Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
The major theme of Neruda’s “A Lemon” is the unsuspecting and hidden poetry of ordinary objects surrounding humankind. Neruda saw in his new poetics (that is, the poetics following the Residencia en la tierra cycle) an aesthetic that resisted an excess of sophistication; its object was to draw the poet toward rather than away from everyday reality. This embracing of reality was a welcome return to the sources, to what was simply human: his family, his native village, the modest lives of his childhood friends.
In the poem “A Lemon,” Neruda renders the elemental object of the lemon purely and directly. By gaining insight into the grandeur of the lowly and the sublimity of the trivial, the ode attempts to open the world to imaginative re-creation.
Although “A Lemon” is not an overtly political poem, as are the poems of the Residencia series, by his choice of subject matter Neruda’s poem conveys an ideological meaning. The return to, and exaltation of, nature in the poem is a political act, in that in praising what is positive and essential there is a silent accusation against whoever would abuse and exploit the resources of the Americas. More important, in choosing the simple language and style for the Elementary Odes, Neruda was clearly motivated by a deeply held political belief: A leftist poet must reject “elitist” styles; he must write simply and clearly for the people. To Neruda, the poet should not be isolated in his or her ivory tower away from the human community but should be part of that community.
The new aesthetics exemplified in “A Lemon” aimed at strengthening the ties between the poet and the people. The elevation of common objects constituted a leveling of poetic subject and the breaking down of class distinctions, as if reducing all things to the same standard by investing the lowliest with a humble dignity of their own.