Ode to My Suit Summary
The speaker addresses his suit, praising it for always waiting for him in the mornings. He considers how he puts the suit on after his shower and then is able to go about his daily life. He takes walks, he meets people, and he lives a life full of events and struggles. The speaker finds his poetry in these daily things. He considers how the suit shapes him, and how he shapes the suit. As the speaker does this, he also envisions his death, and knows that his death will mean the death of the suit, too.
Every morning, suit,
you are waiting on a chair
to be filled
by my vanity, my love,
my hope, my body.
- The poem begins by addressing a suit. By writing in the second person point of view, Neruda is letting us know that this suit is his audience—interesting.
- Because Neruda says the suit is waiting, and as far as we know suits don't have feelings (nor can they understand poetry), the poem takes a surreal tone.
- And because it's addressed to someone, or something, that isn't necessarily able to respond, it's an apostrophe.
- At least, we can assume the suit can't actually respond. Then again, the suit can't actually wait for him, either, but the speaker goes ahead and gives it these human characteristics for the purpose of the poem, so let's just roll with Neruda's use of personification, a.k.a. giving human traits to non-human things.
- Though the suit is able to chill out and wait like a human, it seems to need the speaker in order to do anything else. When the speaker puts the suit on, it's suddenly filled with his vanity, hope, and love (in addition to his body).
- That's when the suit really comes to life.
only half awake
I leave the shower
to shrug on your sleeve,
- It's worth noting here that some translations have the word "water" instead of shower.
- In that case, the speaker isn't literally sleeping underwater (at least, we hope not). He's using figurative language to compare the feeling of waking up to the feeling of emerging from under the water.
- Figurative language is a favorite tool of poets, Neruda included. You'll notice he uses it a few times more in this poem.
- Whichever translation you use, you'll also notice that Neruda likes to keep his lines pretty short, breaking up sentences into several lines. That keeps them flowing down the page, smoothly.
- This is another poetic tool, called enjambment. Check out "Form and Meter" for more details.
my legs seek
the hollow of your legs,
and thus embraced
by your untiring loyalty
I take my morning walk
- The tone is almost romantic here. Neruda was famous for his love poems, after all.
- But perhaps it's a more platonic relationship. The speaker emphasizes the suit's loyalty. It's like a good friend that you can always count on. A good friend that is happy to see him, the suit "embraces" the speaker's legs.
- After putting on the suit, the speaker can go out and take a walk. It's important to note that he calls it his "morning" walk. That indicates that he does this walk daily. He sure is a man of routine. Maybe that's why he wears the same suit every day. It's part of his routine, which clearly is important to him (and thus, he establishes that the suit must be important to him, too).
work my way into my poetry;
from my windows I see
events and struggles
constantly shaping me,
- Hmm, how do you "work your way" into poetry? For the speaker, it seems to be a state of being that he can enter only once he's gotten ready for the day, by showering and getting dressed.
- It seems like his poetry is already there, waiting for him—just like his suit.
- Once he works his poetry on like a pair of pants, he can be in his poetic state of mind. And when he's in this poetic state of mind, he also notices other people.
- Their lives—full of events and struggles—"shape him." They make him who he is.
- So, without putting on his suit every morning, he wouldn't be able to take walks, write poems, or gain experience from the people around him.
- We guess he owes his suit, big-time.
constantly confronting me,
setting my hands to the task,
opening my eyes,
creasing my lips,
- All of these people, events, and experiences "confront" him. That sounds kind of negative.
- Or maybe not—Neruda liked to be faced with the every day things of life (he did write a whole book of odes to everyday things like his suit, after all) because they inspired his writing.
- Being confronted by these daily trials and experiences, then, was part of his poetry. So really, he's grateful for the everyday things, which make him aware. They also give him plenty to talk (and write) about.
- Notice the repetition of –ing words in these lines? This adds a bit of cadence to the otherwise straightforward poem. Head to "Sound Check" for more on this poem's sounds.
and in the same way,
I am shaping you,
poking out your elbows,
wearing you threadbare,
- Just in case we forgot whom he's talking to: it's his pal, the suit. After waxing poetic on how the outside world shapes him, the speaker accredits this "shaping" to the suit.
- But doesn't he give form to the suit, and not the other way around?
- Yes, but the suit also makes it possible for him to go on his daily adventures. He can't very well get much done if he's naked (most places have laws against that sort of thing). Without something to put on every morning, the speaker would be unable to take the next step and leave the house. It might seem like a trivial thing, but without it, the speaker is lost.
- It's not just a one-way street, though. Not only does the suit help shape him, but he, the speaker, shapes the suit.
- He fills it out, and also wears it out—just like the world shapes him, and also wears him down.
and so your life grows
in the image of my own.
- Heads up out there: we've got more personification. This time, Neruda has given suit its own life. Though, the suits' life seems molded closely to the speaker's own.
- In fact, it seems like the speaker has trouble telling the difference between them. When he's wearing the suit, the suit is part of him.
- So what happens when he takes it off? Is the suit only "alive" when he's wearing it?
In the wind
you flap and hum
as if you were my soul,
- We're not gonna lie, Shmoopers; these lines present a strange simile. The last time we checked, our souls were not visible. So how would anyone know if they were flapping and humming in the wind?
- Perhaps the speaker feels like his soul is on his mind. Maybe it even annoys him, like a coat that keeps flying up when it's windy, or like a hum that he cannot ignore.
- In any case, the whole business of the suit definitely has him considering his soul.
