Friday, November 29, 2013

Poetry Friday: Ode to the Onion

 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

luminous flask,
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
the miracle
and when your clumsy
green stem appeared.
and your leaves were born
like swords
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
make you,
clear as a planet,
and destined
to shine,
constant constellation
round case of water.
the table
of the poor.
you undo
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,
fairy godmother
in delicate
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
without sorrow.

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.  


Mary Lee said...

Huzzah for onions! And again for garlic! The spice of life, both born in secret under the soil!!

Great poem! Thanks for making me hold onions in my mind and consider them so thoroughly!

Carol said...

Wow! Don't think I will ever look at onions in the same way again! Thank you for this reminder to be grateful!

Linda B said...

I'd love to see your students' odes, too Ruth. I've used Neruda's examples with my students when we wrote too. This is great, he can do no wrong in my eyes! Love "transformed into a curled golden feather". Thank you!

Tara @ A Teaching Life said...

and the fragrance of the earth lives
in your crystalline nature.

How did he do it?! Each lines builds on the one before and everything leads to these...perfect.

GatheringBooks said...

So in love with the way Pablo Neruda crafts odes to the mundane, elevating them to something so extraordinary - compelling us to view them yet again and again. :)

Violet N. said...

Wow that Neruda sure knew how to make a vegetable feel great! It makes me wish I could be an onion. Are his odes collected in one volume, do you know?

Julie said...

Such a wonderful poem, and I love hearing that you are using Neruda as a model for your students! Have you seen the new collection called ALL THE ODES, edited by Ilan Stavans (terrific translator) who brings together for the first time all 225 of Neruda's odes in a bi-lingual edition (and translated by 18 wonderful poets such as Philip Levine, W. S. Merwin, Jane Hirshfield, and Mark Strand)? It just came out this fall from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

That's it. It's settled. I hope I come back as an onion in my next life.

Jessica Stock said...

This is beautiful! I love finding the sacred in such an ordinary object.