Ode to My Socks

by Pablo Neruda

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The Extraordinary in the Ordinary
As with the majority of the odes he wrote from 1954 to 1959, in "Ode to My Socks" Neruda exalts one of the basic things of daily existence. The poet describes the object of his celebration in such a way as to make it achieve an otherworldly status. It becomes clear that what normally might be taken for granted as being ordinary is actually quite extraordinary. The mundane objects described here, two socks, the poet in fact finds quite remarkable—soft as rabbits, like jewel cases, made of a nonmaterial substance (dusk) as well as wholly material sheep's wool. The socks transform the poet's feet, so that they become sharks, blackbirds, cannons. They are celestial, beautiful, luminous woven fire. The various similes used to describe the socks reinforce the idea of the enormous possibilities in the things of the world, and of grandeur and power (the poet's socked feet are compared to cannons) in unexpected places. The poem has the effect of turning readers' eyes outward to the world, to notice it in its detail, and to take a deeper enjoyment of the simple pleasures of life—to "stop and smell the roses," as it were. There are things around us that often go unnoticed but which, when we stop for a moment to consider, it startles us to remember that they are essential to our daily existence and quite lovely in their own way. If we examine them closely we may in fact find that they are remarkable and extraordinary. The poem is very much a celebration not only of socks but of the very real objects of the material world that affect us deeply. The poet conveys this message of the wonder of the ordinary world with honest simplicity and a touch of whimsy, since it is indeed a mere pair of socks that arouses such emotion in him.

The Beauty of Utility
In the preface to Nuevas odas elementales, in which ‘"Ode to My Socks" appears, Neruda says that he wants his poems to "have a handle . . . to be a cup or a tool''—to be useful. His poems are intended to bear witness to the wonder of the everyday world. This injunction is beautifully borne out in this poem, which is useful of its own accord because of what it shows readers about the extraordinariness of life, and also because it celebrates the beauty in the usefulness of a pair of socks.

In the third stanza, after having glorified the socks by comparing them to blackbirds, fish, cannons, and fire and confessing that he feels unworthy of their greatness, the poet says that he resolved nonetheless to wear the socks. Wondrous, heavenly, and audacious as they are, he does not hide them in a drawer or admire them apart from their intended purpose. He explains in detail what he does not do with the socks. He doesn't save them like fireflies in a bottle, or keep them like sacred documents, or lock them up in a cage. To do so would be to not allow the socks to function as they were intended to.

These marvelous socks are, after all, still socks, and they are to be worn—to be used . They are certainly beautiful—celestial, in fact—but their purpose is to keep his feet warm. So he summons his courage to wear them, despite the remorse that tugs at him. He feels a sense of guilt at taking what will be a base, bodily pleasure rather than an aesthetic or intellectual enjoyment in the celestial socks. There is a tension...

(This entire section contains 797 words.)

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here between the beauty and the utility of the sock. But still he sticks out his feet, and pulls them on.

At the end of the ode, the poet explains gently what the moral of the tale is. The statement of it is somewhat ambiguous, as he says merely that beauty is ‘‘twice beautiful’’ and goodness ‘‘doubly good’’ when one is talking about a pair of woolen socks in the wintertime. He stresses the dual function of the socks. They are doubly beautiful and doubly good because there are two of them—which is of course essential for socks to serve their purpose. And they are not only beautiful, they are good. The wonder of these socks is in their being objects to be admired and to be used. There is really no need for him to feel remorse because there is no tension between the beauty and utility of these objects; their beauty is also in their utility. Earlier in the poem the poet had praised the socks' incredible, otherworldly qualities, but at the end he pointedly refers to their goodness in wintertime, as useful objects that will keep his feet warm when this is most needed.




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