Keeping Quiet


Pablo Neruda; translated by Stephen Mitchell

I wrote this out of frustration over the vituperative quality of modern civil discourse. The inability to listen and the meaningless anger and shallow panic that seems to be the way political conversations are thought to require led me to this beautiful poem by Chilean leftist Pablo Neruda. The style is quiet, and flavored by the Nueva cancion style of popular folk song.

Published by: 

Fresh Ayre Music
Item Voicing Perusal scores/Recordings Price
FAM-0070-01 SATB (div), soli, harpsichord, cello, perc.

FAM-0070-pt1 Harpsichord part
FAM-0070-pt2 Cello part


Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

This one time upon the earth,
let's not speak any language,
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without locomotives,
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.

The fishermen in the cold sea
would do no harm to the whales
and the peasant gathering salt
would look at his torn hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victories without survivors,
would put on clean clothing
and would walk alongside their brothers
in the shade, without doing a thing.

What I want shouldn't be confused
with final inactivity:
life alone is what matters,
I want nothing to do with death.

If we weren't unanimous
about keeping our lives so much in motion,

if we could do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would
interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and then everything is alive.

Now I will count to twelve
and you keep quiet and I'll go.