“Ode to Large Tuna in the Market” by Pablo Neruda – Analysis and Poem

Synopsis

“Ode to Large Tuna in the Market” is about the author walking through the market and seeing a variety of different vegetables but only one fish, and the fish is what catches his eye and admiration the most. He goes on to brag about the greatness of this fish, the tuna.

Analysis

This poem is easily understood and is about a situation most of us have been in–walking through a market. There is no hidden meaning to this poem, it is clear as day. The author admires the fish for what it has done. He imagines the fishes life in the ocean and, at least somewhat, seems to envy it when it was alive.

This poem is made up of four stanzas of varying lengths without any purposeful rhyme scheme or meters (although we should keep in mind that this poem was originally written in Spanish and this is only a translation).

In the first stanza, the author introduces the tuna. He calls it a “torpedo” and a “missile”. The tuna is lying dead in front of him.

The second stanza starts by speaking about how the fish is surrounded by green vegetables but then begins talking about how the tuna is the only one at the market to see the deep dark depths of the ocean.

Stanza three refers to the fish as a “bullet” with one wound (perhaps the fish has a scar). He then speaks of how the fish swims, comparing his fins to wings flying through the currents, again using a simile to compare the fish to a “grieving arrow, sea-javelin, a nerveless oiled harpoon.”

The final stanza starts with a comparison to the market table to the fish’s coffin and goes on to speak about the fish’s once youthful and energetic life as much as being compared to a “sappy as a sprung fir / in the green turmoil, / once seed to sea-quake, / tidal wave”. He says the tuna is the “only shape left / with purpose or direction / in this / jumbled ruin / of nature”. These lines indicate that the author feels the other “shapes” don’t make sense. He feels that everything else is lost and doesn’t fit well with nature. This interpretation can be backed up by looking at the next lines: “you are / a solitary man of war / among these frail vegetables”. There we see that the author feels the shape of the fish is fit for “war” while the vegetables are just frail and useless. He continues by calling the fish a “well-oiled ship of the wind” and the “the only / true / machine / of the sea”.

It is possible to interpret this poem to mean that Neruda feels like a useless vegetable and that he envies the fish greatly, wishing he were free and could swim the ocean as the fish once did. However, I think that may be pushing the limitations of interpretations just a wee bit. Instead, I think this poem is best to be left up to being an “ode” as the title states and to look at this as simply admiration for the great fish of the sea.

Keywords

  • Torpedo and missile – something fast and aerodynamic
  • le grand abîme – the great hell
  • Deepest night – blackness like a dark night
  • catafalqued king / of my own ocean – The dead “king” (the tuna) is displayed in front of him in the market as if it is the fish’s coffin in the author’s ocean (the market or just land).
  • the only / true / machine / of the sea – The most well designed creature.

Poem: “Ode to Large Tuna in the Market” by Pablo Neruda

Here,
among the market vegetables,
this torpedo
from the ocean
depths,
a missile
that swam,
now
lying in front of me
dead.

Surrounded
by the earth’s green froth
—these lettuces,
bunches of carrots—
only you
lived through
the sea’s truth, survived
the unknown, the
unfathomable
darkness, the depths
of the sea,
the great
abyss,
le grand abîme,
only you:
varnished
black-pitched
witness
to that deepest night.

Only you:
dark bullet
barreled
from the depths,
carrying
only
your
one wound,
but resurgent,
always renewed,
locked into the current,
fins fletched
like wings
in the torrent,
in the coursing
of
the
underwater
dark,
like a grieving arrow,
sea-javelin, a nerveless
oiled harpoon.

Dead
in front of me,
catafalqued king
of my own ocean;
once
sappy as a sprung fir
in the green turmoil,
once seed
to sea-quake,
tidal wave, now
simply
dead remains;
in the whole market
yours
was the only shape left
with purpose or direction
in this
jumbled ruin
of nature;
you are
a solitary man of war
among these frail vegetables,
your flanks and prow
black
and slippery
as if you were still
a well-oiled ship of the wind,
the only
true
machine
of the sea: unflawed,
undefiled,
navigating now
the waters of death.

Reader’s Reaction

Someone recommended me this poem because it was supposedly hilarious. They said that there were many hilarious lines throughout it. However, I just didn’t get that impression. Is it silly? Perhaps. Did it make me laugh? No. Although I do appreciate this piece quite a bit. There is a lot to it. It makes me think about the fish, the market, and even the shapes and sizes of each of the vegetables. It is a thought provoking piece in a weird kind of way. In all honesty, I would say that this is one of my favorite poems that I have read recently. It is easy to understand and there is actually a nice smooth flow that makes it easy to read. I think this poem would be perfect for a classroom full of middle schooler or even high schoolers.

Gary R. Hess

Gary was born and raised on a small farm in rural Kansas. Today, he is teaching various nationalities English in Southeast Asia.

5 Comments

  1. I don’t think it is hilarious. It is thought-provoking and reflects a lot of imagery. I agree it has a nice flow. I like it as it is telling a story in a clever and unique way.

    Thank you for following BrewNSpew.

  2. I went through a really big Pablo Neruda phase a few years back, but have revisited. Thanks for sharing this and giving your analysis. You may have reignited that phase. 🙂

    To me the poem is about this one great fish being a soldier in a battle, like the jet versus less versatile planes. This soldier was the king of a land (actually sea) humans can’t fathom because it’s the one place on earth we have not totally explored, exploited. But this final battle is lost and he comes here to the market with other things, also once living, that did not share his dynamic vibrance, vitality. The wound may be part of his last courageous battle. People who fish tend to use words like battle and war when they talk about going after big game fish.

    It’s a beautiful, thought-provoking poem about life on many scales (no pun originally intended).

    And, thanks for the follow. Hope to read more! 🙂

  3. a wonderful wonderful poem. I loved it. Silly? No. Hilarious? No. Celebratory certainly. I love your work and choice of poems. I have decided to follow your blog 🙂

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