If you've ever had writer's block and thought about just writing a poem about whatever you saw in front of you, then you might feel for the author of "Ode to My Socks" ("Oda a los calcetines" in the original Spanish). But believe it or not, this 1956 poem by Chilean, Nobel-prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda, is not just a silly cure for writer's block.
The poem comes from the book New Elemental Odes (Nuevas odas elementales) which is a collection of odes to really ordinary things, like the human skull, the dictionary, the sea gull, or the lizard. The idea is to take poetry out of a fancy-shmancy romantic realm and into the everyday, real lives of ordinary people.
One of the reasons Neruda decided to write this kind of poetry is that he was a card-carrying Communist. No, really. He ran for Chilean president on the Communist Party ticket! This kind of poetry, which speaks to the common folk, was a political statement for Neruda. By taking the elitism out of poetry, he felt like he was doing his socialist duty.
The gist of "Ode to My Socks," then, is that the speaker's friend, Maru Mori, gave the speaker a pair of homemade, woolen socks. The poem goes along comparing the socks to all sorts of beautiful animals, and finally the speaker puts the socks on, even though this feels like a betrayal to how beautiful they are.
The poem has proven to be one of the most famous of the Elemental Odes, and it's probably because its themes are the exemplification of the whole idea behind them. The speaker is tempted to leave the socks in their wrappings, perfect but unused. And some people might treat poetry this way—like it's something special and fancy.
Still, the speaker fights this urge and wears the socks, just like Neruda writes the poetry about the everyday things. This is a rejection (in your face, elitists!) of any high-falutin' ideas about poetry. Instead, Neruda was all about the nitty gritty of poetry.
Poetry has a reputation for being hard to crack. And it's not surprising, what with all of those metaphors, similes, and other figurative language. Poetry is like a code word for… code! It can be hard, and we're guessing that you've felt stumped by poetry more than once before.
Never fear, though. Pablo Neruda's socks are here! Huh? More specifically, his poem "Ode to My Socks" is here to save you from the drudgery of more metaphysical, transcendental yapping. The ode and, actually, all of the Elemental Odes that Neruda wrote, exists in order to challenge that view of poetry. Instead of being inaccessible, elite, and snobby, these poems are supposed to reach out to common people, who might not have years of education and hours to spend each day contemplating what beauty is.
This poem, far from being a fancy-shmancy snooze-fest, takes a stand. It says that beauty isn't something that is out of reach, or only available to intellectuals or high-class people. Beauty is usefulness, and generosity, and community.
"Ode to My Socks" is something that almost everyone (except those of you who live in flip-flops—you know who you are) can relate to, and that's the whole point. Neruda wanted to keep it real, and that's what this poem does. By making something so simple the object of poetic praise, the poet reaches out to the common man or woman and totally de-snobbifies poetry.