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Meaning of poem Suburbs

  1. Jan 22, 2014 #1
    Meaning of poem "Suburbs"

    Hello PF :smile::

    I have the following poem named Suburbs by Pablo Neruda.The poem is getting very hard for me to understand.


    i have understood it as:

    the poet says that he likes the good and bad things of the middle class people who just overpower refrigerator(things that make people proud).
    Not understood the meaning of ""position colorful ......for pool:""

    Attached Files:

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 22, 2014 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    My take is that he is saying that middle-class people attach lots of things to their refrigerators (pictures, etc.) and place umbrellas in their gardens, when the umbrellas would be more appropriate near a pool (that they don't have).
  4. Jan 22, 2014 #3


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    For me to "overwhelm the fridge" means overconsumption - they buy so many things they hardly fit and poor fridge has a hard time cooling it all down. And umbrellas fit the idea of unnecessary things we are surrounded with.
  5. Jan 22, 2014 #4


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    In the US, it would probably refer to all of the stuff people cover their refrigerators with. A lot of parents use the fridge to post good report cards, little charts with stars for acheivements, etc...


    I guess his feelings on umbrellas in a yard with no pool means aspiring to more status.
  6. Jan 22, 2014 #5

    D H

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    Poets have written about the issues that this poem addresses for a long time, maybe forever. What is it that makes so many people *want* to pursue a lifestyle that the poet sees as utterly mundane and without meaning? What joy can there possibly be in an overfilled refrigerator?
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2014
  7. Jan 22, 2014 #6


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    Whoa, that last line was very deep. You are a true poet DH.

    I should start a thread "What's on your fridge?" I have a stuffed moose and a cat. My hippo head broke. :cry:
  8. Jan 22, 2014 #7

    D H

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    This poem was originally written in Spanish. Poetry doesn't always translate well. One of the key mistranslations here is "pequeños burgueses suburban" into "suburban middle-class people". That translation doesn't quite capture the somewhat derogatory nature of "pequeños burgueses suburban", particularly to someone like Neruda.

    Here's the opening of the poem as written in Spanish:


    Celebro las virtudes y los vicios
    de pequeños burgueses suburbanos
    que sobrepasan el refrigerador
    y colocan sombrillas de color
    junto al jardín que anhela una piscina:
    este ideal del lujo soberano
    para mi hermano pequeño burgués
    que eres tú que soy yo, vamos diciendo
    la verdad verdadera en este mundo.
    For the full version, see https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=279331635534450&id=298376103511623.

    Keep in mind Neruda's background. He sided with the communists in the Spanish Civil War at a rather impressionable age and remained very much an ardent communist throughout his life. The petty bourgeoisie (euphemistically, the middle class) is the one thing communism can't quite grok. The wealthy are easily dealt with; they are despicable. The poor are the ones who need saving. But what about the "pequeños burgesses suburbanos"? They don't fall in with either the despicable wealthy people or with those mired in poverty who need to be uplifted. How do the devils and heroes of the world deal with those who get their joy from an overfilled refrigerator and meaningless umbrellas (colorful as they are) poised above a swimming pool that will never be?
  9. Jan 22, 2014 #8
    All well and good, but this poem isn't derogatory to the middle class. It is, in fact, what it says it is: a celebration of the virtues and vices. The brother in him has trumped the communist. His attitude toward the petite bourgeoisie here is one of, "It's all part of life's rich pageant," sort of thing, an attitude of acceptance of the bad with the good.

    Why would a man who is politically a communist write such a poem? We find out from the poem: his brother is one of the petite bourgeoisie. It's a poem about a poet poetically/psychologically coming to terms with his brother's mind set, one very different from his own.
  10. Jan 22, 2014 #9


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    We have a couple of the small foam-rubber cows, that used to come with Gateway computers. They're about 15 years old now, so they've turned yellow.
  11. Jan 22, 2014 #10

    D H

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    Are they spherical cows?
  12. Jan 22, 2014 #11
    Hello people:smile:

    My book says that the word "Refrigerator" does not mean that device instead it means things that make people proud.
  13. Jan 22, 2014 #12
    Book's wrong. He's definitely referring to real refrigerators in that line and how the lower middle class treats them. It's not a line about general pride of ownership. It's just descriptive. It describes the middle class by referring to a typical middle class practice.
  14. Jan 23, 2014 #13

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    Read it again. It is damning with faint praise. Is an overfilled refrigerator, a colorful umbrella next to a swimming pool that will never be a worthy virtue, given that these people, in the mind of the poet, have been stripped of their laurels, their medals, their titles, and their names?

    Perhaps. The poet however does not agree with that mindset. In the poet's eyes, the brother has been duped into thinking that an overfilled refrigerator and a colorful umbrella next to a swimming pool that will never be are signs of success.

    Refrigerador in Spanish and refrigerator in English are the same concept. It's that box into which one jams lots of perishable foods so it doesn't perish as quickly as it would were it not cooled.

    The poet is using an overfilled refrigerator as a metaphor. Aside: I'm not thrilled with the given translation "(middle classed people) who overwhelm the refrigerator". That's too literal a translation, and as such it misses the intent. A better translation is "(middle-classed people) who fill their refrigerators to excess", or even better "(middle-classed people) and their overfilled refrigerators".

