Book Review: The Book Of Questions

The Book Of Questions, by Pablo Neruda, translated by William O’Daly

As a fond reader of poetry [1], I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book.  To be sure, Pablo Neruda was a leftist Chilean poet, and this book was written late in life, so one does not know quite what to expect.  What one finds here is deeply interesting.  There is a genre of song where people ask questions, and some of them end up being of interest largely or only to the author.  At times these songs receive a great deal of ridicule, like those by ICP and Jadakiss, who were thought to have gotten out of their depth by asking stupid questions.  Often this book feels the same way, in that the questions asked have loaded assumptions and show the author’s preoccupations.  Likely, this book was viewed far better than the poetry of ICP and Jadakiss with their questions, but it will likely help the reader to know that the questions asked here are as sincere and as ridiculous as those.  Do we judge a leftist poet’s questions as being more valid and of a higher nature than those of others?  Would we write any better books of questions than these if we were facing death and still had a lot on our minds?

This is a short book of less than 100 pages and is a bilingual edition with the questions provided in both English and the poet’s native Chilean Spanish.  Each set of questions here is marked with a Roman numeral–there are a total of 74 of them.  This book is a book of questions, and every single stanza of this book of poetry is a question, most of them fairly short questions of only a couple of lines.  In these poems the author shows a preoccupation with questions of identity, justice, as well as animals, leaves, and the color yellow.  This is an odd collection of questions, and probably is not the ideal first book of the poet’s to read.  The author shows himself to be stubbornly unable to accept the divisions of time, wondering why months can’t last all years, and making category errors about how may months there are in a week.  Perhaps some people are more tolerant about this sort of foolishness than I am, but I found a great deal of this book deeply tedious and irritating because the author just seemed to be so ignorant of the rules and categories that govern our existence.  Given this foolishness, the author’s politically foolish worldview made more sense.

Even so, despite the fact that a great deal of this book is tedious nonsense, there are at least a few of the lines that are immensely beautiful and some of the questions that are deeply insightful.  The poet ponders what sort of justice Hitler will face, wondering if in the afterlife he will suffer like he made others suffer.  That set of poems alone is worth the short amount of time it will take to read this book, and allows the reader to put up with a lot of inane wondering about how people will make their bread if we run out of yellow or something equally insipid.  Reading a book like this prompts me to wonder whether we judge a poet by reputation and take everything that poet says to be deep and insightful or whether we judge a poet on the merits of his work and recognize that a great many poets skate by on reputation when their works are not worthy of the name they have gained over the course of a lifetime largely due to the congeniality people have with their political worldview.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Book Review: The Book Of Questions

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Collected Poems Of Emily Dickinson | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The Selected Poems Of Donald Hall | Edge Induced Cohesion

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