Oct 8 2019

Just A Thought on “Ode to the Book” by Pablo Neruda

Ode To The Book was first published in 1954 in Odas Elementales, originally written in Spanish, and then translated to English by Margaret Sayers Peden in 1994. The Chilean laureate was the author of more than thirty-five books of poetry and one of the most celebrated Latin America’s writers of the 20th century. According to Rene de Costa (1982), Odas Elementales is “political without appearing to be politicized, simple without being simplistic, it appealed to an extraordinarily wide range of readers through a seemingly artless, almost breezy series of compositions exalting the most basic things of our daily existence, the plain and the ordinary, fruits and flowers, thread and bread” (145). In a retrospective view, for some, it was seen as Neruda’s effort to reach a larger audience, the mass. 

More important at the time was its linguistic level, its use of everyday language, the spoken language of the people. Neruda’s Odas elementales depart from this established modality with a highly flexible free verse form and a unique thematic focus that strives to be both public and lyrical and elemental. One interesting fact is that the style was influenced by newspaper column format, the mass media of the time. Neruda was asked to contribute a weekly column of poetry by one of his colleagues, Miguel Otero Silva, who was a director of the newspaper El Nacional in Caracas. Neruda accepted the offer but requested his poems to be published in the news section instead of a supplement. This way, he argued, would enable him to write about any topic (de Costa, 1982: 148). 

Perhaps the selection of the form of ode was intentional since the Greek or Pindaric ode was originally a public poem, usually performed to celebrate a person, an event, a thing, or an idea. Although not all of his poems were ever published in El Nacional, it was the idea of making poetry accessible to the vast public that seems to reflect a paradigm shift, and not only in his poetic expressions but also in the media literacy of the time.