- Like we said, Neruda was all about using the daily things to ponder the bigger questions. He even wrote an ode to his socks for crying out loud.
in bad moments
to my bones,
abandoned, at nighttime
- They've gone through thick and thin, these two. And when times are hard, the suit clings to him, afraid.
- It's worth noting here that other translations replace "abandoned" with "empty." Put that way, the suit was never really anything but a suit, after all. It's "empty." In our translation, the suit has left the speaker. It's actually abandoned him (well, his bones anyway).
- Either way, when the speaker is afraid, he feels pretty alone. In these moments, the suit becomes just a suit.
- Notice the end stop after "bones"? That's quite an image, one that Neruda wants us to ponder for a moment.
darkness and dream
people with their phantoms
your wings and mine.
- Our speaker's suit is even with him at night, while he sleeps.
- But, doesn't he take it off and put it on the chair, where it waits for him until morning? Perhaps, the speaker and the suit have become so close that the speaker has forgotten that they are ever apart. Or maybe… he just fell asleep with his clothes on. We've all been there, right?
- Whatever the case, he's having a bad dream. In this nightmare, the two of them face other people's phantoms.
- That makes sense, since the speaker said he spends a lot of time with other people's struggles.
- In fact, Neruda, the "poet of the people", would have liked the idea of sharing the struggles of the common man.
- Here, he and his suit share in these struggles, which take the form of scary ghosts.
- Oh, and suit and the speaker also have wings. Hmm…
- That's quite the imagery, but what does it mean? Perhaps they are flying together, through the speaker's dreams. Or perhaps our speaker is starting to take on the more magical properties of his suit. Let's read on to see…
will stain you with my blood,
you would die with me
- Will the two be together until the bitter end? The speaker asks someone, but we aren't sure whom he is asking.
- What he really is wondering, though, is how he will die. Remember, the speaker has begun to consider his soul and other spiritual matters. It's no surprise he's also thinking about death here. Specifically, he imagines that one of his enemies might someday shoot him.
- Notice that "bullet" stands alone in line 45. Neruda is using enjambment to keep the poem flowing, but naturally a one-word line will stand out a bit. Does that add to the shock of the imagery? Perhaps he wants us to feel a little startled.
- So, who is the enemy that he imagines shooting him? It could be a number of people or groups. Though we can't be certain Neruda is meant to be the speaker, the poet was an outspoken diplomat in Chile, and he probably had his fair share of enemies.
- But Neruda doesn't clarify, so we'll never really know. In any case, this enemy could prove deadly to the speaker, and this type of death is on his mind.
- And while the suit and the speaker have practically united into one person, the speaker still distinguishes "his" blood from the suit. They're still separate entities, then.
- But, when the speaker dies, the suit dies with him, he figures. Even if the suit doesn't bleed, it won't be able to live without the speaker.
- Is the speaker wondering if the suit will actually die, or is he using the suit here as a way to ponder some big, hard questions about his own mortality? He could be doing both. Let's see if the poem's ending gives us any clues…
it will be
and you will grow sick,
- Here, Neruda breaks up his enjambment with end stops, or punctuation that naturally causes you to pause.
- As you read, consider what effect these end stops have on the way the poem sounds. Does it make you pause at the word "suit" in line 53, for instance? Neruda is subtly slowing us down, perhaps so we can consider just what he's asking. (Check out "Form and Meter" for more on this.)
- Here, he's asking if his death might not be as dramatic as getting shot, but will rather be the result of illness. To him, that's a more "simple" death, even if it takes longer. It's more closely tied with nature, or the natural course of things. So, to the speaker, dying of an illness is more simple than dying as a result of violence.
- Coming from a poet who saw first-hand the horrors of war, this viewpoint may not be much of a surprise.
with me, with my body,
we will be lowered
into the earth.
- We guess the speaker isn't planning on going shopping for a new suit any time soon. Here, he wonders if they'll simply grow old together, until the day he is buried in the suit.
- Again, is this an actual conundrum, or a way to muse about mortality? We're guessing that it's the latter.
- Notice Neruda's use of imagery in these lines. The suit and the speaker is "lowered" into the earth together with the suit. This image gives the burial scene a peaceful tone.
I greet you
with respect and then
you embrace me and I forget you,
- For what does the speaker have respect? Is it for the suit, or for what it represents?
- To consider these lines' figurative language, we'd have to consider the suit a metaphor for something else.
- Could the suit be a metaphor for normalcy? Loyalty?
- It's also possible that Neruda's ode is really what it says it is: an ode to a suit.
- Either way, the speaker isn't always considering the suit and what it means to him. After he puts it on, he forgets about it.
- But notice the imagery in line 64: the suit "embraces" him. The speaker seems to feel guilty about forgetting the suit after such a positive interaction.
- Could the speaker really be saying that he's guilty of taking these daily items, like a suit, for granted? After all, without them, he's unable to do the things he loves, like talk to people and write poetry.
- Or maybe he's not guilty at all. The reason he forgets the suit is because it is a part of him. Maybe he doesn't need to remember it, because it's always there.
because we are one being
and shall be always
in the wind, through the night,
the streets and the struggle,
maybe, maybe, one day, still.
- The two "are one." They're now joined completely.
- These lines remind us of the situations the two have faced together in the poem; they've battled the wind, the night, the people in the streets, and violence. And, ultimately, the two will face death together, too.
- It just took looking at his suit in a new light for him to realize that the two are closer than he may have ever realized.