Sunday, 13 March 2016

Resurrection, Re-birth and Renewal are important themes in Pablo Neruda's Poem, "Keeping Quiet".


The theme of Resurrection during this Lenten season is beautifully encapsulated the words, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”-John 12:24. Perhaps this is also what Pablo Neruda meant in some ways when he talked about the need for stillness, and quietness in the poem, “Keeping Quiet”. It is this “keeping quiet” however that needs to be analysed for what it means for the poet, Pablo Neruda. When he talks about “keeping quiet”, he clearly states that he doesn’t want to have any “truck with death”.  
A few lessons that we might learn from nature according to Pablo Neruda find a parallel in what we might understand about the crucifixion from the New Testament, and other scriptures from other religions which talk about revival. The premise all of these scriptures is that there has to be death before renewal or even re-birth. The assumption that there needs to be pruning before re-growth, or even death and destruction before the emergence of a new world order is reflected in P.B.Shelley’s poem, “Ode to the West wind”. Shelley’s poem describes the cycle of seasons, and these might be compressed into two important alternating cycles, namely life and death. Shelley describes how life and death are essential cycles and how life flows from death.
The crucifixion of Jesus on the cross was essential for the start of a new world order where one would see an era based on the philosophy of forgiveness and not retribution or vindictiveness. The New Testament describes God as a forgiving and merciful Lord, rather than the vengeful Lord of the Old Testament. Also, the world post the Crucifixion is a more rational world that believes less in the esoteric, myth of ghosts, wandering spirits and spells. No wonder it took a sacrifice that shook the very foundations of the world to bring out a change in the outlook of the people towards life!
Ancient mythology describes the myth of the Phoenix, a mythological bird that burns itself to ashes before it can be re-born anew to live another thousand years. The bird that emerges out of its ashes is invigorated, dynamic and full of energy.
A crucial point here is that without death, destructions, and revolution, there can’t be a new world order. The gardener prunes his plants before the spring season so that they might sprout new shoots during the spring season. The growth of ornamental plants thus becomes more luxuriant if they have been trimmed or pruned, it is as if pruning and trimming have boosted the plant’s life-force!
As a corollary to the above idea is the concept of pseudo-death that Pablo Neruda explores in his poem, “Keeping Quiet”. Throughout the poem, Pablo talks about the need for cessation of movement, speech, and any kind of action at a preparation for a period of meditation, stillness, and introspection. This period of stillness is not however a complete cessation of life, rather it is an imitation of a deathlike state where the living being appears to be dead, but is really very much alive! According to Pablo, there is a lot that can be learned from nature, where trees, plants, animals and all things that live take regular periods of rest in order to emerge invigorated and renewed after a period of dormancy and deathlike state of rest.
Dormancy, and hibernation are powerful symbols of what is required for renewed life, and so also is the idea of death and destruction, the only difference here is that death is not a complete cessation of life. cryogenic preservation of stem cells for later use, and the idea of freezing space-travellers bodies during long periods of space travel including the freezing of sperm cells and ovum for later use are all scientifically proven examples of re-birth or resurrection.
The seeds that you hold in your hands prior to scattering them on to the ploughed land appear to be dead to all appearances. You throw them at the wall and they rebound like dead weight, you pick the same seeds and drop them on your glass table top and they make a tinkling sound, they might as well be bits of stones, and they even seem to have the hardness and mass of small bits of stones. Unlike the stones however, the moment you scatter them on to the earth and water the earth, these dead seeds sprout into life, and they might even grow into some of the most beautiful ornamental plants you might ever have seen. In other cases these seeds might grow into plants that produce tenfold the number of seeds. Well that is because these seeds were full of the life force that they have been given by God!
Nature is a teacher that has an important lesson to teach all of us human beings and this is the lesson of Resurrection, it is a lesson that teaches us that we need to take  regular periods of rest. In order to survive in this world or competition, struggle and stress we need to reach a state of near death, a state of state of pseudo-death so that we can introspect and meditate as a means of renewing our selves. This is exactly what Pablo Neruda means when he exhorts all mankind to  “count to twelve, (and) not move out hands,” and “keep quiet” and not speak in any language because in this world of technological advancement, we are only driving ourselves to our death! The “sadness” of "not understanding ourselves” is perhaps the single largest reason why even successful young people are driven to commit suicide. It is because they have become so obsessed with work, movement, and the need to succeed that they have forgotten who they are, what they are, and what their purpose in life might really be.

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