Could you please give me a summary of "Ars Poetica" by Pablo Neruda?

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The title, "Ars Poetica," which means "the art of poetry," gives us a clue about the subject of this poem. The poem describes the poetic process. According to Neruda's speaker, poetry arises out of suffering and pain.

As the poem opens, the poet-speaker describes himself as in a liminal state,...

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The title, "Ars Poetica," which means "the art of poetry," gives us a clue about the subject of this poem. The poem describes the poetic process. According to Neruda's speaker, poetry arises out of suffering and pain.

As the poem opens, the poet-speaker describes himself as in a liminal state, between "shadow and space." His imagery depicts him as a ghostlike figure, "pale" and with a "withered" forehead. He likens himself to a widower, continuously "mourning." All of these images comprise a picture of suffering and reveal the poet's angst.

The speaker then goes on to describe drinking the water of poetic inspiration and finding it a painful experience. He likens it to "an indirect anguish" and compares his poetic muse to a

humiliated waiter, like a bell gone a bit hoarse,
like an old mirror...

As the quote above suggests, he waits like a servant, humiliated, for his muse to order inspiration, and then finds this inspiration not quite as fresh and clear as he would wish: it is a bell that rings not quite clearly, or an old mirror that returns a wavy, indistinct image. He finds his muse lacks the scent of flowers, instead throwing out the smelly "odor" of already-worn clothes tossed on the floor.

But then, after an important dash that signals a break in his mood, the speaker becomes less sad, sour, and melancholy. The stale muse becomes fresher and hits him with violent force. He compares it to "suddenly, the wind lashing my chest." This wind will "demand what there is in me of the prophetic" and the poet, it is implied, will respond.

The poem thus describes stages in the poetic process: the tortured poet struggles for inspiration, finds what comes to him initially is stale and unpleasant, and then is hit with the painful ("lashing") inspiration that will drive him to write.

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In Pablo Neruda’s “Ars Poetica,” the speaker sets out to establish his current condition in the world. He says, in the opening line, that he is “Between shadow and space,” which implies that he feels as if he is in some sort of limbo. The “shadow” connotes darkness and also, given that a shadow must always follow the body, restriction. On the other hand, “space” connotes freedom, but perhaps also emptiness.

The speaker also says that he is “impetuously pale.” The word “pale” implies sickness or a lack of vitality, and “impetuously” suggests someone who perhaps is not thinking rationally. He also says that he is “in mourning like an angry widower,” which implies that he has lost someone or something that he loved. He then says that he feels “the same missing thirst and the same cold fever.” The thirst may be literal or figurative. For example, it could be a thirst for knowledge or for love. The word “cold” compounds the impression of sickness implied by the previous use of the word “pale,” and the repetition of the word “same” implies that he has been feeling “cold” for a long time.

The speaker says that he feels as if he is living “inside a long, deep, hollow shell,” and then offers a series of similes to try to capture more exactly this feeling. He says, for example, that it makes him feel “like a humiliated waiter,” or “like a bell gone a bit hoarse,” or “like the smell of an empty house.” Most of these descriptions have in common a sense of emptiness and abandonment, suggesting that the speaker feels lost, alone, and unloved. The fact that he lists four successive similes to try to capture the exact feeling also suggests that he is somewhat confused and uncertain. He is grasping for the words to best describe his condition but is unable to find exactly the right ones.

In the last part of the poem, Neruda says that despite, or perhaps because of, these feelings of emptiness, loneliness, and sickness, he feels pressure from the world around him. The world around him is metaphorically described as a “wind lashing (his) chest,” and “the noise of a day” which demands of him “what there is . . . of the prophetic.” He goes on to describe “a banging of objects that call without being answered.” The implication here is that the world around him seems to be demanding, with increasing noise and clamor, some sort of answer from him which he is unable or unwilling to answer. It seems that the louder the demands from the outside become, the more the emptiness and the sickness inside seem to grow.

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In "Ars Poetica" by Pablo Neruda, Neruda compares the process of writing a poem to the process by which a carpenter fashions wood, a baker bakes bread, and a blacksmith forges metal.  He starts off with the art of carpentry, and goes into detail describing how a carpenter picks his wood, decides what to do with it, then fashions it the way that he wants it.  It is a metaphor for writing poems however, and Neruda compares shaving the wood to writing:  "from the plank come my verses/like chips freed from the block."

The next comparison is to being a baker; just like the carpenter (and the poet), the baker must select their materials and create beautiful things from them.  He describes how he takes his words and " wade[s] in, to my elbows,/kneading the glow of the oven" as he creates his words.  He then goes on to compare writing poetry to being a blacksmith who is "a lone iron-monger."

The point of his comparisons is that the hard work of a carpenter, baker or blacksmith is no different than the hard work of a poet.  Each uses their skills, materials and ingenuity to create beauty.  He goes on to say that he doesn't limit the materials he uses for poems; he is constantly "digging for new metals and turning what I am into words."  He addresses people that might criticize how or what he uses for poems, and says that he does what he has found to be true to him, without thought of its reception.

I hope that those thoughts help to get you started; good luck!

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