Keeping Quiet -English Notes – Class XII

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Summary of the poem:

In this poem, the poet has emphasized the need to introspect and bring in the spirit of brotherhood among the people of the world. He wants people to stop talking and stop all movements symbolizing agitation and restlessness till he counts twelve, that is, a short period of time. These moments of silence would be strange and exotic because in our mundane life we are working towards selfish goals, regardless of the other’ requirements and emotions. Hence, this sudden silence would give us an opportunity to introspect. Since we would not speak for a while, barriers between communities would break and a sense of brotherhood would prevail. Man would get an opportunity to realize how he is destroying nature and how he is harming himself. Futile wars against men and nature would be arrested and a new feeling of unity would be experienced. The poet does not want his desire for inactivity to be misunderstood as a state of uselessness. He wants men to learn a lesson from the Earth. The Earth appears to be inactive yet it is selflessly productive. Men too could be productive and progressive without any aggression, selfishness and the urge for destruction.

Q1. Why does the poet advocate silence ?

Ans -The poet advocates silence so that we can get time for introspection. There is a mad rush in the world today. Confusion, tension and stress prevail everywhere. Relaxation is lacking in the world. The poet says us to keep quiet and introspect ourselves so that we can be freed from worldly maladies.

Q2. What is significant about “twelve” in the poem?

Ans. There are twenty-four hours in a day in all, with twelve hours for a half a day. The hours are numbered from one to twelve for both the ante meridiem (a.m.) half of the day and the post meridiem (p.m.) half of the day. 12:00 after a.m. and before p.m. (in the middle of the day) is midday or noon, and 12:00 after p.m. and before a.m. (in the middle of the night) is midnight. A new day is considered to start with the stroke of midnight. Furthermore, the basic units of time (60 seconds, 60 minutes, and 24 hours) can all perfectly divide by twelve.

In scripture, we find twelve associated with  rules. The sun which rules the day and the moon and stars which govern the night move through the twelve signs of the zodiac. The zodiac resides in the great circle of the heavens, which is itself 360 degrees (= 30 x 12).

The Heavenly City of Revelations has twelve gates with the names of the twelve tribes on them. Twelve angels stand at the gates; the walls have twelve foundations garnished with twelve precious stones and in them the names of the twelve apostles. The city is twelve thousand furlongs square, and the twelve gates are twelve pearls. The number twelve is used here symbolically of God’s perfect government.

The importance of 12 in Judaism and Christianity can be found in the Bible. The Twelfth chapter of the Bible starts with God calling Abram to come out of the land he was living in and go where God would tell him. This is the beginning of God’s plan to call out a nation unto him, that would be ruled by God and be a testimony to all the nations of the earth of the one true God. Here we can see the link between perfect government and the number twelve.

There are 12 days of Christmas. Most calendar systems have twelve months in a year. At twelve, the hands of a clock are one. It is Oneness that the poem calls for. Count the letters in the title “Keeping Quiet”, there are twelve. Or, the poet may have used ‘twelve’ for no reason.

Q3. what does the poet advocate to do to create feelings of mutual understanding and unity among human beings ?

Ans. Here the poet is encouraging a unified movement among people, with no discrimination based on race or language. This would be a mass movement for the first time on the face of the earth, and would greatly enhance unity. Let us stop for a moment and not move our hands so much in violence i.e. Let us not fight and argue so much.

Q4.who are those who prepare green wars’ here? What would they do when they introspect for a few moments?

Ans. Those who prepare green wars’ are the people engaged in researching new methods Of warfare like biological weapons eg, nerve gas. They aim at getting the victory even if the entire humanity is wiped out. When they keep quiet they would realize a newness of life. They would put on new clothes and crave for meeting and harmonize with their fellow brothers.

Q5. what does the poet actually mean by keeping quiet when he says that it should not be confused with total inactivity?

Ans. The poet cautions the reader that keeping quiet does not mean total inactivity or resignation to or negation of life. Actually, he means that life, as it happens, should be lived with full involvement, both physically and spiritually. This is clear in his saying ‘ I want no truck with death’.

Q6.what importance does the poet give to The Earth, when he says that it can teach us an essential meaning of life?

Ans. The poet says that when everything seems dead on the surface of the earth, there pulsates and throbs life underneath. It means that the earth should be seen and realized in the right perspective. Keeping still for some time opens up its mysteries when we introspect ourselves vis-à-vis of the earth.

Title – Conveys Neruda’s philosophy of an exotic moment of silence & inactivity which can be an antidote to war, violence, hatred & exploitation. It emphasizes the necessity of quiet introspection creating a feeling of mutual understanding among human beings.

Theme – The poet gives a clarion call for introspection. He highlights how rush, hurry & developments have caused much chaos & man needs to take a pause, a silent moment when he can introspect & create a feeling of mutual understanding among human beings. Stillness here doesn’t mean inactivity because that would mean death. Lost in the rush man has become sad as he is unable to understand himself & others. So a long silence can soothe our feelings removing this sadness.

Stanza 1) ‘Now——-still’-

The poet begins on an exercise of meditation & introspection. He says that till we count twelve, let’s remain still, motionless, quiet as too much rush, activity & development have brought chaos & misfortune & lack of understanding among mankind. So it is better to remain quiet and still.

