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.



Select a work to translate into a medium different than the original.

Selecting the original
I chose Pablo Neruda’s poem because I believe it acutely encapsulates the root cause of most of human misery – our inability to accept loneliness –, and gently encourages us to try staying still for a while and see what happens. Appalled by the idea of accepting the present moment, most of us are constantly running away from ourselves, trying hard to smother loneliness. Failing to see that loneliness is at the heart of human condition creates a discord, firstly, in one’s mind and then on the planet as whole in the form of compulsory connections and  violent relations.

I chose photography, found photography specifically instead of my own, as the medium to translate the text into. Because the poem is written in a form of appeal, I opted for images that would accentuate and elaborate the message rather than create an autonomous reality of themselves. The key motifs I wanted the images to convey were stillness, absurdity mankind’s actions can reach, and the (beautiful) possibility of choosing to live differently. Some of the images are quite direct illustrations of text (e.g. an abstract light beam after “let’s not speak in any language”), while others exemplify and materialize more universal lines (e.g. youngsters enjoying drinks and kisses by the river in a sunset and “Life is what it is about;”). Photography is an essentially ambivalent medium for we can never be sure of the authenticity of what is being shown. Hence I think a visual translation suits the poem’s plea: “let’s not speak in any language” (a musical translation would probably satisfy it even more). The socially harsher photographs, I believe, do a great job at starkly concretizing more general allegations such as “Those who prepare green wars,/ wars with gas, wars with fire,” in which the guilty rarely have a face. On the flip side, going too concrete can become an issue in a photographic translation: a pile of kaleidoscopic images can undesirably burden a work of art that is strong per se, making it less permeable. Instead of letting the reader consider the meaning of the poem according to their own circumstances and understanding of life, with such active photographs I am implying that mine is an established, unmistaken reading of the poem and other ones would only be secondary. I hope that is not the case here.