Keeping Quiet – Summary


Pablo Neruda emphasizes the unique and as well as universal impact of having a sense of togetherness along with the need for introspection for mutual understanding. In this respect, he believes to bring total inactivity amongst all the people. They may realise some strangeness and enjoy the exotic moments in their lives. So he urges people of all languages to stop speaking and the fishermen are asked to stop harming the whales. Those who advocate deadly weapons to destruct the humanity have been requested to stop and save humanity. He says that we should not confuse his theory with total inactivity. Life will go on moving as it is to move. There is no change in the laws of nature.

There can be no agreement with the death but sadness may trouble us. It is very much essential for us that we must understand ourselves because there can be life under apparent stillness and there is life beyond it. Nature teaches us that when everything seems dead, it later proves to be alive. So, it is of utmost importance for us to realise the feeling of mutual understanding amongst us.

Theme

The theme of this poem is the need for human introspection to understand the futility of war and violence. The poet asks to count up to twelve and become absolutely still. Nobody should talk or do any activity.

The state of stillness will help us to collect our thoughts. This moment of absolute stillness without any noise or activity would be an unusual moment, nobody would be in a hurry, everybody would be together in that quiet and peaceful moment.

Humans are destroying nature and disturbing the ecological balance. Endangered species as whales are killed excessively for human consumption. The overproduction of commodities is depleting the earth of its resources. Humans are now guided by greed, not need. It is high time that the fishermen and the salt gatherers introspect to realize that their actions are causing great harm to mother earth. The poet also addresses the leaders of nations to give up war as a solution to existing problems, because war will leave no survivors, people will be killed on both sides. The metaphor of clean clothes is used for new thoughts. Humans are urged to walk hand in hand as brothers, to understand each other and not indulge in violence to have their way.

The poet clarifies that when he asks for everyone to be still and silent, he wants everyone to be mentally active and meditative. Humans should stop all activities in order to evaluate their own actions, not just keep doing what they are without thinking about the implications of their actions. The fishermen and the salt gatherers keep earning by harming others and themselves, there are enough food options available, and only a teaspoon of salt is enough for us. Yet the fishermen keep killing whales for livelihood and the
salt gatherers keep gathering more and more salt. The warmongers to keep on killing people without thinking. All of us should pause and introspect about the implications of our actions. The poet feels sad that the humans fail to understand each other, thereby resorting to violence. He hopes that the silence
created by keeping quiet and still will bring about understanding and peace. He gives the message of universal brotherhood.

The poet gives us the message of regeneration of our thoughts and actions from Mother Earth. The root set in during the rainy season and the falling leaves of autumn are taken care of by nature during harsh winter. During the spring season, new plants and flowers grow, similarly harmful, degenerative old practices should be replaced with useful regenerative newer ones. The poet ends by saying that he would count twelve and leave us with our thoughts, having provoked us to think.


Explanation of the Poem


Stanza One


“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.”


Explanation

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The poet here requests everyone to count till twelve in their own mind and to stop for a while. May be this ‘twelve’ referred by the poet is the twelve hours in the clock or the twelve months in a year. He wants everyone to stop and calm down. The poet urges everyone not to speak any language. As we all know that there are different languages spoken in different parts of the earth which sometimes become a barrier in our way for peace. So, he asks people not to speak. Not only this, but he also wants us to stop moving our arms. By using the word ‘arms’ he means the weapons which are used by different countries to raise a war against each other. So basically the poet is demanding peace from all of us.

Literary devices:
Assonance: Use of vowel sound ‘o’ and ‘e’ (Now we will count to twelve, not move our arms so much)
Anaphora: Two consecutive lines starting with the word ‘Let’s’

let’s not speak in any language, let’s stop for one second,
Alliteration: the repetition of a consonant sound at the start of 2 or more closely placed words.

‘we will’ – ‘w’ sound is repeated

Key points:

  • i. The poet asks everyone to count up to twelve in their mind. The number twelve represents the hours of the day or the months of a year. ii. He wants all of us to be calm and still.
  • iii. People across the nations have to unite together, so, they shall not speak their own languages, rather they all shall keep quiet and speak the language of silence. iv. This will bring unity among all the humans on the face of the Earth.
  • v. For at least one moment, no one shall move his arms either to signal, or to fight, or argue with each other.

Second stanza


“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.”


Explanation

Poet says that it would be a rare situation when there will be no engines working. Here he wants to stay that if everything comes to standstill, it will be a very different moment. If all the engines like the vehicles and machines stop, then there will be a sudden, strange situation as the world will experience a sudden calmness. People will not be in a rush to achieve material things one after another. Further, the poet says that the fisherman will also stop and not harm whales in the sea. This means that the poet is urging everyone not to harm the animals. Here he gives the example of whales which are being hunted for the purpose of food or trade. He also wants people to calm down so that they can stop and see what they have achieved or lost. For this, he gives the example of the man who gathers salt, whose hands are hurt. Here he wants everyone to stop for a while in order to see and feel their achievements and how much they have lost for the sake of attaining such materialistic things.

Literary devices:
Alliteration– ‘we would’ – ‘w’ sound is repeated, ‘sudden strangeness’ – ‘s’ sound is repeated, ‘his hurt hands’ – ‘h’ sound is repeated

Key points

When everything will come to a standstill, it will be a rare situation.

  • i. No one will be in a rush, there will be no engines running.
  • ii. Everyone will be calm and quiet, united with each other in a strange atmosphere.
  • iii. It will be strange because it has never happened earlier.
  • iv. No person would be harming any other living being either for food or to earn his livelihood.
  • v. All the people who work endlessly will get some time to look at their injuries and the damage they have caused to their body.

Third stanza


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.


