Pop quiz, Shmoopers: What is the most popular topic in poetry? We'll give you a second while you think it over.
"Love," you say?
Hmm. You know, you're probably right. L-O-V-E is the subject of thousands of poems, from simple greeting card rhymes to sonnets. Famous poets, from Shakespeare to Donne to E.E. Cummings, were obsessed with the topic. Good call.
Now, instead of love, did anyone answer "a favorite t-shirt"? No? Why not? After all, it's something that you cherish, something that accompanies you through your many ups and downs, and it will never break up with you and leave you heartbroken. Your favorite shirt always looks good, or, at least, feels good to wear. And it probably has a half dozen memories attached to it. So, why isn't that ever the stuff of poetry?
Well, it turns out that it is the stuff of poetry, if poet Pablo Neruda has anything to say about it (not that he was against a good love poem, or two… or a hundred). In "Ode to My Suit," the Chilean poet praises the suit he wears every day. It's always got his back (literally). It's so much a part of his life, actually, that it makes him wonder where he begins and the suit ends.
The poem is part of an entire collection called Elementary Odes, which Neruda published in 1954. In it, the poet praises ordinary things, like artichokes, the color green, salt, and favorite articles of clothing. Neruda, who wanted to write poems that everyone, not just poets, could find accessible, used items that everyone would be familiar with. After all, doesn't everyone have a favorite shirt?
Apparently so. Because of his straightforward style and relatable subject matter, Neruda even became considered "the people's poet" and won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971, proving that poetry isn't just for the elite but can be enjoyed by the masses (who maybe, sometimes, want to read about something other than love).
Remember in grade school, when you'd bring in an object from home for "Show n' Tell"? This poem is kind of like that.
You see, Pablo Neruda has a favorite suit, one he likes to wear often (we're sure he washed it once in awhile, though). And today, he's bringing it to "Shmoop n' Tell." He's going to tell us why this suit is more than just some bits of cloth that have been sewn together. The suit is a friend, a loyal partner; the suit is actually part of his body.
As Neruda praises his suit, you'll probably start considering some of your own beloved objects. Ever consider how your socks make it possible for you to walk long distances without getting blisters, or how your favorite pen writes so fluidly? When you consider all that these objects allow you to do, you might even start to feel a little… poetic about them.
That would make Neruda very happy. He believed that poetry should be part of daily life, inspired by everything and anything. And as an outspoken Communist, he also believed that it should be accessible to the common folk, not just people who enjoy reading complex, symbol- and allusion-filled poetry. His work is written in a simple style, with words that don't make you run for your glossary.
It might even challenge the ideas you have about poetry; it might even make you consider writing your own. So, if you think you might want to write your own "Shmoop n' Tell" poem some day, read on. See if Neruda can inspire you.
Check out this short biography of the poet.
Here's even more on the poet, including links to some of his most famous poems.
Neruda n' Cats
It looks like cats like Neruda, too.
Even More Neruda
Check out this video biography, in six parts. Get comfy.
If you don't think as much craft goes into a suit as it does a poem, then you're not buying from these guys.
Hear the poet himself, reading a poem in Spanish.
The Poet as a Young Man
Here he is, in an autographed photo. Muy bueno!
The Poet as a Less-Young Man
And here he is all grown up.
On the Art of Poetry
Check out Neruda's interview with The Paris Review.
This article discusses his legacy (and the enduring questions about his death).
Plan Your Neruda Vacation
This is all about visiting his Neruda's home country of Chile.
Here are Neruda's odes, in both the original Spanish and the English translations.
Everybody Needs a Little Love
This collection features Neruda's most "essential" poems in translation.