It is no surprise that Pablo Neruda would write a poem as an ode to poetry itself (being Ode to Thread). Poetry, he claims, is the thread which, once weaved together, makes clothes for the poor and nets for the fishermen. He believes that this thread, however, is so much more than just the clothing that keeps people warm at night. It is also the very fiber of our being. Neruda believes that poetry is what binds people together across cultures and nations. It is what allows one person to enter the mind and experiences of another. Neruda believed this to the point of selling all of his possessions to publish his first work. He was a man of politics, but his true passion was with his works of prose and poetry. He believed that through it, he could truly enlighten his readers. The poem can be read in full here.
Ode to Thread Analysis
These lines simply preface Ode to Thread with the idea that poetry is like thread. It is interesting that he proceeds to mention that events are “like sheep”. They are either black or white and they all look the same. Sheep have wool, however, and that wool can be sheared and used to make a million different articles of clothing in an assortment of colors and styles. The way these events are told is the poetry of life. This is why poetry is the thread that is taken from the wool of white and black sheep. The thread of the poetry is the essence of all that happens. The events and experiences that are stored up in human hearts is like the thread. Then, when one speaks out in the poetry of one’s own heart, a poem is created. Thus, the events that lay stored up in the human soul is like the thread that will be woven into a poem.
With these lines, the speaker encourages the listener to use his own voice in poetry to be like the thread that comes from the wool of the sheep. He says, “call, and wondrous flocks will come”. Remember that the sheep represent events. Here, he says to call out to people in order to see the events which transpire in their lives. He says that all will come, from those as insignificant as minerals, to those viewed as heroes. To call out to the people to come will result in the experience of “love” which he calls a “rose”. It will also bring “the voice of fire”. Since fire brings warmth and comfort when confined to it’s proper area, yet danger and destruction when let loose, it is no surprise that the speaker should compare the human voice to a fire. One can use his voice to comfort and encourage and challenge people. Or, he can use his voice to destroy and do great damage. Either way, the speaker tells his listener that if only he would call out to the “flocks” or “events”, they “will come to your side”.
With these lines of Ode to Thread, the speaker offers more insight into his claim that one might be able to “call” events. He reveals that to call out for an event to come to you, might simply mean to open up one’s mind to the possibilities in taking part in such an event. For example, the speaker says, “You have at your call a mountain”. Then he implies that this mountain can become an experience, or event, if the person would “set out to cross it on horseback”. He warns that to embark on such an adventure would mean that one’s “beard will grow” and that that he would “know hunger”. He also suggests that if one were to set out over a mountain, all would “be shadow”. This paints a rather grotesque picture of one setting out over a mountain. It is a little ambiguous because the speaker originally calls for people to call out for events to come to them, but then he makes it seem as though to set out over the mountain would mean hunger, pain, and darkness.
With these lines of Ode to Thread, the speaker gives more insight into his main point. Yes, he has claimed that people must call out to events to come to them. But here, in line twenty one, he claims that one cannot simply set out over a mountain. One must know what he is doing to embark on such an adventure. Here, the speaker claims that one must “spin it, fly a thread, and climb it”. With this words, he compares the thread to climbing equipment. Thus, he is making the point that one must have the proper equipment to be able to conquer the mountain. The speaker continues to use the thread as a metaphor for poetry. He says that it “comes from many sources”. It does not only come from human lips, but also from nature. He implies this when he claims that it comes “from snow”. He claims that the thread of poetry, the deep meaning and fiber of poetry, comes from nature and human experience. He claims that it can be “strong because it was made from ores” and that it can also be “fragile because it was traced by trembling smoke”. This reveals that the thread of poetry, the very essence of poetry, is something that comes from so many sources and so many varying experiences that it can either be fragile or strong.
With these lines of Ode to Thread, the speaker expounds upon the power of poetry. He says that when once one let’s loose the words of the soul, he does not have to tangle it up again, or return to words. Rather, the words of the heart are meant to be used in many different and powerful ways. The speaker uses metaphors to describe these various uses for words. The metaphors fit with the theme of a string of thread. The speaker says that one can take the essence of poetry, and “string it”, “braid it”, “unwind it”, “hang it”, “electrify it”, and “expose it”. These are the ways in which the feelings that exist in the human soul can be transformed into the poetry that communicates those feelings in powerful ways. The speaker says that the essence of poetry should be “exposed to wind and weather” and send “around the world”.
A shift in tone occurs with these lines of Ode to Thread, but the metaphor of the thread which creates clothing remains. The speaker says, “we need blankets” which suggests that people need poetry as much as they need blankets to keep them warm during the winter. Then, the speaker looks out and sees the people from the village bringing a hen for the poet. Then he repeats, “one small hen” as if to imply that even though the poet has provided what people desperately need, he is paid meagerly.
With these lines of Ode to Thread, the speaker reveals what the poet will offer to the people, though they bring him only one small hen. He continues to use the metaphor of the thread as the essence of poetry. He claims that the poet will give the “cloth for those who have only rags” and the “nets for fishermen” and “scarlet shirts for stokers” (a person who tends the furnace on a steamship or locomotive). The speaker implies that the poet is the one who gives the people everything they need to survive. While the thread is the essence of every piece of clothing that people need to survive and thrive, poetry is what people need to thrive spiritually and psychologically. While the thread represents the essence of all things material, poetry represents the essence of all things spiritual and human.
Poetry weaves its way through men’s souls just as thread is weaved through every article of clothing and other various materials. The speaker claims that poetry has the power to go straight through the human soul, through pain and through victories. He even claims that poetry can go through “everything that’s happening and all that is to come”. He believes that the power of poetry is so strong that it can explain all events and even decipher what may happen in the future. The speaker then talks directly to the readers and says, “I order you, with your zither under your arm”. A zither is a certain type of wooden, musical instrument. The speaker is ordering those who hear him to take their voice or instrument of choice and to follow him with resolve to speak out in poetry. Then the speaker tells his hearers why he is calling them to speak out. He says, “many ears are waiting” which suggests that there are many people who long to hear the poetry that comes from the hearts of others. He claims that “an awesome heart lies buried” which suggests that without poetry, some people may never uncover the true feelings and thoughts deep within their souls. Thus, their hearts would remain metaphorically buried. The speaker refers to these people as “our family” and “our people”. With these words, the speaker connects himself and his listeners to the rest of humanity by calling everyone a part of one family and one people.
The speaker ends Ode to Thread by emphasizing the importance of the essence of poetry. He repeats, “the thread!” twice. The use of the the exclamation mark helps the speaker to transfer his excitement about poetry to his hearers. He then continues to exhort his readers in regards to poetry. He says, “draw it from the dark mountain!” Again, he describes the power of poetry by claiming that it can “transmit lightning” and “compose a flag”. He calls it “simple, sacred, electric, fragrant and necessary”. The essence of poetry is the soul of the human being, and poetry is the words by which to describe events and experiences. These poems come in a variety of tones from simple to electric. The speaker knows that poetry reflects the human heart, so it is as different as one human being from another. Then, he explains the effect of the essence of poetry when it leaves the lips to enter into the world. He says that “it doesn’t end in our humble hands”. This means that when someone speaks out in the poetry of his heart, it does not stay there in his own possession. Rather, it goes out into the world where “it is revived by the light of each new day”. The speaker clearly has a passion for poetry, and not just for his own, but for the poetry that he knows exists in every human heart. He calls out for all people everywhere to speak the words that are hidden in their souls so that others may hear and be moved.