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The On Being Project

Pablo Neruda’s “Keeping Quiet”

Pablo Neruda’s “Keeping Quiet”

Sylvia Boorstein always carries one poem with her, no matter where she goes. It’s by Pablo Neruda. He asks us to slow down, be in each other’s presence in the face of the whirlwind of activity that often overtakes our lives. Ms. Boorstein recited these lovely lines in front of a live audience in suburban Detroit.

Keeping Quiet
by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

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


From Extravagaria (translated by Alastair Reid, pp. 27-29, 1974). For more poetry, visit our Poetry Radio Project.

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