Here is a summary and analysis of Pablo Neruda’s ‘Keeping Quiet’, a magnificent poem that makes the readers stop and think for a while.

‘Keeping Quiet’ by Pablo Neruda is a deceptively simple poem about the need for a little bit of soul-searching which may help us make peace with ourselves and others. It tells us how a moment of silent introspection will make us realise the utter futility of our aggressive endeavours.

The poem opens in an arresting dramatic way. The poet introduces a game of hide and seek, but it is a reversed one. The players would all count to twelve and then keep still in silence for one second. They would stop all their babbling tongues and moving arms. Instead of searching outside, they would look inside and do some introspection. It would be an exotic moment that takes us back to the days before the Tower of Babel. They would all be speaking the same language – silence. They would all be together in a sudden strangeness.

For a moment everyone would stop the daily game of hide and seek; the mad pursuit, the rat race, the greed that destroys oneself and the others. Those who prepare new wars will realise the futility of victory with no survivors. In that moment of realisation war mongers will shed off their blood-stained clothes and begin to walk about with their brothers in the shade.

But the poet reminds us that he is not speaking about death. He is not speaking about total inactivity either. It is all about life and action. If we could stop for one moment, we may be able to interrupt the sadness of never understanding ourselves and others. We may be able to stop threatening ourselves with death. Just a moment of inactivity, introspection, and silence may prove to be the greatest act towards enjoying life to its fullest extent. Perhaps the earth can teach us how the seeds of life remain cold and dormant for a while, only to sprout up with joyous vigour again.

Having given the instructions for the game, the poet now says that it’s time to begin:

“Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.”

Analysis of the poem: ‘Keeping Quiet’ leaves a message of universal brotherhood and peace. It urges the readers to stop all sorts of aggression, including those towards the environment. If we think of ourselves as the hands of the clock on the face of this earth, moving in our routine ways, won’t it be a good thing to stop at twelve and do some introspection? Surprisingly, the differences of the three hands will fade away and I, you, and nature will become one.

The poet compares the single-minded pursuit of human beings to the routine movements of the hands of a clock. Double meanings and paradoxes abound in the poem. The face of the earth becomes the face of the clock. ‘Not move our arms so much’ refers at the same time to human arms, the hands of a clock, and to weapons. ‘Green wars’ denote new wars and biological weapons. ‘Shade’ may refer to peace and ‘underprivileged or black’. ‘I will go’ at the end of the poem also refers to ‘I’, the ego, that will vanish at the moment of true awareness.

Let us silence our double-barrelled tongues for a while and try this new game.

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