Study Guide

Ode to My Socks Introduction

By Pablo Neruda

Ode to My Socks Introduction

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.

What is Ode to My Socks About and Why Should I Care?

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.

Ode to My Socks Resources

Websites

Heeeeere's Pablo!
Check out everything you ever wanted to know about Neruda, but were afraid to ask.

Hometown Boy Makes Good
Here's the Pablo Neruda Foundation, run by the poet's surviving family.

Maru's Inspirational Effects
Maru Vargas de Mori was her husband, painter Camilo Mori's, muse. Check out this site to see his work.

In Defense of Socks as Gifts
The San Francisco Examiner claims they're not that bad…

Video

If These Socks Could Talk…
These Spanish-speaking, subtitled socks, recite the poem.

The Re-enactment
Watch the action version of the poem here.

Audio

Inspiring Sock-wearers the World Over
Robert Bly, the poet, talks about how Neruda inspires his work and reads "Ode to My Socks" starting around minute 25:00.

Neruda's Voice
Listen to Neruda's famous, distinctive style as he reads the poem in Spanish.

Not Socks, but Salt
Listen to Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Levine read another one of Neruda's elemental odes, the "Ode to Salt."

Images

Dusty, but Beautiful
Here's the cover of the first edition of Nuevas Odas Elementales in Spanish.

A Poet's Face
Here's a pic of the author.

Shepherd's Hands and All
Here's a photo of Maru Mori, the knitter herself.

Maru Vargas de Mori was her husband, Camilo Mori's, muse.
Check out this portrait he painted of her.

Articles and Interviews

Talking to the Man
Here's an interview with the poet, originally conducted in French.

Pre-Pablo Pablo
Neruda's childhood neighbor talks about the poet as a kid.

It Was the Butler!
Even though he died almost 40 years ago, some still suspect that the author was poisoned as part of a military coup. The investigation continues…

Books

A Bilingual Treat
This book has odes from all four of Neruda's books of odes, in both Spanish and English.

The Real Thing
The original Spanish version of the poem is in this book.

Movies & TV

Learning from the Master
In this famous Italian movie, a postman learns to write love poetry for his girlfriend from Neruda himself.

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