“To feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know … widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.”
~ Pablo Neruda ~
A confession: I can’t remember ever reading a poem by Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda until I read The Dreamer (Scholastic, 2010), which won the Pura Belpré Award in 2011. Pam Muñoz Ryan’s prose and Peter Sís’s illustrations work together seamlessly to tell the story of Neftali, a boy with deep curiosity about the natural world and a vivid imagination. This boy adopted the pen name Pablo Neruda to avoid the disapproval of his father, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Just a year later, Monica Brown and Julie Paschkis created Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People (Henry Holt, 2011), a gorgeous picture book biography about Neruda.
Together, these books are a wonderful introduction to Neruda’s poetry, which is infused with his “spirit of inquiry” as Ryan describes it in her author’s note to The Dreamer. In an interview with Robert Bly, Neruda advises young poets to “discover things, to be in the sea, to be in the mountains, and approach every living thing.” (This interview can be found in Neruda and Vallejo: Selected Poems, Beacon Press, 1971, edited by Robert Bly) Many of Neruda’s poems are perfect for sharing with children. Along with his directive “to look deeply into objects at rest,” they will inspire children to create their own “odes to common things.”
Ode to My Socks
by Pablo Neruda
a pair of socks
which she knitted herself
with her sheepherder’s hands,
two socks as soft as rabbits.
I slipped my feet into them
as if they were two cases
knitted with threads of twilight and goatskin,
my feet were two fish made of wool,
two long sharks
sea blue, shot through
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
my feet were honored in this way
by these heavenly socks.
They were so handsome for the first time
my feet seemed to me unacceptable
like two decrepit firemen,
firemen unworthy of that woven fire,
of those glowing socks.