Oct 06 2017

Pablo Neruda – Keeping Quiet (and thoughts on the Las Vegas shooting)

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.

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

/ Image by Maks Karochkin /

I live in Colorado, a state with lots of guns. Most of those guns are used in hunting and kept locked away and out of sight. But I have had the distinctly frightening experience of seeing someone walk into a local grocery store with a handgun strapped to his hip. This was not a police officer, not someone in uniform, but a “gun activist” asserting his “right” to walk around in public spaces with a weapon. When we later contacted the store manager to insist that they publicly declare themselves to be a weapons-free safe zone (as other stores have done in the state), the manager responded that the man was not breaking the law by openly carrying a gun into the store.

Another time, I found myself in the surreal position of holding a friend’s (unloaded) M-16 rifle while being told how simple it would be to convert it from semi-automatic to fully automatic, all while surrounded by several other rifles, handguns, and knives.

I don’t know what to make of this aspect of American culture. There is this sense that manhood is marked by the hard embrace of violence and death. And when that manhood is thwarted in its other social expressions, it then acts out through that violence and death. In that person’s dark moment, Lord help the society that makes these weapons of instant death and mass murder easily available.

Obviously, I have been meditating on this latest mass shooting in the United States, along with the fact that we seem to be getting used to this pattern in recent years. There is a certain comfortable insanity that is taking the place of problem solving in this country.

We accept shooting after shooting, rather than face difficult questions of gun control, underfunded mental health care, widespread economic desperation, re-emerging racism, and an increasingly dangerous cultural divide. Not all of those issues necessarily apply to the recent Las Vegas shooting, but they all add to the pressure cooker that keeps producing these terrible events.

We don’t need to “put our differences aside and come together as a nation.” Those differences are there. We need to be honest about it. We need to be honest with ourselves. We need to look at the full picture, look at it honestly. And then we need to engage in real conversation, uncomfortable conversation. Only then can we begin to formulate practical measures of responsibility and prevention, rather than after-the-fact prayer.

That’s what we need.

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
More Books >>

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

Chile (1904 – 1973) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Pablo Neruda

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Pablo Neruda – Keeping Quiet (and thoughts on the Las Vegas shooting)”

  1. Amardeep Singhon 06 Oct 2017 at 10:54 am

    That is a very cogent commentary, Ivan. Thank you.

    The Second Amendment was created so people could keep arms in their homes to fight against the British. However, subsequent generations have latched onto it in their childishness and cruelty.

    How comforting it must be to a man-child to carry a weapon with which they can destroy any being that threatens them, their ego, their whim. Or have physical proof of their intent and ability to destroy with a simple pull of the trigger?

    I am 100% for gun control, but I am asking myself if normal, mentally healthy citizens didn’t have access to a handgun to protect themselves, then how would they be able to otherwise protect themselves from all the illegal weapons which proliferate in our country?

    What is the need for automatic weapons? People are making money off of selling them, and that is the essential desire of the gun lobby: money.

  2. christineon 07 Oct 2017 at 10:59 am

    Hi Ivan… Very poignant piece… both the poem and your commentary…

    I particularly like the phrase: “there is a certain comfortable insanity taking place…”

    We have indeed become comfortable with insanity! Look who this country elected last Nov! by some people whom I personally thought were very sane…. This is not to make a political statement, but to show how easy this happened. The analogy I can think of is putting a frog in warm water and turning the heat up. It gradually gets warmer and warmer, but the frog gets used to it, until it’s too late… Hopefully enough of us will wake up and realize the “emperor has no clothes.” I also wanted to share that I joined a network they call Nextdoor.com, where neighborhoods join the network and at times different topics come up for discussion, like mental health and teen suicide. One thing I’ve observed is that people are very identified with and attached to their opinions about the way things are and how things should be done. There’s a lot of rude, arrogant, aggressive, hostile people out there, name calling, etc., and the conversations often have to be shut down. I used to believe that we could all get along. Unfortunately I don’t see the issues of “humanity” and coexisting together on the planet ending any time soon, until their is a major shift in perspective.

    In my humble opinion 🙂

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