The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Ode to an Artichoke” (it has also been translated under the title “Artichoke”) is a short poem consisting of thirty-three lines of free verse. The poem establishes the poet’s connection to the elemental or basic qualities of objects that surround everyone in daily life—here, common food items or vegetables. Pablo Neruda imagines the relationship that an artichoke may have to the rest of the members of the vegetable kingdom and, in the broadest terms, to reality itself. The artichoke is described as being “of delicate heart” yet dressed for battle inside its small “cupola” (a rounded vault that forms a roof). It keeps itself isolated and protected under its scales. This humble member of the food chain is surrounded by less prudent inhabitants of nature’s botanical kingdom. Wild, even crazy, vegetables bristle, raising their backs as if to engage in battle. At the same time, the carrot sleeps under the soil and the cabbage busies itself trying on a skirt. The spicy oregano perfumes the rest of the world while the artichoke, armed for a battle, stays quietly in its garden plot, burnished and proud like a pomegranate.

The poem presents a vision of the natural world, of grapevines and common vegetables come to life, conscious of their place in the scheme of nature and able to make choices about the ways in which they live their lives. Like humans, they can be either calm or belligerent; they can be showy and pretentious or stoic and independent. In the poem Neruda takes an approach quite different from that of many Latin American modernists, such as Rubén Darío, who express a vision of human life in terms of a so-called “poetical” reality. Rather, Neruda utilizes mundane objects as a springboard for his divagations on the nature of human life and the role of the poet in the midst of the flux of history.