Ode to My Socks

by Pablo Neruda

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Critical Overview

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Neruda wrote four volumes of odes from 1954 to 1959. Nuevas odas elementales, in which "Ode to My Socks'' appears, was the second volume in the series and was released in 1956. Two more volumes followed in 1957 and 1959. Neruda apparently began writing the poems for a weekly column in a newspaper in Venezuela, which accounts for their simple, public style. Although his four books of odes were published separately, Neruda said that he thought of all his odes as making up a single work, as they tell "a history of the time, of diverse things, trades, people, fruits, and flowers, of life and my vision. . ." When the first collection, Odas elementales, appeared in 1954, it met with resounding success from all quarters in Chile, from ordinary readers to literary figures to academic critics. Even readers who were unsympathetic to Neruda's politics accorded them unequivocal praise. The conservative writer Hernán Diaz Arrieta wrote in the Chilean journal El Mercurio in 1955:

Some say this clarity of expression was imposed by the Soviets so that Neruda would be able to reach the masses. If that were true, we would have to forgive the Soviets for an awful lot. . . . Bitterness gone, complex obscurity banished, it was to fear that poetry would reach excessively down to the lowest common denominator and fall into prose. Well, never has the poetry of Neruda seemed more authentic. . . . We would like to place a limit on its praise. It is said that no judgment is good without its reservations. But we can find none. We even forgive the poet his Communism.

The praise for the odes has continued almost unabated since their initial publication. René Costa, in his 1979 study of Neruda's works, mentions that some early critics did complain that the trivial subjects were not appropriate for the solemn form of the ode. The objects glorified—from flowers to fruit to clothes—seemed too trivial to be thus lauded. With Neruda's fourth volume of odes, Costa also explains, some readers began to become concerned with what seemed to be the sameness of the odes, with their similar form and subject matter of the concrete things of daily existence. However, as might be expected of a great artist, just as the public began to tire of the odes, Neruda produced a new and very different work, the complex and politically infused Estravagario (1959).

All of Neruda's poetry has received tremendous critical attention in Spanish, and the odes are no exception. There has been less scholarly work done on them in English, but the many collections of Neruda's odes that have been published in English are an indication of their popularity. The release of the feature film Il Postino in 1996, about Neruda's stay on a small Italian island during his political exile and its effect on the humble villager who delivered his mail to him, raised interest in Neruda's poetry, including the odes. There are at least five collections of Neruda's odes translated in English, including Odes to Common Things, translated by Kenneth Krabbenhoft (1994); Fifty Odes, translated by George D. Schade (1997); Selected Odes of Pablo Neruda, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden (1990); Neruda's Garden: An Anthology of Odes (1995); and Odes to Opposites (1995).

Critics writing in English have admired the odes for the immediacy, simplicity, and unaffected beauty of the poems. Margaret Agosin remarks on the odes' perfect melding of theme and form. Fernando Alegría says that with the odes Neruda "inject[s] his readers the joy of living which springs from a profound understanding of the inner miracle of reality." And Salvatore Bizzarro comments on the odes' high lyricism. There have been no in-depth treatments of "Ode to My Socks'' in English, but the critics who have remarked on the poem briefly see it as a fine example of Neruda odic art, with its vivid images, gentle philosophizing, whimsical tone, and concern for the beauty and utility in the everyday.

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Essays and Criticism