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In the current paper, the book “The Book of Questions” by Pablo Neruda is addressed and analyzed using rhetorical techniques. Moreover, the essay aims to answer the question of how Neruda’s piece comments on our need to ask. Concerning the outline of the work, it consists of several major parts, each examining a particular aspect of the book. The main body consists of the analysis of tone, sound, and literary techniques that uncover the hidden part of the book.
The tradition of poets appealing to the public dates back to Ancient Greece. The Greek philosopher Horace said that if poets want to strike a chord with their audience, they need to relate to their lived reality, namely, “watchmen, learn men.” Back then, excellent poetry had to combine in itself two elements: dulce (esthetics) and utile (practical use). In other words, poets were encouraged to seek a balance between literature and rhetoric. On the one hand, poetry can and should be enjoyable; on the other hand, however, it needs to compel the reader to critically examine the world order and the nature of things. So is “The Book of Questions” by Neruda: behind its poetic form, there is a strong urge to search for answers and share this journey with the reader.
“The Book of Questions” is exactly what its title would suggest it would be: it is a long list of questions, some funny, some strange, and some philosophical. In essence, all questions are rhetorical: they either have an obvious answer or no answer at all. Rhetorical questions are widely used in effective communication and persuasive speech. This rhetorical device serves a number of purposes, some of which pertain to the current book. One such purpose is to engage the audience, which Pablo Neruda does by asking rhetorical questions with alternating topics. Another use is for influencing and persuading the reader: while the author himself never answers any of the questions, some of them imply what he would like the reader to conclude.
The tone of voice demonstrates the writer’s attitude toward the theme or the audience he is addressing. Thus, understanding the sound means being able to hear the message that an author aims to deliver. In “The Book of Questions,” Neruda uses a neutral tone, as he speaks unbiasedly, without imposing his point of view on the reader. The questions he poses are crucial, but they are raised in such a manner that does not involve a definite answer. For instance: “Why does the professor teach the geography of death?/ What happens to swallows who are late for school?”. As can be seen, the author offers a reader to choose his or her answers.
Despite the neutral tone, Neruda does not appeal to the audience in a faceless way. Instead, he talks to the reader as someone he knows and trusts enough to share these philosophical and profound questions. It can be observed through the use of “you” and “we” when raising some of his questions: “Do you not also sense danger in the sea’s laughter?” or “Do we learn kindness or the mask of kindness?”. The personal pronouns ‘you’ and ‘we’ connect the writer and the reader to make their relationship more intimate and close.
Pablo Neruda’s questions sound gentle, poetic, and melodic despite sometimes sad and deep themes that are “inner” in the phrase. “Is it true that sadness is thick and melancholy thin? / In the end, won’t death be an endless kitchen?” – the author makes these questions sound sweet and kind, but at the same time, they possess a philosophical meaning. Another point that is interesting to note is that the form of poetry is ideal to have 316 interrogatives, as each new line allows a new question to be raised and gives the reader a required pause to think on the subject.
Literary techniques allow a reader to see deeper meanings that an author aimed to cover in work. Neruda uses metaphors to compare one thing to another. For instance, “Why do my faded clothes flutter like a flag?” or “Does a word sometimes slither like a serpent?”. “Like a flag” and “like a serpent” is metaphors that are used to add color to the language. Another symbolism the author uses when raising the question about sadness and melancholy: “Is it true that sadness is thick and melancholy thin?” By calling sadness ‘thick’ sad and melancholy ‘thin,’ he refers to their different natures. Sadness is the feeling that is usually followed by a negative event, while melancholy is a sad feeling that lasts for a certain period without a particular reason. Thus, the adjective ‘thick’ symbolizes the ground of sadness, and the adjective ‘thin’ is a symbol or an absence of reasoning.
Regarding punctuation or orthography, question marks are seen in every line when looking at the poem. They create an overall philosophic and complex meaning of the work, raising more than 300 questions. It should be noted that the work of Neruda shows the importance of asking. When people have the courage to pose and answer questions, no matter how uncomfortable they are, they can analyze and live meaningful lives.
In conclusion, the current paper has demonstrated ‘the hidden’ by analyzing tone, sound, and literary techniques that Pablo Neruda used in “The Book of Questions.” Moreover, the analysis has provided a possible answer to the question of how does Neruda’s piece comments on our need to ask. However, it should be mentioned that the addressed work is complex and deep, and, thus, can be analyzed in greater depth than was offered in the current essay due to its limited length.
Neruda, P., & O’Daly, W. (2001). The Book of Questions (2nd ed.). Copper Canyon Press.