The Book of Questions, III by Pablo Neruda

The Book of Questions, III’ is the third poem in Neruda’s collection, The Book of Questions. The volume was originally published in 1987 and this poem is one of the best-known, and memorable, in the collection. 

 

Summary of The Book of Questions, III

‘The Book of Questions, III’ by Pablo Neruda is a complex and stimulating poem that requires the reader to dig deep into fundamental questions of reality. 

The speaker directly asks the reader four different and oddly unrelated seeming (at least at first) questions. These touch on the nature of flowers, trees, and their roots, “thieving” cars and whether a train in the rain is sad or not. All of these questions talk around the ways that we perceive truth, beauty, and one state of being or the next. 

You can read the full poem here.

 

Structure of The Book of Questions, III

The Book of Questions, III’ by Pablo Neruda was originally written in Spanish. This means that any rhythm or rhyme in this particular piece are not the same as those in the original. But, this doesn’t impact one’s appreciation of the poem as both versions are in free verse. This means that there is no single pattern of rhyme or rhythm throughout. But, the lines are separated out into sets of two, known as couplets. 

 

Literary Devices in The Book of Questions, III

Neruda makes use of several literary devices in ‘The Book of Questions, III’. These include but are not limited to personification, allusion, and enjambment. The latter occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. It can be seen in the transitions between lines one and two of all the couplets. 

Personification occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. There are several examples in this poem, such as in the first line when the speaker describes a rose as maybe wearing a dress. An allusion is an expression that’s meant to call something specific to mind without directly stating it. This is a complex, and multi-layered poem. There are numerous allusions throughout as the speaker explores themes of reality, nature, and consciousness. 

 

Analysis of The Book of Questions, III 

Lines 1-4 

Tell me, is the rose naked

(…)

the splendor of their roots?

In the first lines of ‘The Book of Questions, III’ the speaker directly asks the reader, or the intended listener of this piece to consider a question. It is in reality rhetorical in nature but all the same, should inspire the reader to consider its implication. He asks the reader if the “rose” is naked or if what the rose is wearing is “her only dress”. Immediately there is an example of personification in these lines and the opportunity to dig deep into considerations of nature.

The rose is generally used as a symbol of love, beauty, passion and in this case, a woman. The speaker asks the reader to think of the rose and how it exists without pretense. It is as it appears to be, or is it? What would, the speaker wonders, the rose is concealing if it wasn’t naked and was instead wearing a dress, or hiding something.

In the second two-line stanza, the speaker is discussing tress. He asks the reader why these magnificent plants “conceal” their roots. There is a connection between these lines and the previous. Both speak to nature and something being hidden (or not). Roots, if pulled out of the ground, would cease to serve their purpose. Therefore, they must remain hidden. 

 

Lines 5-8 

Who hears the regrets

(…)

than a train standing in the rain?

In the third two-line stanza the speaker transitions suddenly away from the natural imagery in the first two couplets to speak about “automobile[s]”. The car, the speaker says, has been stealing. It is a “thieving” piece of machinery. This is a curious assertion that once again uses personification. There is another layer to this as well, he is asking who “hears” these automobiles as if their “regrets” are audible. The speaker is suggesting in these lines that cars are made to steal, perhaps from the earth for their fuel, and regret that fact.

Finally, the poem concludes with a fourth question. This time the speaker asks if there is anything “sadder” than a “train standing in the rain”. It is motionless, devoid of the power that it often displays. Rain is a traditional depressing image and in combination with the powerless train does create something quite sad. But, there is no answer to this question nor are there answers to any of the other questions. This poem is meant to stimulate thought through vibrant and memorable images rather than prove a point or make a determination about the world. 

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