The Poem (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“Ode to an Artichoke” (it has also been translated under the title “Artichoke”) is a short poem consisting of thirty-three lines of free verse. The poem establishes the poet’s connection to the elemental or basic qualities of objects that surround everyone in daily life—here, common food items or vegetables. Pablo Neruda imagines the relationship that an artichoke may have to the rest of the members of the vegetable kingdom and, in the broadest terms, to reality itself. The artichoke is described as being “of delicate heart” yet dressed for battle inside its small “cupola” (a rounded vault that forms a roof). It keeps itself isolated and protected under its scales. This humble member of the food chain is surrounded by less prudent inhabitants of nature’s botanical kingdom. Wild, even crazy, vegetables bristle, raising their backs as if to engage in battle. At the same time, the carrot sleeps under the soil and the cabbage busies itself trying on a skirt. The spicy oregano perfumes the rest of the world while the artichoke, armed for a battle, stays quietly in its garden plot, burnished and proud like a pomegranate.
The poem presents a vision of the natural world, of grapevines and common vegetables come to life, conscious of their place in the scheme of nature and able to make choices about the ways in which they live their lives. Like humans, they can be either calm or belligerent; they can be showy and pretentious or stoic and...
(The entire section is 317 words.)
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Forms and Devices (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
The poem’s references to plant life establish a basic and obvious metaphor for the various modalities of human life. The poem’s style is spare and abrupt; the ode begins with a direct naming of Neruda’s center of interest, the artichoke, without any fanfare. Neruda’s personification of the vegetables does not stop with the artichoke itself but continues throughout the work. The poem has an effect something like a Disneyized cartoon in which the plants and flowers suddenly come to life to adopt human emotions and act in human relationships.
The artichoke protects itself within its “cupola,” Neruda’s way of describing the green fibers that protect the central part of this plant. Rather than indulging in myriad adjectives to describe a humanized scale of emotions, the poet uses simple action verbs such as “ perfume,” “try on,” “bristle,” and “sleeps.” He consciously refrains from interjecting personal reactions or emotions into the goings-on of the various members of the botanical kingdom.
The short, even terse, lines of the poem—sometimes limited to only two syllables—contribute to the starkly direct effect that this work has. The ideas are generated by broken syntax in lines of poetry which are most often incomplete in themselves. They must be read in groups of two or three to understand their basic meaning. The result is a choppy, brusque, poetic expression that may be seen as a linguistic corollary to the...
(The entire section is 372 words.)