    It's 5:30 AM and I'm quite hungry. My overfilled refrigerator has some leftover potatoes, leftover steak, some cheese, some mushrooms, some onions, some jalapeños, and some eggs. I need to make myself an omelet. Making omelets is one of those critical skills I learned in college. Not in any classes I took. I learned that skill because I had to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. I'm rather proud of my overfilled refrigerator right now.
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2014
  15. Jan 23, 2014 #14
    well i am trying to find answers of the following questions:

    Pick out the line which means the middle class people imitate the rich.

    My answer:I think the line is "what are you...this world " because middle class people compare themselves with the rich ones and hence start acting like them.Right?
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2014
  16. Jan 23, 2014 #15


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    Or perhaps the writer insinuates that the middle-class aspire to be rich, as much as some wealthy aspire to be wealthier.

    An overwhelmed (or well stocked/stuffed) refrigerator is an indicator of a certain level of comfort (or satiation), i.e., a state in which one does not have to worry about food. Food insecurity is a big deal for too many people, not to mention the lack of nutrition and its affect on the development of the brain or education. Chronic hunger distracts one from learning or enjoying life.

    I would imagine the write is expressing some level of contempt at those who have achieved the level of comfort that perhaps leads them to be somewhat indifferent to the 'struggle' or to the poor whom the communists believe must be uplifted.
  17. Jan 23, 2014 #16
    There's a whole other layer of emotion going on beneath the apparent surface criticism. It's quite possible to love and be attached to something that's full of flaws, and it is the 'job' of the poet, so to speak, to be able to express apparent contradictions like that; affection for flawed things, nostalgia for bad times, fascination for what's frightening.

    Consider another Pablo Neruda poem:

    Cat's Dream

    How neatly a cat sleeps,
    sleeps with its paws and its posture,
    sleeps with its wicked claws,
    and with its unfeeling blood,
    sleeps with all the rings--
    a series of burnt circles--
    which have formed the odd geology
    of its sand-colored tail.

    I should like to sleep like a cat,
    with all the fur of time,
    with a tongue rough as flint,
    with the dry sex of fire;
    and after speaking to no one,
    stretch myself over the world,
    over roofs and landscapes,
    with a passionate desire
    to hunt the rats in my dreams.

    I have seen how the cat asleep
    would undulate, how the night
    flowed through it like dark water;
    and at times, it was going to fall
    or possibly plunge into
    the bare deserted snowdrifts.
    Sometimes it grew so much in sleep
    like a tiger's great-grandfather,
    and would leap in the darkness over
    rooftops, clouds and volcanoes.

    Sleep, sleep cat of the night,
    with episcopal ceremony
    and your stone-carved moustache.
    Take care of all our dreams;
    control the obscurity
    of our slumbering prowess
    with your relentless heart
    and the great ruff of your tail.


    If you ask yourself whether he's criticizing the cat or admiring it, and falsely suppose the answer is one or the other, you'll misunderstand the poem.
  18. Jan 23, 2014 #17
    I am not sure if 'brother' is a general epithet or his literal half brother Rudolfo, I favour the former. Middle class brother seems bit too awkward a phrasing for one's real brother.
    (But the most spanish I can manage resembles garbled french with lots of si thrown in, so I may very well be mistaken.)
    Overall I am inclined to agree with DH's interpretation. Neruda was a potent political force in Chile and I am not sure if he would write affectionately about the flaws (perceived or otherwise) of his country.
    @nil I think the relevant line's the one about overstuffed refrigerator and umbrellas without pools.
  19. Jan 23, 2014 #18
    I would agree, and with DH who puts the poem in context at the time of writing

    I take the refrigerator to represent basic necessities and its being full as that requirement for life as having been fullfilled. So what do they do with any extra they have - spend it on frivolous items that that have no meaning ( colored umbrellas without a pool ).
    This is the little rich people's attempt to be happy( luxury), but it is all mistaken ( supreme luxury).
    And he asks the rhetorical question, who are we to decide what is right in the world, but since he does ask, he also knows the answer, which he explains as he continues.

    As an aside, class struggle will put people into certain groups - nobility, wealthy ( the high class burgueses, land owners), the not so weathy but comfortable (pequeños burgueses suburban), workers, peasants. The 'masses' would normally be the middle class and the workers, and theoretically have the most political power by shear number.

    It is much better to read in original spanish and do your own translation than the one given earlier in the opening post, as that is not the best.
  20. Jan 23, 2014 #19
    Read more of his stuff:

    A Dog Has Died

    My dog has died.
    I buried him in the garden
    next to a rusted old machine.

    Some day I'll join him right there,
    but now he's gone with his shaggy coat,
    his bad manners and his cold nose,
    and I, the materialist, who never believed
    in any promised heaven in the sky
    for any human being,
    I believe in a heaven I'll never enter.
    Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
    where my dog waits for my arrival
    waving his fan-like tail in friendship...

    rest of the poem:

    His poem about the middle class is just like the one about the cat and this about the dog. He appreciates them in these poems, appreciates in the sense of a: and c:

    a : to grasp the nature, worth, quality, or significance of
    b : to value or admire highly <appreciates our work>
    c : to judge with heightened perception or understanding : be fully aware of
    d : to recognize with gratitude <certainly appreciates your kindness>

    He's not being derogatory to the cat, dog, or middle class. Appreciating the flaws of a thing is not the same as disparaging, belittling, or disrespecting it. He is simply grasping their nature.
  21. Jan 24, 2014 #20


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    I don't believe in a heaven for humans, but I hope there is one for animals.
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