Table of Contents
‘Ode to Tomatoes’ is a poem written by Pablo Neruda. This poem is a metaphorical poem that employs tomatoes to reveal the complex relationship between Chile and Spain.
About the Poet:
Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto a.k.a Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was an eminent Chilean poet. He is famed for being the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. Famous works of his include Residence on Earth’, ‘Book of Twilight’, and ‘Keeping Quiet’.
Explanation of the Poem:
The street filled with tomatoes, midday, summer, light is halved like a tomato, its juice runs through the streets. In December, unabated, the tomato invades the kitchen, it enters at lunchtime, takes its ease on countertops, among glasses, butter dishes, blue saltcellars. It sheds its own light, benign majesty. Unfortunately, we must murder it: the knife sinks into living flesh, red viscera a cool sun, profound, inexhaustible, populates the salads of Chile, happily, it is wed to the clear onion, and to celebrate the union we pour oil, essential child of the olive, onto its halved hemispheres, pepper adds its fragrance, salt, its magnetism; it is the wedding of the day, parsley hoists its flag, potatoes bubble vigorously, the aroma of the roast knocks at the door, it's time! come on! and, on the table, at the midpoint of summer, the tomato, star of earth, recurrent and fertile star, displays its convolutions, its canals, its remarkable amplitude and abundance, no pit, no husk, no leaves or thorns, the tomato offers its gift of fiery color and cool completeness.
The poem begins with how tomatoes were in abundance in summer, filling the streets of Chile so much so that they were overflowing with tomato juice. This alludes to the bloodbath involved during the war between Chile and Spain.
During winter, tomatoes are said to ‘invade’ the kitchen, alluding to how Spain invaded Chile. Tomato thus enters the kitchen in all its ‘benign majesty’, ready to be cooked. Again, the reference to the ‘murder’ of tomatoes refers to the murder involved with the war.
The lines where ‘seeds’ of the tomatoes ‘populates the Salads/of Chile’ can be taken to be sexual in nature where it refers to the subsequent interracial marriages that took place between the two nations. The ‘wed’ding and the ‘union’ mentioned here connote the melting pot method of America. The salad in fact, with its tomatoes, olives, and potatoes refers to the same.
The poem concludes on a joyous note thus, painting the picture of Spain and Chile in a domestic setup, their past differences put behind them. Together, they coexisted wherein the tomato represents their ‘completeness’ without any obstacles such as ‘husk’ or ‘thorns’.
This is a wonderful poem that captures the progression of what had once been a rivalry between Spain and Chile into something more beautiful to be cherished.