Explanation

The poet asks everyone to stop those activities which are damaging the environment. Today all human beings are making money by damaging the environment with their activities such as mining, deforestation, letting the chemical waste into rivers, etc. The poet asks us not to do so. He also requests people not to involve in wars as there is no benefit of achieving such victory in which no one is left alive. He says so because wars and environmental damage will lead to no life on earth. Rather, he wants people to adopt a new approach towards life and mankind. He says that you should treat your enemy like brothers and promote peace and harmony in the world.

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Literary devices:
Alliteration: ‘wars with’ – ‘w’ sound is repeated, ‘clean clothes’ – ‘c’ sound is repeated
Assonance: use of vowel ‘o’ (victory with no survivors, would put on clean clothes and walk about with their brothers)
Repetition: use of ‘war’

Key notes

  • i. The people who exploit the green wealth of nature by deforestation, or mining, or fishing in the deep seas and the soldiers who use weapons to kill fellow human beings need some time to introspect into the consequences of their actions. They are merely doing their job or following orders.
  • ii. He wants them to put on ‘new clothes’ i.e. to adopt a new approach towards life and to realize that killing so many people is not a victory.
  • iii. He wants all of us to be united as one, consider our enemy to be our brother.
  • iv. He is promoting brotherhood, peace and unity.
  • v. He does not want us to stop our works but to take some time and analyze the results of our deeds.

Fourth stanza


If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves and of threatening ourselves with death.


Explanation

Now the poet wants to clarify to his readers that when he asks them to stop from saying or doing anything, he doesn’t want anyone to become a non-active person. Non-active is a person who remains idle and doesn’t do anything. Here, he simply means that we should stop and see the consequences of our deeds. The poet doesn’t want to see people being killed due to their greed for money and the expansion of territories. Further, he says that people are continuously working to achieve their tasks without even thinking about their results. They are in fear of death and therefore, want to achieve most of the things before their death. Here he urges them to stop for a while and take some moment to relish what they have achieved till now. Everyone here is living a life in which he wants to achieve various things one after another. But now the poet says it is the time to stop and see what has been achieved and should be enjoyed. This will help us skip the sadness which has become so prominent in our lives. The sadness of not enjoying what we have achieved and the greed to achieve what next is on the list to be achieved.

Literary devices

Alliteration: we were, so single-minded
Enjambment: and for once could perhaps a huge silence……..of threatening ourselves with death.

Important points

  • i. All human beings work endlessly with the aim of completing all their tasks.
  • ii. They are driven by the target of survival and the threat of death.
  • iii. So they are in a mad rush to accomplish all their works.
  • iv. He says that perhaps if they pause for a while, they can appreciate their achievements and their lives would become happier.
  • v. He suggests that by keeping quiet, we will be able to understand the true purpose of our life.

Fifth stanza


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.


Explanation

In these lines, the poet suggests to human beings that we should learn a lesson from Earth. During the winters everything freezes and becomes lifeless. But when the season changes and its the onset of the spring season, everything present in nature such as the trees, birds, rivers, etc gets life. So here, the poet, by giving the example of nature, wants to say that all human beings should stop and try to judge their deeds. They can try and make their life better with calmness, peace. Finally, he ends up by saying that now he will count up to twelve so that we all may become quiet. Here ‘quiet’ means to calm down ourselves and move towards the path of peace and harmony. After saying this he says ‘I will go’. He says so as he has conveyed his message to the people and wants them to be left alone to think about it and work in the direction of peace.

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The poet suggests us to take teaching from nature.

  • i. As the Earth changes, in winter, everything freezes, becomes lifeless but after some time, the season changes again, and everything comes back to life.
  • ii. Similarly, taking a pause and introspecting into our lives will give it a new meaning. We will be able to understand the purpose of our life. It will be like a rebirth of the soul.
  • iii. The poet has conveyed to all the people the purpose of his message and so, he asks them once again to take a pause, count till twelve and walks out of the scene, keeping the scene open for all the people on the Earth to experience this for times to come.

Writer:

Mrs Rayena Reza
P.G.T (English)
SHSSS (Boys)
A.M.U., Aligarh

Short Question and Answer

Q.1:- What does count to twelve imply?
A.1:- The poet through this expression commences the session of introspection and meditation.
Q.2:- Explain ‘without rush, engines’.
A.2:- The expression is a symbol of the Hubbub of modern life. In the modern competitive world of advancement, there is a rat race to outshine others. Life can be peaceful only if this thoughtless advancement’ can be stopped.

Q.3:- Explain ‘sudden- strangeness’.
A.3:- The exotic moment of introspection will build a sudden and strange feeling of universal brotherhood.

Q.4:- What is fisherman symbolic of?
A.4:- The fisherman symbolizes man’s indiscriminate exploitation of nature for his vested interests.

Q.5:- Who does ‘those’ refer to here?
A.5:- Those’ refers to the politicians, the statesmen and the scientists who are involved in initiating and aggravating wars.

Q.6:- Explain ‘green wars, wars with gas, wars with fire’.
A.6:- The expression refers to the chemical wars which man is waging against man and against nature. Man’s activities are polluting nature and the chemical and nuclear weapons created by him have brought mankind to its dead end.

Q.7:- What does the poet mean by ‘victory with no survivors?
A.7:- Man’s activities are indeed heading him he is getting victorious but the war which a man is waging will soon turn the ‘living planet’ into a dead one and the war may be the victory of man’s
scientific knowledge but there would be no survivors to celebrate this victory.

Q.8:- What does ‘total inactivity’ imply?
A.8:- ‘Total Inactivity’ implies a phase of complete stagnation when no destructive activity is taking place.

Q.9:- What is life ‘all about?
A.9:- ‘Life is an ongoing process and thus is all about being up and doing’. Life cannot come to standstill under any circumstances.

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