Pablo Neruda

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How do Kinnell's "Blackberry Eating" and Neruda's "Sweetness, Always" connect eating with language, writing, and poetry?

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In Pablo Neruda's "Sweetness, Always," and Galway Kinnell's "Blackberry Eating," the poems use images of food and eating, compared to poetry. Kinnell describes ravaging blackberry stalks and taking their treasures—which seem to surrender as they fall "unbidden to my tongue." Kinnell's metaphor compares the lush blackberries to words, which are like blackberries on his tongue. As he savors the fruit, he also savors words such as "strengths" and "squinched." Like rolling a piece of fruit around in the mouth before swallowing, Kinnell does so with words in his mind before he writes them down. As does the fruit—exploding with juice and flavor—Kinnell's words also explode, though perhaps with meaning instead; and he uses them with pleasure as he does late-September blackberries.

Neruda's poem argues for poetic simplicity. He begins "Sweetness, Always" with several questions:

Why such harsh machinery?
Why, to write down the stuff and people of everyday,
must poems be dressed up in gold,
or in old and fearful stone?

Why do poets work so hard to portray and present the things that are already rich and sweet in their "everyday-ness?" Why is there a need to clothe words in splendor, or to convey them like ancient civilizations or rulers—preserved in stone? Neruda describes what he wants: light verses—like feathers, and mild verses that hold the intimacy of love and dreams shared in a bed. He wants verses with "everyday-ness" that can be touched or experienced by "common" hands rather than those of high intellect or long-enduring patience as the mind tries to eek out meaning from the poetry of the "pretentious." The word "highfalutin" comes to mind:

“Highfalutin,” of course, means “pompous, arrogant, haughty, pretentious” or “excessively ornate or bombastic (especially in speech).”

It is here that Neruda turns to his metaphor of food: that verses be like pastries that melt in the mouth, free for all—like air and water, and the "bites of kisses of love." Neruda emphasizes the need for poetry to be not only accessible but desirable. He asks for "eatable sonnets, poems of honey and flour."

As a sweet-lover, I find these images do what Neruda asks of all poems: he makes this piece of verse delicious. We are enthralled by the overwhelming sense of "sweetness," as is implied in the title. The poet worries that poets try to lift their words too high with lofty poetry, or hide meaning with the words so that the truth of the poem is buried like "tunnels underground." Again we are given the image that this kind of poetry is too much work for creator and reader. Neruda is one of the greatest love poets in any language. Is it surprising then, that he wants poetry to be sweet like love, and just as fulfilling?

Neruda recalls seeing a "sugary pyramid," perhaps an actual confection, or figuratively, a "flashy" poem. He notes that (in either case), someone "dirtied his hands" in making it. He implies that that person's time would have been better spent creating something simple, yet lovely—like honeycombs. He encourages all poets to infuse their writing with sugar, and "Don't be afraid of sweetness." Life goes on, with or without poets, but sweetness must remain in the poems left behind—the sweetness, like love, appeals throughout time, space and language, and one should enjoy the beauties of the world in poetry—like they were sweets—conveyed by the written word.

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