Study Guide

The Book of Questions, III Themes

  • Versions of Reality

    Have you even driven behind a car with a bumper sticker that said "Question Reality"? Well, if you have, chances are that Pablo Neruda was driving in front of you. What's that? He's been dead since 1973? Well… at least Neruda would have been a fan of the person driving that car. That's because the third poem his The Book of Questions is all about looking past surface appearances to probe the mysterious depths of this thing that we take for granted every day: reality. What is it? How do we know it's really real—like, really? Our speaker wants to know and—come to think of it—we'd like to be clued in too, if you don't mind.

    Questions About Versions of Reality

    1. What alternatives to conventional reality are put forward in this poem?
    2. Do you think imagination has the power to transform reality? How would the speaker answer that question?
    3. Why do you think the speaker asks us questions to investigate reality? Why not just make direct observations himself?

    Chew on This

    The only true reality in this poem is the reality of the speaker's imagination.

    The speaker's questions are about a useless as handlebars on a unicycle. We can never truly know what's real.

  • Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    What's it all about, Shmoopers? What does it mean to have consciousness? What does it mean to exist? What does it mean to see the world, and then what about the world are we not seeing? These are big questions, gang, the kind that keep philosophers employed (if not gainfully). They're also the kinds of questions that the speaker in "Poem III" of The Book of Questions is lobbing our way. It's too bad that none of them are multiple choice, but then again, we wouldn't have much to talk (or think) about if they were.

    Questions About Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    1. Apart from our speaker, what other kinds of consciousness are represented in this poem?
    2. Does this poem privilege one consciousness over another? How can you tell?
    3. Why does this poem use so much personification?

    Chew on This

    This poem shows us that everything in the world has a consciousness. You just have to be properly attuned to it.

    The only real consciousness in this poem belongs to Neruda. The rest of the poem is just an exercise of his imagination.

  • Appearances

    Fix those shirts and smooth those skirts, gang. Appearances are a big deal for the speaker of "Poem III" in Neruda's The Book of Questions. Actually, you can relax. Heck, you can even kick off your shoes. The speaker's not hung up so much on how things look, but what looking at things means. In other words, are our eyes to be trusted? Is the way our visual sense organizes the world accurate? Or is there other level of reality that we're just not able to see? These are the kinds of questions that come up when you take a good, long (maybe too-long) look at the world.

    Questions About Appearances

    1. Do you trust the speaker's views of the world? Why or why not?
    2. Why are so some things in this poem hidden from view?
    3. If the speaker is asking us, the readers, these questions, then why doesn't he ask us how things look from our perspective?

    Chew on This

    This poem shows us that surface appearances are never to be trusted.

    The speaker's questions are proof that we can never truly see things as they are. Our doubts and prejudices always color the way we see the world.