Keeping Quiet

by Pablo Neruda

English version by Alastair Reid
Original Language Spanish

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.

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.

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.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
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.

-- from Extravagaria: A Bilingual Edition, Translated by Alastair Reid

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/ Image by Maks Karochkin /

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

In modern society we are under so much pressure to do and to accomplish. That has it's rightful place, sure, but it is only one small fraction of a well-lived life. When action crowds out everything else in life, we have lost something essential.

What's more, Pablo Neruda reminds us of something we so easily forget: All suffering and all cruelty, all warfare and all destruction, they all result from someone's ambition. Think what sort of world we'd have if the conquerors and hyper-industrialists were instead introverts. If the world must have its Nazis, Lord, let them be lazy Nazis!

Periods of inaction, taking time for reflection or simply a pause from barreling through the day -- imagine the rest the human spirit cries out for and what healing work it can do in the world.

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.


Recommended Books: Pablo Neruda

The Book of Questions Neruda: Selected Poems On the Blue Shore of Silence: Poems of the Sea Pablo Neruda: Selected Poems Extravagaria: A Bilingual Edition
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Keeping Quiet