The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“A Few Things Explained” is a lyric poem written in free verse in which the poet directly addresses the reader in an attempt both to explain why his poetry has become more sociopolitical and to denounce the Nationalist side of the Spanish Civil War.

The seventy-nine-line, twelve-stanza poem can be divided into four sections. The first section consists of the first two stanzas. In the first of these, the poet anticipates questions his reader might have concerning the rather sudden and radical change his poetry has undergone. “You will ask,” he writes, “And where are the lilacs?” The five-line stanza of questions is followed by a one-line stanza that introduces the poet’s answer to his reader, as he writes, “I’ll tell you how matters stand with me.”

The second section, consisting of four long stanzas, tells how things were when the poet lived for a time in Spain, on the outskirts of Madrid. He speaks of how his house was called “ ‘the house with the flowers,’” a happy house, he implies, frequented by small children, as well as some of Spain’s most famous poets, among them Federico García Lorca. He goes on to tell about his neighborhood and its teeming marketplace, characterized by “all the avid/ quintessence of living.” Virtually every image in this section suggests life, the day-to-day activities of living, happiness and plenitude.

This positive atmosphere is in sharp contrast with that presented...

(The entire section is 560 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Given its political subject matter, its declarative intent, and, in particular, its strong and unmitigated political message, “A Few Things Explained” is a poem that could have fallen easily into the category of literature that sacrifices art for message. Neruda, however, has not allowed that to happen, for while the poem’s message is indeed clear, the poem is as artful as its message is strong.

One of the things that Neruda does to lift his poem above the potentially prosaic reality of its subject matter is to rely heavily on telling nouns and equally telling adjectives while almost eliminating (or at least making only very limited use of) verbs. This makes the poem read more like a list than a fully detailed description of people, places, and events. The reader still receives the information, but the vehicle that conveys the information is both more poetic and more subtle than outright and direct description. For example, when the poet describes his neighborhood before the war, virtually all his description is in the form of a series of nouns and adjectives that suggest normal, day-to-day life, happiness and plenitude: “a wild pandemonium/ of fingers and feet overflowing the streets,/ meters and liters, all the avid/ quintessence of living.” The poet continues, “fish packed in the stands,/ a contexture of roofs in the chill of the sun/ where the arrowpoints faltered;/ potatoes, inflamed and fastidious ivory,/ tomatoes again and again to the...

(The entire section is 595 words.)