Okay, Shmoopers, so you may be saying, surely there are plenty of rhymes in the original version. (After all, isn't poetry supposed to rhyme?) Our answer to you is "nope." (And, not necessarily. Don't believe us? Just check on famous poems like this one, this one, or this one.)
In the original language, we still don't have much traditional rhyming. But there are some sonic devices that might surprise you, both in the English translation and in the original Spanish. Check out lines 22-24, for instance, and try reading them aloud:
setting my hands to the task,
opening my eyes,
creasing my lips,
Did you notice all the –ing endings at the beginning of each line? Now check out the Spanish version:
labrandome los manos,
abriendome los ojos,
gastandome la boca,
In both languages, the ending of the words echo each other. Even though they don't appear at the end of the lines, Neruda is still using a type of rhyme called internal rhyme.
There's another sonic trick that appears in both the original and the translation: anaphora, or the repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of a line. Neruda uses this trick throughout the whole poem; for example, the word "and" (in Spanish, "y") begins lines 12, 25, 30, 53, 57, and 71.
These tricks, plus a hefty dose of enjambment (see "Form and Meter" for more on that one), add to the poem's overall cadence, or musical elements of the poem. Despite the fact that this poem is a pretty informal conversation between one man and his suit, Neruda wants us to know that we're still in the realm of the poetic, even when we're talking about the stuff of daily life.
See? We told you there's more than meets the eye with this one.
Neruda isn't hiding any secrets in his title—the poem actually is an ode to a suit. Now, an ode is a poetic form of praise or appreciation, originating all the way back to ancient Greece. You may have read an ode or two already; Romantic poets like Keats and Shelley were big fans of 'em.
But we are betting you never read an ode to a suit, or a pair of socks before stumbling onto Neruda. And that's just the way he likes it. Neruda wanted to invest the world of everyday things with poetic importance. It's not just a nightingale or the west wind that deserves our praise and attention. This title tells us that Neruda's up to a different program. Everything is fair game for his poetic attention, even the suit on his back, er chair—you get the idea.
The poem might begin in the bedroom, but it doesn't stay there long. As the speaker wakes, showers, and puts on his suit, he's prepared to meet the world—with its people, struggles, and events. He goes out and takes a walk, ready to meet the day.
There's no description of what that day might look like, though. There aren't many specifics in the poem; no people, places, or time periods are mentioned. All we've got to go on, really, are a couple of items.
First are bullets, mentioned in line 45. Based on the history of the gun, Neruda's mention of bullets narrows the poem's setting down to… oh, anytime after the 1360s. Hmm, that doesn't help much.
What about the suit itself? Since suits came into popularity around the mid-nineteenth century, we can estimate that the poem occurred anytime from then until Neruda wrote it in 1954. That's… yeah, still not very specific.
Why so vague, Neruda? We'll tell you: because specifics aren't actually very important to his purpose. Neruda uses the suit, an everyday item, to get at more universal themes, like mortality and spirituality. Perhaps he kept it vague so that we would re-consider our own suits (or, more likely, our own favorite items of clothing) and start to ponder these themes right along with the speaker. That's where the real poem occurs: in the mind.
What do you think, Shmoopers? Has Neruda got you seeing your favorite t-shirt in a whole new light?
Our speaker never gives himself a name, or even gets too specific about anything at all. But yet, we learn a lot about him in this brief poem.
For one, he likes a well-made suit (at least we can assume, otherwise how would it last so long?). He takes a shower every morning. He likes to take walks and meet people, because he believes that the struggles and events of daily life make him a better poet. He has an enemy or two, the type that might want to assassinate him. He sometimes thinks of his soul and his mortality.
The poem is taken from a collection of odes, all of which address everyday objects. The speaker in Ode to My Suit has an appreciation for the things the suit allows him to do, and he also sees that these everyday objects can be used to consider much larger topics, like spirituality, joy, death, love, or fear.
Now, it's never a good idea to confuse a poem's speaker with its author. After all, a lot of poems are written from the vantage point of invented characters. That "I" you're reading, then, may not be the poet talking. In the case of this poem, however, it sure seems like the speaker and Neruda are concerned with the same things. They're as united as the speaker and his suit.
