Study Guide

The Book of Questions, III Quotes

By Pablo Neruda

  • Versions of Reality

    […] is the rose naked
    or is that her only dress? (1-2)

    Here we have multiple realities put to us at once. We have the reality of the rose, then another reality in which this rose might be "naked," and then a third sense of reality in which the rose might actually be projecting a sense of itself ("her […] dress") to the world. Ow—our brains are starting to hurt.

    Why do trees conceal
    the splendor of their roots? (3-4)

    Trees need roots in order to become trees, right? But roots are a hidden reality (unless they're big enough to trip over). This question makes us wonder what other hidden realities help to explain more visible elements of our own reality.

    Who hears the regrets
    of the thieving automobile? (5-6)

    Is this for real? Can cars really be thieves? And, if so, can they really feel regretful about it? Our speaker is pushing the limits of our known reality here, but we think he might be on to something. Don't cars "steal" resources from the Earth (gas and oil) in order to function? If that's true, then who are real thieves?

    Is there anything in the world sadder
    than a train standing in the rain? (7-8)

    What is a train's reality? We may have been watching too much Thomas the Tank Engine, lately, but we'd say that a train's reality is motion. Its job is to move from one place to the next. If you take that way, is a train still really a train? Or is it just a train-in-waiting? No wonder this train is sad.

  • Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    […] is the rose naked
    or is that her only dress? (1-2)

    Could there be a deeper truth to a rose than just what we see? Could it be conscious and fooling us with some projection of its image? (Don't worry. Your answers will not be graded.)

    Why do trees conceal
    the splendor of their roots? (3-4)

    These lines suggest that the trees are aware of what they're doing, which makes them real jerks in our book. Why would they want to shove their helpful (vital, really) roots out of sight?

    Who hears the regrets
    of the thieving automobile? (5-6)

    We know that self-driving cars are coming soon, but are conscious cars the next step? Do you think Neruda is aiming this question at us and our own involvement in what cars do to the Earth? Or does he really believe that there are kleptomaniacal cars out there, racked with a guilty conscience?

    Is there anything in the world sadder
    than a train standing in the rain? (7-8)

    Feeling trains? What are we, on the Island of Sodor? Is the speaker being literal here, or is he making a more metaphorical point? We're guessing it's the latter, but after those thieving cars, who can say?

  • Appearances

    […] is the rose naked
    or is that her only dress? (1-2)

    What is the "truth" of this rose's appearance? It is putting on a show (or dress) for us? If so, what might lie beneath that image?

    Why do trees conceal
    the splendor of their roots? (3-4)

    Things that are somehow hidden seem very important to our speaker. It's as if he's trying to pull back a vast curtain of "reality" in order to understand the mechanisms of how the world works. If that's true, well… yeah, good luck with that, friend.