The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 599

“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.

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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 Thus the images of moonlight, love, and lemon blossoms alluded to in the previous stanza are superseded by images of bustling harbors and bazaars where lemon becomes “barbarous gold,” a commodity to be bought and sold. The pace of the poem quickens.

Next the poet focuses his attention upon the individual buyer of the lemon. This person cuts the fruit and opens it, finding “the halves/ of a miracle” within. The simple fruit becomes elevated to the level of the extraordinary. Comparing the fluid that emerges from the cut lemon to blood flowing from a cut vein, the poet describes the fluid as “a clotting of acids.” Alluding to the first stanza, in which the lemons are fixed like stars in the firmament, the second stanza describes how the juice of the lemon “brims/ into the starry/ divisions”—that is, the symmetrical divisions of the pulp of the cut lemon. Next the poet conjures up images of the creation of the world and the garden of Eden, referring to lemon juice as one of the essences of life, one of “creation’s/ original juices.” In the final lines of the stanza, the lemon’s rind is compared to a house, the proportions of which are both “arcane and acerb,” secret and bitter.

In the third stanza, the lemon is further endowed with a sense of reverence. The movement of the opening line continues the action of cutting the lemon, portrayed in stanza 2. Here the visual image is of another house, a “cathedral” that remains when the knife slices into the lemon’s core. At this point in the poem, cutting the lemon becomes a religious experience. The sliced lemon contains “alcoves,” “acidulous glass,” and topaz-colored drops; these drops are described as “altars,/ aromatic facades.”

The final stanza of the poem unites the religious and metaphysical imagery of the previous stanzas. For the first time in the poem, the poet addresses the reader directly, using the pronoun “you.” The act of holding a cut lemon is likened to holding “half a world,” “the gold of the universe.” The lemon half returns its holder to the elemental forces of nature, to Mother Earth, with “a breast and nipple/ perfuming the earth.” In the last two lines of the poem, there is a play on words that changes the biblical phrase “and the Word was made flesh” to “a flashing made fruitage.”

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 369

Unlike the poems in Neruda’s Residencia en la tierra cycle (1933-1947)—in which readers are always somewhat outside the system...

(The entire section contains 968 words.)

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Themes