Neruda wanted his odes to reflect the simple beauty of the world; there's no difficult allusions, symbolism, or vocabulary slowing us down in this one, even if the poem does use this simplicity to cover some hefty ideas (see "Symbols, Imagery, and Wordplay" for more).
Neruda wrote an entire book of odes to things like suits, wine, and even artichokes. Within these odes, written in non-complicated, straightforward language, he attempts to dig deeper into the ordinary. He also wrote plenty of poems on the topic of love, all using a similar style. What his poems all have in common is their use of common language and common things to ponder the bigger questions—deep, man.
Well, Shmoopers, here's the plain truth: there's neither form nor meter in Ode to My Suit. Nary a rhyme or trace of rhythm can be found, even in the original Spanish version. In fact, the poem is so straightforward that it doesn't even break into stanzas.
So, what do we have instead? Well, Neruda wrote the poem using lots of enjambment, which means that the phrases continue to flow from line to line. Try reading the following lines aloud:
you flap and hum
as if you were my soul,
at bad moments
to my bones, (32-37)
Despite the line breaks, our natural tendency is to keep reading without pause. Then, when Neruda wants us to take a breath, he adds end stops in the form of commas.
Sometimes, though, Neruda really wants us to take a breath and consider what we've just read. That's when he uses a period. For example:
Every morning, suit
you are waiting on a chair
to be filled
by my vanity, my love,
my hope, my body. (1-5)
If you read it aloud, you'll notice that the period end stop in line 5 forces us to take a much longer pause than the comma. It's one way to get the reader to spend a little extra time on a particular image or phrase before moving to the next.
And in a poem with few stylistic tricks, Neruda's use of end stops and enjambment shows us that he wasn't just throwing the words down carelessly. Sure, he doesn't have all the fancy whistles and bells of something like iambic pentameter, but that's because he's creating a kind of informal, conversational in this poem between his speaker and the suit. The speaker addresses the suit as if they were old buddies, which in a way they are. All the same, Neruda uses the form of poetry to speed us up through certain lines and slow us down at the end of others. For more on his technique, hop over to "Sound Check."
The suit is nothing without a person to go inside it. Throughout the poem, the speaker's body serves as a guide for the suit, filling (line 3) and shaping (line 20) it. But the speaker isn't the only one with a body. In lines 10-11, the speaker's legs enter the suit's "hollow" legs; the suit becomes an outer body for the one inside of it. In line 12, the suit "embraces" the speaker, which would definitely require both of them having arms. As the speaker wears the suit, it grows to fit him, and even becomes as worn (line 29) as the speaker is growing. Both of their bodies change with age, and they become the same body in the end, buried together under the ground in line 70. In these final lines, the suit and the man have become one, united forever.
In Neruda's odes, the poet re-examines and praises everyday things that often go ignored or are considered too simple to be worthy of poetry—like a suit, a pair of socks, or even a tomato. He then uses these "simple" objects to muse on all sorts of "bigger" themes, like death, joy, or poetry. After putting on the suit, the speaker is able to take his daily walks (line 14) which (he says in lines 15-20) contribute to the people and events that make his poetry possible. In lines 21-24, these daily things are what shape him; they "open his eyes" and "crease his mouth." It doesn't take sensational experiences to make him a poet. Daily life, as made possible by the suit, is what Neruda ultimately praises and is grateful for.
The speaker only mentions his soul once, but we can bet it's on his mind. In lines 32-34, the suit "flaps and hum[s]/ as if you were my soul" in the wind. This makes the soul seem like an annoyance, something that bothers the speaker when he's trying to do other things. Could he be saying that thinking about his soul annoys him? We know that he is concerned with mortality, too, so maybe these big questions distract him from his daily life. Or maybe, daily life reminds him of the more spiritual aspects of living. Either way, the soul keeps on flapping, annoying him as he tries to go about his life.
Between the speaker and his suit flows only the most platonic love. Nothing risqué here, folks.