Ode to My Socks

by Pablo Neruda

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Figurative language in "Ode to My Socks" and its contribution to tone


In "Ode to My Socks," the use of figurative language, such as similes and metaphors, enriches the tone by adding layers of admiration and appreciation. Comparing the socks to "two fish made of wool" and "two long sharks" elevates their value and creates a tone of wonder and gratitude, highlighting the poet's deep appreciation for simple, everyday objects.

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What metaphors and similes are used in "Ode to My Socks"?

Pablo Neruda's "Ode to My Socks" is full of figurative language, including similes and metaphors. Similes are figurative comparisons using "like" or "as." Metaphors are implicit figurative comparisons, as we will see in examples from the poem. 

Neruda's speaker is writing about a pair of socks sewn for him by Maru Mori, as mentioned in line 1. Neruda describes both the socks and his feet (wearing the socks) with similes and metaphors.

First, the speaker describes "two socks as soft / as rabbits" (lines 6-7). Obviously, the speaker is commenting on the soft texture of the socks at this point. When he puts the socks on his feet, the speaker says that he does so "as though into / two / cases / knitted
/ with threads of / twilight" (10-15). This is another simile, and this one seems to give the socks a glittering or spectacular quality. The socks then transform the speaker's feet. In a series of metaphors, the speaker writes: 

my feet were
two fish made
of wool,
two long sharks
sea-blue, shot
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
two cannons: (18-26)

A couple of these metaphors are relatively understated: the speaker likens his feet to "fish" and "blackbirds," though the birds are described as "immense." The other two are more "violent," a word the speaker uses to describe the socks in line 16: he likens his feet to "sharks" and "cannons." This underscores the power and the imposing nature of his feet when they are in these special socks.

The speaker then goes on to explain that he feels his feet are unworthy of these magnificent socks. He writes, 

They were
so handsome
for the first time
my feet seemed to me
like two decrepit
firemen, firemen
of that woven
of those glowing
socks. (36-47)

In an extended simile, the speaker compares his feet to "decrepit firemen" who are "unworthy" of fighting the "fire" lit by these socks. The socks themselves have a "glowing" appearance, a brilliance, and the speaker feels that his ordinary feet are no match for these glorious socks.

In another shift, the speaker says that despite his feelings of unworthiness, he decides not to hide the socks away: 

as schoolboys
as learned men
sacred texts (52-57). 

These similes indicate that he will not keep them merely to look at and admire. He will not put them somewhere special simply to look at them. The speaker continues to say that he will not keep them in a metaphorical "golden / cage" (61-62). He will not feed them metaphorical "birdseed" and "melon" (64-65). He will not keep them locked up. Instead, the speaker decides to put on the socks:

Like explorers
in the jungle who hand
over the very rare
green deer
to the spit
and eat it
with remorse,
I stretched out
my feet
and pulled on
the magnificent
and then my shoes. (66-78). 

Here, the speaker uses an extended simile compare himself to "explorers" who kill and eat a "very rare / green deer." They know they are transgressing in some way, but they also feel like they must put the deer to good use. The speaker similarly feels unworthy of his socks, but he puts them on anyway. 

Throughout the poem, the speaker's use of simile and metaphor express the wonder he feels at these socks and his inability to measure up to the brilliance of them; however, he ultimately decides to embrace and appreciate the socks by wearing them. 

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How does the poem "Ode to My Socks" convey tone through figurative language?

This poem is a wonderful reminder that great joy can be found in the simple yet heartfelt gifts of others. To accomplish this, the speaker utilizes various examples of figurative language, often relying on nature to create a warm tone. This is significant because the socks themselves are made with the wool that sheep have provided.

In lines 6 and 7, the speaker uses a simile to compare the socks to two rabbits. Rabbits connote softness and even a sense of childlike wonder. Readers may associate the word "rabbit" with Easter, bringing to mind memories of surprises and gifts typically presented on this holiday.

In lines 8–12, the speaker uses another simile, this time comparing the socks to "jewel cases." Jewels are rare and expensive, which highlights the speaker's appreciation of the value of this gift.

In lines 13–15, the speaker employs a metaphor, noting that the socks were woven "with threads of / dusk." Dusk is the time of day when work is typically considered complete, and people turn to their preferred hobbies instead of their required obligations. In this case, Maru Mori, who gifted these socks to the speaker, used that time of day after work to invest in the speaker's happiness, steadfastly preparing these socks as a gift.

In lines 17–26, the speaker uses a series of metaphors to demonstrate the seemingly magical properties of these socks. He compares them to fish, sharks, mammoth blackbirds, and cannons. The metaphors are presented in quick succession, the transformative abilities of the socks seeming mystical. Each of these comparisons points to a certain strength, which perhaps demonstrates the speaker's sense of empowerment after receiving a gift which has been so personally constructed.

The speaker is so impressed with this gift that he wants to hide it away, preserving the socks in their unblemished state. He uses two metaphors as he considers this choice. One occurs in lines 50–52, comparing the option to save the socks to the choice of little kids to "bottle fireflies." This is reminiscent of childhood, bringing a sense of warmth to the poem, and a reminder that bottling fireflies isn't natural. Fireflies are meant to exist with the ability to fly freely. The speaker then uses a metaphor which compares stashing the socks away to being like "the way scholars / hoard / sacred documents." This demonstrates the value of the socks and the necessity of using them as they were intended; sacred documents were never meant to be hidden—they were developed to be actively used.

There are other examples of figurative language throughout the poem, but I hope this helps you get started in your analysis of this poem. I'm linking the eNotes study guide below if you need further assistance with interpreting this poem or its themes. Good luck!

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What figure of speech and/or poetic devices are used in "Ode to My Socks"?

This is a gorgeous poem full of very evocative and imaginative imagery. The subject is so seemingly banal, but the presentation is rich with figures of speech and language devices.

Neruda doesn't use rhyme—the poem is written in free verse—but he does employ, instead, other cohesive language devices like repetition and anaphora—"two long sharks...two immense blackbirds..." which help give the poem some structure. The way the poem is shaped on the page, too, is interesting, with the line length shrinking down and down until it reaches a single word. The repetition of "two" throughout the poem reinforces the subject: socks cannot be imagined one by one. Socks should always be, as the second line isolates, "a pair."

The imagery in the poem utilizes numerous similes and metaphors. The socks are "as soft as rabbits," and their threads are so soft that they are akin to "twilight." The choice of imagery is quite unusual, with Neruda using metaphor to describe his feet as "two fish" and then "two long sharks," "two cannons," and "two immense blackbirds." These are not metaphors one would usually employ to describe feet, and they force the reader to consider what exactly the poet is seeing, to imagine such a variety of different things when looking at his socked feet. The imagery, and the variation in it, helps bring the scene vividly to life: like the speaker, we consider and reconsider the picture created by the socked feet, which are both cloaked in something derived from an animal, and therefore appear to be a sort of animal themselves.

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What figure of speech and/or poetic devices are used in "Ode to My Socks"?

In "Ode to My Socks" there are several figures of speech, for example repetition. He repeats the word two and uses images of two also. For example, two socks as soft as rabbits and two cases, two fish made of wool, two long sharks, two blackbirds, two canons, two decrepit firemen.

In the second part of the poem,instead of focusing on the two socks, he focuses on what to do with them, after deciding they are of value:save them, keep them, put them in a cage.This is a use of repetition too. The image isn't two here, it is what to do with them.

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