What is the central idea of  "Ode to Clothes"  by Pablo Neruda?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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,

my body.

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:

I wonder

if one

day a bullet

from the enemy

will leave you stained with my blood

and then

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.

lit24 | Student

Pablo Neruda's "Ode to Clothes" is a direct address to the clothes he is accustomed to wearing daily. An ode is the most formal of all the lyric forms and is often used to record the poet's serious thoughts and ideals about lofty subjects. Pablo Neruda on the contrary uses his ode to record his feelings about something as mundane as his everyday clothes.

The theme of this ode is the harmonious and interdependent  relationship the poet enjoys with his clothes:

and so, 
clothes, 
I too go forming you, 
extending your elbows, 
snapping your threads, 
and so your life expands 
in the image of my life.

For most of us our clothes are merely our external garments to be worn and cast aside without a thought,but for Pablo Neruda they are very much an innate  part of his entire being: "we are one." His clothes don't just cover his body but contain his entire being:

"to fill yourself with

my vanity, my love,

my hope, my body."

Even when he is not wearing his clothes and they have been left out to dry his clothes continue to embody the very core of his existence:

"In the wind

you billow and snap 
as if you were my soul."

It is this symbiotic relationship which he enjoys with his clothes which makes him conclude:

"Because of this 
each day 
I greet you 
with reverence and then 
you embrace me and I forget you."

bryanlorde | Student

An ode is a form of poetry that addresses or glorifies a particular event, person, or object in an intellectual and emotional manner. Pablo Neruda uses this poetic form to meditate on something as mundane as clothing and express his appreciation for the ordinary, prompting the reader to do the same:

“Every morning you wait, 
clothes, over a chair, 
to fill yourself with 
my vanity, my love, 
my hope, my body.” 

Rather than simply mention the practical benefits of clothing, Neruda takes the time to personify his clothing. This adds an extra layer to the personable tone of the poem. Almost as if he’s reconnecting with a long lost friend, he wrestles with appreciating, but occasionally neglecting, his clothing:

“I greet you 
with reverence and then 
you embrace me and I forget you.”

Therefore, the central theme of this ode is to be thankful for what you use on a daily basis:

“because we are one 
and we will go on 
facing the wind, in the night, 
the streets or the fight, 
a single body, 
one day, one day, some day, still.”