Themes

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Definitions of Selfhood

One topic Pablo Neruda explores through this ode is the self. More specifically, the poem’s speaker interrogates what constitutes who a person is and where the line defining the self is drawn. At the beginning of the poem, the speaker describes his suit as a wrapping not only for his physical body, but for his intangible elements as well:

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[the suit is] waiting on a chair
to be filled
by my vanity, my love,
my hope, my body. (Lines 2–5)

The speaker thinks about his suit as being intrinsically connected to his inner life, as well as his outer appearance. It should be noted that in his list of “vanity,” “love,” “hope,” and “body,” “body” comes last, as if the suit shares greater affinity with his soul and only covers his body as an afterthought. He goes on to describe a mutual partnership between his self and the suit:

events and struggles
constantly shaping me,
constantly confronting me . . .
and in the same way,
suit,
I am shaping you,
poking out your elbows,
wearing you threadbare,
and so your life grows
in the image of my own. (Lines 19–30)

The speaker is comparing how the suit hangs on his body to the way his soul hangs in the world. In a deeper sense, he is saying that the suit and his soul are shaping each other. He emphasizes this point a few lines later by saying to the suit, “you flap and hum / as if you were my soul” (lines 32–33).

The speaker feels no disconnect between himself and his suit, which he describes as “cling[ing] / to [his] bones” (lines 35–36). When he talks about death, he says “[the suit] would die with me” (line 47), an indication that without his soul, the suit would not exist in the same way. The speaker drops all subtext in the last few lines of the ode and declares to his suit:

you embrace me and I forget you,
because we are one being
and shall be always
in the wind, through the night,
the streets and the struggle,
one body,
maybe, maybe, one day still. (Lines 62–68)

By suggesting the suit and his self are one being, the poem’s speaker is questioning the extent of the soul, and where it could end. He could be saying that anything he loves so much as his favorite suit must certainly be a part of himself, or that something—even an inanimate object—that has been so close to him for so long cannot be distinguished from who he is.


Gratitude for Everyday Objects

Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to My Suit” overflows with gratitude. The speaker addresses the poem directly to his suit—“Every morning, suit, / you are waiting on a chair . . .” (lines 1–2)—which personifies the suit from the opening lines. It also establishes a personal connection between the speaker and his suit and creates a sentimental moment between them.

After commenting that the suit waits for him “every morning,” the speaker states that:

. . . embraced
by your unfailing loyalty
I take my morning walk,
work my way into my poetry . . . (lines 13–15)

The speaker is describing a relationship of utmost trust, going so far as to imply that his suit’s “unfailing loyalty” is part of what makes him able to write poetry.

The speaker’s thankfulness for the loyalty of his suit is touched upon later in the poem, when he commends the suit that “in bad moments / . . . cling[s] / to my bones . . .” (lines 34–36). The speaker’s suit is there for him even in the loneliest, most lugubrious moments of his life. He thanks his suit because it has seen him through so many difficult moments. He describes their relationship to the suit itself, explaining that

That’s why
every day
I greet you
with respect . . . (lines 58–61).

The speaker has made clear his true respect for his suit. Rather than taking the article of clothing for granted, through his ode he gives thanks for one of his most consistent and simple pleasures. The emphasis on this theme in the poem seems designed to encourage readers to consider their own simple pleasures in life, and the objects in their own lives towards which they could feel more gratitude.


Death Comes for Everything

Another theme in “Ode to My Suit” is the ubiquity of death. By addressing his suit directly, the speaker gives it life. In the middle portion of the poem he goes so far as to say:

I am shaping you,
poking out your elbows,
wearing you threadbare,
and so your life grows
in the image of my own. (Lines 26–30)

By describing his suit as a living thing, the speaker ensures a pronounced effect later when he ponders the suit’s—and his own—eventual death:

I wonder
whether some day
an enemy
bullet
will stain you with my blood,
for then you would die with me,
but perhaps
it will be less dramatic . . . (lines 41–50)

In tying his self and his suit together so closely, the speaker is making the point that death comes to inanimate objects as well as living beings. He extends this idea even further, suggesting that in death, the living are no different from inanimate objects:

and you will grow ill,
suit,
with me, with my body,
and together
we will be lowered
into the earth. (Lines 52–57)

The thought of himself and his suit being so closely linked—an idea that was described playfully before—takes on a different tone in this section of the poem. The speaker treats his suit with respect because it is a part of him. But he also is making the point that in the universal scheme of things, his life may not be any more meaningful than the life of his suit. Death will eventually come for both of them.

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