Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Ode to a Dead Carob Tree

Ode to a Dead Carob Tree

By Pablo Neruda

Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden.

We were traveling from

Totoral, dusty

was our planet,

pampa encircled

by azure sky:

heat and light in emptiness.

It was

passing through

Yaco Barranca

toward forsaken Ongamira

that we saw

horizontal on the prairie

a toppled giant,

a dead carob tree.

Last night’s


ripped out its silvery


left them twisted

like tangled hair, a tortured mane

unmoving in the wind.

I walked closer, and such

was its ruined strength,

so heroic the branches on the ground,

the crown radiating such

earthly majesty,

that when

I touched its trunk

I felt it throbbing,

and a surge

from the heart of the tree

made me close my eyes

and bow

my head.

It was sturdy and furrowed

by time, a strong

column carved

by earth and rain,

and like a


it had spread its rounded

arms of wood

to lavish

green light and shadow

on the plain.

The American

storm, the


north wind

of the prairie,

had overtaken

this sturdy carob,


strong as iron,

and with a blast from the sky

had felled its beauty.

I stood there staring

at what only yesterday

had harbored

forest sounds and nests,

but I did not weep

because my dead brother

was as beautiful in death as in life.

I said good-bye. And left it

lying there

on the mother earth.

I left the wind

keeping watch and weeping,

and from afar I saw



caressing its head.

In “Ode to a Dead Carob Tree,” Pablo Neruda feels an immediate kinship with a fallen tree. He is on his way elsewhere, but the tree stops him, he lets it stop him. This act of stopping and attending mindfully to what the present moment presents is crucial. In a sustained act of seeing, Neruda takes it all in, the fallen carob tree’s physical form, its roots “twisted / like tangled hair,” but also its kingly spirit — its heroic “branches on the ground,” its crown that radiates an “earthly majesty.”

Seeing the tree in this way, being with it, leads to an act of empathic connection: he touches the tree. It is this physical contact that allows Neruda to experience “a surge / from the heart of the tree.” Notice how easily he says “the heart of the tree” and how easily we accept it, remembering for a moment what we have learned to forget — that all things are animated by the same life force that animates us, that all things are our brothers and sisters. And then Neruda closes his eyes and bows his head in an ancient gesture of vulnerability and reverence.

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