Aug 15 2011

Pablo Neruda – Keeping Quiet

Published by at 9:21 am under Poetry

Keeping Quiet
by Pablo Neruda

English version by Alastair Reid

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.

/ Photo by Maks Karochkin /

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 world 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.


Pablo Neruda, Pablo Neruda poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Pablo Neruda

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15 responses so far

15 Responses to “Pablo Neruda – Keeping Quiet”

  1. Laura Cassidyon 15 Aug 2011 at 12:20 pm

    Ah, one of my favorites. Less doing, more being. Love it.

  2. prema kayeon 15 Aug 2011 at 7:02 pm

    dear ivan, ever since i started studying spanish literature in college in the ’60’s, this has always been one of my very favorite poems. i wish you were here so that i could read it to you in spanish!

    mil gracias. tu eres muy querido.

    con carino, prema

  3. kimon 15 Aug 2011 at 9:52 pm

    Amen Ivan and Pablo. I think of lying on the floor as a radical act. Once a day it can totally change a breath, a mood, a pain, a path, a heart, an entire life. Keeping Quiet remind me of those times when I lie on the floor doing nothing except be. No buying, pushing away, clinging, craving, fighting or waving around of my arms.

  4. jawahar lal goelon 15 Aug 2011 at 10:51 pm

    alas,only if everyone could be still only for a while
    and let the inner self to reflect to oneself but can
    everyone really bear oneself without self deception
    yet no one can escape these moments of truth
    so one shoud better choose to opt and start counting

  5. Gerryon 16 Aug 2011 at 8:12 am

    You always give me something to ponder and today’s reading is wonderful. I loved your review and your request for ‘lazy Nazis.’ I’m joining in that prayer!

  6. Janeon 16 Aug 2011 at 9:21 am

    Spot on! Neruda AND your commentary!

  7. Moira-annon 16 Aug 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Ivan, thankyou so much for todays poem, it is unusual if I am not “touched” most days by either poem or commentary. Words from todays poem actually “took the mat from under my feet!”

    “What I want should not be confused with total activity;
    Life is what it is about…….”

    I can only put “head” words on the “touch” of those two lines, but it seems that it could be about the dimensions of unity across all creation, and if we cultivate a habit of “counting to twelve” we perhaps could be close to appreciation of the balance of something contained in its opposite, that creation so often presents to us.

  8. Shivanion 14 Sep 2011 at 12:15 am

    Keeping quiet is indeed the best you can do…

  9. […] from the poem, “Keeping Quiet” by Pablo […]

  10. […] voice and style does it no justice. I tried a few times but I seemed to be getting worse. Anyway, the words are here if you can’t stand my voice […]

  11. Pablo Neruda – Keeping Quieton 29 Jun 2012 at 4:08 am

    […] voice and style does it no justice. I tried a few times but I seemed to be getting worse. Anyway, the words are here if you can’t stand my voice […]

  12. Olgui B.M.on 26 Sep 2012 at 11:45 am

    While it’s truly hard to be quiet and listen only to your heart, maybe we can start with a few minutes (3 or 4) by closing our eyes and listen to Pablo tell us a poem or two……

  13. Will that be one egg or two?on 12 Nov 2012 at 6:59 pm

    […] from the poem, “Keeping Quiet” by Pablo […]

  14. Tina Lozanoon 07 Apr 2013 at 11:12 am

    I would really like to find the original Spanish version of this poem. Does anyone know where I might find it or where to start looking (for example, date written or title of book appears in. Thank you very much!

  15. Julia Traverson 26 Oct 2015 at 10:15 am

    Thank you for sharing this poem and your insightful reflection on it’s meaning to you. I had not read it in some time, and was inspired to write a short article on it here, if you’d like to check it out:

    Thanks again,


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