What We’re Reading – Keeping Quiet, by Pablo Neruda

Keeping Quiet, by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

I stumbled across Alastair Reed’s translation of this poem from Extravagaria, 1974, and it was like running into an old friend. I was reminded that we had met before in another season of my life, in another language, in another version of myself. I remember feeling drawn to the idea of silence as a healing force; thinking, “what a delight that might be!” I know now that yearning was that deepest part of myself, that quiet ground of being, reaching out to be renewed, reaching out for connection, giving me a nudge toward the yogic path.

My introduction to yoga through studio classes gave me glimpses of the magic of silence and stillness. When I completed my 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training, opportunities for silence became, as Neruda writes, “exotic moment[s]/without rush, without engines…” Neruda points directly to what yogis know, that we are all of us connected in that ground of being, when he writes in the next lines about “…be[ing] together/in a sudden strangeness.” It was that sudden strangeness that drew me back in, again and again. It is the power of silence and stillness to “interrupt this sadness/of never understanding ourselves” that has kept me coming back to my mat, and to myself, ever since.

post by Cara Sparkman

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