Keeping Quiet


Words by Pablo Neruda; trans. Stephen Mitchell
SATB chorus, SB soli with harpsichord or piano, cello, percussion
Published by Fresh Ayre Music

I wrote this out of frustration over the vituperative quality of modern civil discourse. The inability to listen and the meaningless anger and shallow panic that seems to be what political conversations require led me to this beautiful poem by Chilean leftist Pablo Neruda. The style is quiet, and flavored by the Nueva Cancion style of popular folk song.

Perusal Score (click to view)

SKU: FAM-0070-01 Category:


Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

This one time upon the earth,
let’s not speak any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without engines,
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.

[The fishermen in the cold sea
would do no harm to the whales
and the peasant gathering salt
would look at his torn hands.]
(this stanza is not included in the musical setting)

Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victories without survivors,
would put on clean clothing
and would walk alongside their brothers
in the shade, without doing a thing.

What I want shouldn’t be confused
with final inactivity:
life alone is what matters,
I want nothing to do with death.

If we weren’t unanimous
about keeping our lives so much in motion,

if we could do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would
interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and then everything is alive.

Now I will count to twelve
and you keep quiet and I’ll go.


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