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Pablo Neruda

Theme Analysis

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OPIUM IN THE EAST (excerpt)

(written about his travels in the thirties)


Starting at Singapore it smelled of opium
The good Englishman knew what he was doing
At world conferences he thundered
Against the secret drug-lords
And in his colonies every port
sent up a cloud of authorized smoke
with an official number and a juicy franchise.
The official gentleman in London
dressed like a spotless nightingale
(with striped pants and a shirt starched into armor)
A nightingale trilling against the pusher
in the shadows.
But here in the Orient
the gentleman unmasked himself
and sold lethargy on every corner.

This excerpt from Pablo Neruda's "Opium in the East" is one of great political influence. It brings out the truth of the British Opium crisis in China during that time, in fact the site at which I got the excerpt says "translator's note: any resemblance to any present situation is purely intentional." This poem is used to bring forth reality to the reader; an obvious theme seen here is social decay as well as politics. Neruda was not afraid to write what he believed mattered; he was not frightened to dare the government. Neruda believed that what is written with a fearless heart, is written justly.
Neruda uses many different literary techniques and devices to reveal his thematic choice. Neruda uses cynical diction throughout the excerpt of the poem, word choice such as "good" Englishman, and "thundered" against drugs, express Neruda's feelings of anger and depression. This diction helps create the thematic feeling of social decay because it releases a feeling of unease, not knowing what goes on behind the mask of everyday life. Neruda's other choice of literary devices visible in this passage are similes, metaphors and personification. "The gentleman unmasked himself and sold lethargy on every corner," this sentence includes both a metaphor, pertaining to the Englishman's metaphorical mask he wears in front of society, and personification, seen when Neruda personifies lethargy as being sold. These devices and techniques all contribute to making the themes more perceptible.
Within "Opium in the East" two obvious themes are evident, social decay and political beliefs. Social decay is epitomized in Neruda's poetry, shown through different situations and literary genius. Pablo Neruda emphasized his beliefs of equality amongst people through his poetry. His sole purpose in life was to inspire and touch millions around the world, and change for the better, and he reached that purpose once his pen hit the paper.

Pablo Neruda by Richard Montero CGHS