Poetry 108: You start dying slowly – By Pablo Neruda


You start dying slowly
if you do not travel,
if you do not read,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life,
If you do not appreciate yourself.
You start dying slowly
When you kill your self-esteem;
When you do not let others help you.
You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking everyday on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine,
If you do not wear different colours
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.
You start dying slowly
If you avoid to feel passion
And their turbulent emotions;
Those which make your eyes glisten
And your heart beat fast.
You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love,
If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream,
If you do not allow yourself,
At least once in your lifetime,
To run away from sensible advice…

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

About Barry Daniel

I live in the Lake District in the UK where I run a guesthouse with my partner Kate and my cat Manuel. I enjoy painting, hillwalking, reading, visiting and entertaining friends, T’ai Chi and playing the guitar. I’m engaged to a certain degree in the local community, as a volunteer with Samaritans and I’m a fairly active member of the local Green party. I’ve had a relatively intuitive sense of the Middle Way most of my adult life but it found a greater articulation and a practical direction through joining the society. It’s also been interesting and great fun engaging with other people with a similar outlook. My main contribution to the society is conducting the podcast interviews, something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and that I’ve learnt a lot from.

11 thoughts on “Poetry 108: You start dying slowly – By Pablo Neruda

  1. It strikes me as tending to the dogmatic, even with allowance for poetic licence. There’s nothing tentative about the assertions of what happens if you don’t wear different colours etc. I think this jars with me because it reflects back to me my own dogmatism, and the pugnacious quality of my own assertions.

    Having said that, it is a refreshing antidote to slavish conformity, and does speak to me about my own traits of rigidity and unwillingness to change my ways. I find Pablo Neruda’s verses to be generally benign and kindly (not that I’ve read much of his work), and maybe it’s this combination of earthy passion and benevolence that makes his verse so seemingly universally popular.

    I like his idea of speaking to people I don’t know, it’s something I’ve done occasionally, more so since I’ve come to live in France, possibly because people here where I live seem more open to others, make more eye contact, and acknowledge one’s presence more readily. This may well be a factor of low population density, it’s a very small town here and one encounters far fewer people than in an English town of the same approximate size.

    1. This isn’t even a real poem of him…Someone erroneously attriattributed it to him a long time ago. And it’s been spreading ever since.

      1. if not neruda, what pray tell is the source? i thought perhaps there were a couple of false notes there but i can’t pin down this one.

      1. Oh How Great is the Idea that percolates right through in our Heart for its instantaneously accepted by the mind.
        The power of poetry !
        Just Read it in Hindi and went for the English.- lingua franca.f or more authentic version. Thanks for the Thread of responses

  2. I agree with Peter in many ways. This is rather an instructional poem, which warns us against rigidity of a kind that may be associated with absolute beliefs. But it doesn’t warn us against the reverse kind of absolutisation: that is, of the belief that you will find satisfaction in constantly seeking new experiences. One could follow Neruda’s advice and yet be restless and superficial.

  3. Thanks Robert, a usefully balanced reply. That thought (about the danger of swinging to a correspondingly ‘positive’ but equally absolutist position) was on the blurry horizon of my thinking but you brought it into clearer focus for me. Vive le doux gradualisme!

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