark.”
  1. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects that are different. The poem shows the beautiful metaphor of the foot of a child and its lifecycle. Some other metaphors are such as butterfly as the foot is compared to it.
  2. Personification: The poet has also personified the foot, showing it has life and emotions of its own.
  3. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from literal meanings. The poem shows the use of the symbols such as rocks, pieces of glass, the streets, and the stairways to show obstacles that a man encounters in life.
  4. Simile: The poem shows the use of personification such as: exploring life like a blind man.

Explanation

Stanza 1 (Line 1-2)

A child's foot is not yet aware it's a foot yet
And would like to be a butterfly or an apple
.

The first stanza describes the characteristic features of the child’s foot. It is an infant’s foot and it does not know that it is a ‘foot’ at all. It lacks awareness and hence it dreams of unlimited possibilities. It would like to be a ‘butterfly’ or an ‘apple’. The foot has an optimistic view of life.

Stanza 2 (Line 3-7)

But in time, stones and bits of glass,
streets, ladders
and the paths in the rough earth
go on teaching the foot that it cannot fly,
cannot be a fruit bulging on the branch
.

Here the poet highlights the impact of time on the child. As the infant’s foot starts growing in the outside world, it begins to experience the harshness and pain of life while walking. When it steps over, “stones and bits of glass, / streets, ladders / and the paths in the rough earth, it learns that its role is that of a foot the same way people become aware of their role in life. It realizes that it can neither fly like a butterfly nor become a bulged apple on the branch of a tree.

Stanza 3 (Line 8- 12)

Then the child's foot
is defeated, falls
in the battle,
is a prisoner,
condemned to live in a shoe
.

The child’s foot has now discovered that it is only a ‘foot’, its spirit loses its battle against the world, is taken prisoner, and is condemned to live in a shoe. It also means that the child’s spirit becomes aware of its limitations as a human being and understands its role as a social being in human society. Now, having been imprisoned in a shoe, it gradually tries to understand the world, in its way.

Stanza 4 (Line 13- 16)

Bit by bit, in the dark,
it grows to know the world in its own way
out of touch with its fellow, enclosed,
feeling out life like a blind man
.

It is alone and cannot communicate with its counterpart, and gropes blindly in the dark like a blind man. The ‘foot’ is not in the open and whatever ideas it forms about life, are formed in the confined space of the shoe. Here, it means, it is not in touch with reality directly. Society decides what it should understand about ‘life’ or the world outside. Gradually, the foot adapts itself to its world and learns to cope with the harsh realities of life.

Stanza 5 (Line 17- 24)

Those soft nails
of quartz, bunched together,
got hard, they change themselves
an opaque substance, hard as horn
and the tiny, petaled toes of the child
grow bunched and out of trim,
took on the form of eyeless reptiles
with triangular heads, like worms
.

In this part of the poem the poet gives a graphic description of the changes seen in the child’s foot during its transition from a child’s foot to ‘adult foot’. The ‘soft nails of quartz’ in the child’s foot gradually grow hard and change themselves into ‘opaque’ substance ‘hard as horn’. The ‘tiny petaled toes’ of the child’s foot ‘grow bunched and out of trim’. The toes in the adult foot appear like ‘eyeless reptiles’.

It slogs and slogs either as a man’s foot or as a woman’s foot working in the field or market or mines or ministries. It toils in the shoe, day and night, scarcely finding time to enjoy the pleasures of life or sleep. It works without respite and finally meets with death.

Stanza 6 (Line 25- 28)

Later, they grow callused,
And are covered
with the faint volcanoes of death,
a coarsening hard to accept
.

Later they grow harder and become callused. In this stanza, the poet attempts to let the reader know that as the child grows into an adult it becomes less open to reality. It also means that people grow harder both physically and emotionally. The phrase ‘faint volcanoes of death’ suggests that the foot comes to appreciate ‘mortality’. Thus, we find that the child’s foot has now been transformed from a beautiful form into a warped and ugly one.

Stanza 7 (Line 29- 31)

But this blind thing walks
without respite, never stopping
for hour after hour
.

The poet then describes the journey of an adult foot until its death. It is now like an eyeless reptile. Hence, he calls it a ‘blind thing’. The adult foot is now in the harsh world outside, suggesting that the adult gets trapped in the routines of everyday life or the humdrum commonality of existence. It is now less capable of enjoyment and finds life difficult in every walk of life.

Stanza 8 (Line 32- 46)

The one foot, the other,
now the man’s,
now the woman’s,
up above,
down below,
through fields, mines,
markets, and ministries,
backward,
far afield, inward,
forward,
this foot toils in its shoes,
scarcely taking time
to bare itself in love or sleep
it walks, they walk,
until the whole man chooses to stop
.

It slogs and slogs either as a man’s foot or as a woman’s foot working in the field or market or mines or ministries. It toils in the shoe, day and night, scarcely finding time to enjoy the pleasures of life or sleep. It works without respite and finally meets with death.

Stanza 9 (Line 47- 53)

And then it descended
Underground, unaware,
for there, everything, everything was dark.
it never knew it had ceased to be a foot
or if they were burying it so that it could fly
or so it could become
an apple
.

Soon after the death, the adult foot gets buried. It goes down into the underground. It finds everything dark there. It also does not know that it is dead and has ceased to be a foot. When the foot dies and is buried, its consciousness is childlike again. Therefore, the foot revisits the possibilities of flying like a butterfly or becoming an apple. Here it means that people consider the possibility of an after-life.

Conclusion

The freedom of childhood is lost when a person becomes an adult and is exposed to a life of constant work and struggle. Outside, uncontrollable forces have the power to direct one’s life and thus ‘life’ in society takes away people’s free spirits until they are freed again by death. The human promise is not fulfilled by those whom society enslaves and mistreats.

The poet imagines that the naked foot of a boy, innocent still of the habituations of social society does not know that it is a foot, or a butterfly or an apple. Only through a long process of denial of our embodied natures, beginning with the simple act of wearing shoes and thus denying contact with the earth does the boy become a man. However, upon being buried, he still does not know if he will fly or become an apple.

Neruda criticizes society for burdening the children with marks and awards. Instead of spending its childhood happily, the child works very hard to get good marks to shape its future. Society does not leave the child according to its will and wish but ties the bonds of society and makes it move along a path according to society’s wish.