The late Chilean journalist, author, and poet Pablo Neruda left behind a rather unusual body of work that included a long list of “odes” to myriad and seemingly mundane items and activities such as socks, artichokes, the cat, bird-watching, and ironing. These odes range in tone from completely whimsical to thought-provoking. “Ode to Clothes” very much falls into the latter category. When Neruda begins his poem, it appears as though his “Ode to Clothes” will lean more towards the whimsical:
Every morning you wait,
clothes, over a chair,
to fill yourself with my vanity,
my love, my hope,
As the poem continues, however, the tone takes a more serious tone, with Neruda engaging more in a contemplation of existence than in a mere observation of a tomato or an artichoke. Indeed, the poem’s final, and protracted, line quickly and unexpectedly jerks the reader into the reality of Chilean politics in a manner reflective of Neruda’s socialist leanings. Note, in the first half of this passage, how he surprises the reader with a somewhat morbid suggestion that his eventual death will not come about peaceably:
day a bullet
from the enemy
will leave you stained with my blood
you will die with me . . .
Somber and/or morbid references were not unusual in Neruda’s “odes” poems (“Unfortunately, we must murder it: the knife sinks into living flesh . . .” [“Ode to Tomatoes”]), but the reference to his mortality, and the fact that Chile under dictatorship could be dangerous to more liberal-minded individuals, exerts itself in such a way that politics may not have been the main idea behind the poem, but it was certainly an idea being ruminated upon in the poet’s head.