“A Lemon” is an ode (an ode was originally a vehicle of praise, either civic or lyrical in nature, intended to be sung in public) written in highly flexible free verse and composed of four stanzas. Pablo Neruda wrote three volumes of what he called “odas elementales” (“elementary odes”), which were translated together into English as The Elementary Odes of Pablo Neruda in 1961. As in all those poems, the subject matter is a seemingly “unpoetic,” simple, ordinary object.
The poem opens with a wild and sensuous image of “lemon flowers/ loosed/ on the moonlight.” In the next several lines, the sense of smell dominates; the lemon blossoms become “love’s/ lashed and insatiable/ essences,/ sodden with fragrance.” As the poem moves from the sense of smell to sight, the blooming flowers are suddenly transformed into yellow lemons. Continuing the stanza’s vertical movement (from moonlight to the tree to the earth), the lemons fall from their branches—which are likened to a planetarium—to the earth below.
Once the lemons drop to the earth, they are no longer described in romantic terms but rather in practical terms; they become the “Delicate merchandise!” referred to in the opening line of stanza 2. Thus the images of moonlight, love, and lemon blossoms alluded to in the previous stanza are superseded by images of bustling harbors and bazaars where lemon becomes “barbarous gold,” a commodity to be bought...
(The entire section is 599 words.)