Poem of the Month

Ode to the Numbers

by Pablo Neruda


Such thirst
to know how much!
Such hunger
to know
how many stars in the sky!

We pass
our infancies
counting stones, plants,
fingers, sand grains, teeth,
pass our youths counting
petals, hairs.
We count
the color and the years,
the lives and kisses,
in the fields, waves
in the sea. The ships
made ciphers which multiplied.
The numbers spawned.
The cities
were thousands, millions,
and the wheat came in hundreds
of units
each holding other integers
tinier than a single grain.
Time became a number.
Light became numbered
and however much it raced with sound
it had a velocity of 37.
Numbers surround us,
At night we would
lock the door, exhausted,
approaching 800;
having come to bed with us
in that sleep
the 4,000 and the 77
goaded our foreheads
with their wrenches and hammers.
The 5
would compound itself
until it entered the sea or the delirium
where the sun might greet it with steel
and we co racing
to the office,
the mill,
the factory,
to start fresh with the infinite
number 1 of each day.

Friend, we had the time
so our thirst could be satisfied,
the ancestral longing
to enumerate things
and total them,
reducing them
until rendering them dust,
dunes of numbers.
We are papering
the world
with figures and ciphers,
the things existed
nonetheless, fleeing
all tallies,
becoming dehydrated
by such quantities, leaving
their fragrance and memories,
and the empty numbers remained.

For that reason,
for you
I love the things.
The numbers
which go to jail,
in closed columns
until they give us the sum
for the whole of infinity.
For your sake I want
numbers of the way
to defend you
and you to defend them.
May your weekly wages increase
and grow chest-deep!
And out of the number 2 that binds
your body and your beloved wife's
emerge the matches eyes of your sons
to tally yet again
the ancient stars
and innumerable
spikes of wheat
which shall fulfill the transfigured earth.

(Trans. William Pitt Root) from NUMBERS AND FACES, Humanistic Mathematics Network Journal, Issue # 24, June 2001, pp. 23 - 25.

See last month's poem by Sandra Z. Keith.

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