Van Gogh, Still Life with a Plate of Onions
I always do odes with my eighth graders around Thanksgiving. This one seems fitting, since several of the delicious dishes today contained onions. I love Neruda's focus on ordinary things, and the way he sees the extraordinary in them. Perfect for Thanksgiving, when we look at our blessings with more grateful eyes than we do on other days.
Ode to the Onion
Pablo Neruda, tr. George Schade
your beauty formed
petal by petal,
crystal scales expanded you
and in the secrecy of the dark earth
your belly grey round with dew.
Under the earth
and when your clumsy
green stem appeared.
and your leaves were born
in the garden.
the earth heaped up her power
showing your naked transparency.
and as the remote sea
in lifting the breasts of Aphrodite
duplicated the magnolia.
So did the earth
clear as a planet,
round case of water.
of the poor.
your globe of freshness
in the fervent consummation
of the cooking pot
and the crystal shred
in the flaming heat of the oil
is transformed into a curled golden feather.
Then, too, I will recall how fertile
is your influence
on the love of the salad,
and it seems that the sky contributes
by giving you the shape of hailstones
to celebrate our chopped brightness
on the hemispheres of a tomato.
But within reach
of the hands if the common people,
sprinkled with oil.
with bit of salt,
you kill the hunger
of the day laborer on his hard path.
Star of the poor,
paper, you rise from the ground
eternal, whole, pure
like an astral seed.
and when the kitchen knife
cuts you, here arises
the only tear
You make us cry without hurting us.
I have praised everything that exists,
but to me, onion, you are
more beautiful than a bird
of dazzling feathers,
you are to my eyes
a heavenly globe, a platinum goblet,
an unmoving dance
of the snowy anemone.
and the fragrance of the earth lives
in your crystalline nature.
Take a look at the post-Thanksgiving roundup here.