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Ode to My Socks

Ode to My Socks

by Pablo Neruda

Analysis: Sound Check

Reading this poem aloud gives your front teeth a work out—that's a lot of S's! The title "socks" are repeated over and over, and their front and back S's are slipped into almost every line with the use of both alliteration and consonance. Just look at lines 3-8:

of socks
knitted with her own
shepherd's hands,
two socks soft
as rabbits.
I slipped.

So, what's up with that? Did Neruda get paid by the S or something? Probably not—that's just bananas. Instead, consider how the sound of all those S words (keep it adult here, Shmoopers) creates a pleasant breeze in the air. Not only do socks resemble the letter S (at least, if you throw them up into the air and let them fall willy-nilly all about), but the S sounds associated with them in the poem create a similar soothing sensation of slipping into these serene suckers (see what we did there?).

Of course, it's important—nay, super-important—to realize that we're reading this poem in translation. Neruda wrote in Spanish, and this version of the poem comes to us in English from the translator Margaret Sayers Peden. Often, translators have an impossible task in capturing sound, meaning, and form in a whole other language. Check it out, though. What's the Spanish word for socks? Calcetines, pronounced kal-say-teen-ehs. Still hear all the S's? So do we!

Another instance of consonance, this time with the R sound, makes the reader mimic the action being described in the poem. See if you can spot it:

and daily feed them
and rosy melon flesh.
Like explorers
who in the forest
surrender a rare
and tender deer
to the spit
and eat it
with remorse.

As you read these lines aloud, pay attention to your mouth, and to the lips part of your mouth especially. All of these lines are about eating, and the R's here force your mouth to mimic a chewing motion. Also, the R sound is one that you make in the back of your mouth, like you're swallowing. Nifty, Neruda.

Finally, in terms of form, the poem also uses something called anaphora, which is the repetition of beginning phrases to start lines or sentences. Here, the use of anaphora gives the poem a nice, lilting rhythm. Check out lines 19, 23, 24, and 39—they all start with the word "two." This hammers home the idea that we're always talking about good, old pair of socks, nothing fancy. It also stitches the poem together in symmetrical fashion, just like a well-made pair of… uh, mittens, or earmuffs. You know, something like that.

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