Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 773
The title alerts us to its purpose: it is a poem in praise of socks. The ode is a poem of celebration or exultation. Originally odes were elaborate and stately compositions sung in public in honor of a great personage, event, or season. The form dates back to ancient Greece. The poet Pindar, who lived in the fifth century B.C.E., composed poems of praise or glorification in highly structured, patterned stanzas. The odes of the Roman poet Horace who lived in the first century B.C.E used a simpler lyric form. European Renaissance odists Pierre de Ronsard and Andrew Marvell wrote in both Pindaric and Horatian form. The odes of nineteenth-century English poets such as John Keats and Percy Shelley tended to be freer in form and subject matter than the classical ode. However, the ode in general is primarily formal in style and about a serious subject. "Ode to My Socks," like all the poems in Neruda's books of odes, announces itself as a poem of celebration and praise, but the objects that are the subject of glorification, surprisingly, are common, everyday things. Few people would expect that a humble pair of socks would be candidates for exultation in a poem, but this is what the title announces to readers will be done.
The poet explains that he received as a gift from Maru Mori (who, although this is not mentioned in the poem, was the wife of the distinguished Chilean painter Camilo Mori) a pair of woolen socks that she knitted for him. They are so soft that they feel like rabbit fur. Immediately the poet elevates the stature of these otherwise simple objects by likening them to jewel cases. But they are no ordinary cases; they seem to have magical yet earthy properties and he imagines them to be woven with "threads of / dusk / and sheep's wool.’’
The poet continues to exalt the socks by comparing them to various objects. He uses a series of images that would ordinarily never be used to describe a pair of socks. He says that clothed in the socks his feet became like woolen fish. They are two long sharks the color of a blue gemstone that are shot with a golden thread. The use of mixed metaphors emphasizes the wondrous nature of the socks. His feet in the socks he says are also two huge blackbirds, and two cannons. These unusual images, which are so unlike each other, call attention again to the extraordinary quality of these socks. The poet says they are celestial, again emphasizing their otherworldly nature. The socks are so beautiful that he feels his feet are not worthy of them. He compares his feet to two tired old firefighters and the socks to be made of woven fire. His feet are unacceptable to him because he thinks their plainness will put out the fire of the luminous socks.
Despite his feelings of inadequacy in the face of the beauty of these incredible socks, the poet resists the temptation not to wear them. He does not save them, he says, the way schoolboys keep fireflies in bottles or scholars store rare books on their shelves. He does not make the mistake of sacrificing their beauty and utility by preventing them from serving their function or allowing them to be enjoyed. He does not treat them like some precious animal that is placed in a gold cage and fed with birdseed and ripe melon, that is not allowed to do what it is supposed to do. With these images the poet again emphasizes the rare and exotic nature of these socks. The poet says he does not save the socks but rather wears them, but not without feelings of remorse. Indeed he feels a mixture of pleasure and pain, just as the explorer in the forest must do when he kills a rare deer and eats its tender and succulent young flesh. Despite all the feelings of admiration he has and the feeling that he is not good enough for these socks that perhaps should be kept as pristine as when he received them, he sticks out his feet resolutely and pulls on the socks and even covers them with his shoes.
There is a moral to the poem: Beauty and goodness are twice as beautiful and twice and good when they exist in two woolen socks in wintertime. Presumably they are doubly beautiful and good not only because they are two in a pair, but because they are beautiful and good, gorgeous and useful, and extraordinary and ordinary.
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