the tender-hearted artichoke

artichoke flower beginning to open on the plant
I was so impressed by this glorious artichoke plant with its flowers in all the different stages that I thought about writing a poem.
artichoke in flower
Then I remembered that Neruda had already written an Ode to the artichoke.

Years ago, drinking vino tinto on a summer night in a village plaza in southern Spain, I had a very animated discussion – read “argument” – about Neruda: he is far from my favourite poet and I was fool-hardy enough to voice my opinion to a poet who turned out to be one of his biggest fans.
artichoke after flowering and flower head
Often, close reading of a poem for critique and commentary or for translation purposes can reveal the things that a superficial reading doesn’t. So although there are translations available on the web, I decided to re-read and translate Oda a la alcachofa, hoping to discover what I am missing.

Ode to an Artichoke

The tender-hearted
dressed itself as a warrior,
standing straight, it built
a small dome,
its scales,
beside it
the crazed vegetables
they made themselves
tendrils, cattails,
poignant bulbs,
the red-whiskered
carrot slept,
the vine
drained dry the branches
where the wine rises,
the cabbage
concentrated on
trying on skirts,
the oregano
on perfuming the world,
and the sweet
there in the vegetable plot,
dressed as a warrior,
like a pomegranate,
and one day
shoulder-to-shoulder with others
in great wicker baskets
it paraded
through the market
to fulfil its dream:
the militia.

In formation
it was never so soldierly
as at that fair,
the men
among the pulses
with their white shirts
of the artichokes,
the serried ranks,
the voices of command,
and the explosion
when a crate falls,
along comes
with her basket,
she picks out
an artichoke,
unafraid of it,
she turns it round, holds it
up to the light as if it were an egg,
she buys it
she jumbles it up
in her shopping bag
with a pair of shoes,
with a cabbage and
a bottle
of vinegar
entering the kitchen
she plunges it into the pot.

Thus ends
in peace
the career
of the armed vegetable
known as the artichoke,
scale by scale
we undress
the delicacy
and eat
the peaceful pulp
of its green heart.

It is definitely not the poem I would have written, and despite my attempts to like it, I can’t.

But then, the artichoke I was so taken with was destined to die in the field not in the kitchen.

artichoke after flowering

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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