Stanza 2) ‘For once——-so much’-

The stanza is a call for introspection for human beings who have divided themselves on the basis of race, language & nationalities. The poet says that at least once on the surface of earth let’s not speak in any language because the language has been made as an issue of dispute. People need excuses to fight among themselves by indulging in reasoning disputes & quarrels among themselves. So it is better not to speak in any language. Let’s stop all activities (arms) for a second including weapons to kill & destroy. A pun is used in ‘arm’ which also means weapons. The stanza shows poet’s belief in pacifism (that is a belief that war is wrong & useless for everyone). Development of arms is leading to more destruction.

Stanza 3) ‘It——-strangeness’-

The moment without activity, hurry, spoken words, no movement of arms would be a still moment without even machines & their noise. This silent moment would be an unusual & attractive moment which would not only be unfamiliar but would be enjoyed together by all. In this moment one can experience the strength of togetherness, a sudden strange relationship to which humanity binds itself. Engines are a symbol of civilization & scientific developments which are crushing humane feelings still & introspect the matter. So he wants a world devoid of machines, without rush which is taking away one man from another & increasing greed, violence & chaos in the world.

Stanza 4) ‘Fishermen——-hands’-

‘Fishermen’ here symbolize man’s indiscriminate exploitation of nature for his vested interests. The poet here takes up the global issue of conservation of the aquatic species like whales in the poles & asks fishermen not to harm them. In the last 2 lines through the man gathering salt, he shows that man is so lost in acquiring from nature for a monetary benefit that while getting it he is not bothered about causing harm to himself or others due to this. Poet creates the image of man’s incessant suffering in his efforts to add comforts to his life. He wants a man to get some time from his hectic schedule to reflect at the pain & harm his task has caused to himself & others.

Stanza 5) ‘Those——-doing nothing’-

This stanza supports the poet’s pacifist views as he advises the war mongers to stop such wars against environment & nature (like cutting trees, hunting, poaching, killing aquatic species), wars using poisonous gases & firearms & napalm firebombs because even if they win, the victory would not be enjoyed, as there wouldn’t be any survivors after the war. Rather these war mongers should understand that during peace people are friends & the same become enemies during war. So they should put on their best dresses & go out in the lap of nature with their fellow human beings for a walk. Nature’s company would add a soothing touch to make & enhance the feelings of understanding between human beings & this can be possible only when activity is ceased & introspection is done in the company of nature in silence.

Stanza 6) ‘What I——–death’-

The poet doesn’t want us to misunderstand him as advocating inactivity because by silence he doesn’t mean inactivity which leads to death, degeneration, stagnancy. He wants life or himself to have no association with death because life is about activity, it is an ongoing process. By silence he only means a temporary pause, break or rest from the hurry & rush in life. If we stop focusing on just how to keep our lives moving & could take short intervals in between, then the huge silence would be beneficial for us to interrupt in the sadness caused in man for not being able to understand himself & others & would stop the fear of being threatened with death due to the wars & greed rising by the increase in the machines in the world which has created a rush everywhere.

Stanza 7 & 8) ‘Perhaps——–will go’-

Earth can teach a lesson to mankind. The earth is a symbol of life under apparent stillness. When everything seems dead, the earth remains alive. The never-ending cycle of birth, growth & death goes on in silence teaching man that silence is fruitful & doesn’t mean inactivity. Similarly, evil thoughts can be brought to an end & a new life of peace & tranquillity can be revived. He then brings an end to this session of meditation instructing man to keep quiet & leaves him in deep introspection.

Key Points –

a) The poem is a didactic poem as it teaches a lesson to man to take a break from some routine tasks for a while & indulge in deep introspection for better understanding among human beings.

b) The poem is a nature poem as nature is glorified in the poem as man is urged to learn that birth, growth & death go on in silence in nature & yet no significant activity can be observed, proving the significance of silence.

c) The poem is an antiwar poem as it highlights the poet’s pacifist views when it says that victory in these wars can’t be enjoyed as there wouldn’t be any survivors & he gives a clarion call to warmongers to stop all wars against nature & each other.

d) On what note does the poet conclude the poem? – On a serene & pious note leaving the listeners in an ecstatic & exotic moment of peace. He once again counts up to 12 & asks everyone to be quiet & enjoy the bliss of silence.

e) What is the significance of ‘counting up to 12’? – Commencement of the session of introspection & meditation. When stressed out or in dilemma, the best exercise is to keep quiet, calm the mind & begin counting.

f) How do you know that the poet is not an escapist? – He doesn’t escape or try to run away from the chaos machines & developments are creating. He rather tries to find a solution to the rising trend of demanding wars & not understanding other human beings by asking us to do deep introspection by remaining silent & stopping our activity for sometime.

What is significant about “twelve” in the poem?

There are twenty-four hours in a day in all, with twelve hours for a half a day. The hours are numbered from one to twelve for both the ante meridiem (a.m.) half of the day and the post meridiem (p.m.) half of the day. 12:00 after a.m. and before p.m. (in the middle of the day) is midday or noon, and 12:00 after p.m. and before a.m. (in the middle of the night) is midnight. A new day is considered to start with the stroke of midnight. Furthermore, the basic units of time (60 seconds, 60 minutes, and 24 hours) can all perfectly divide by twelve.

In scripture, we find twelve associated with the rule. The sun which rules the day and the moon and stars which govern the night move through the twelve signs of the zodiac. The zodiac resides in the great circle of the heavens, which is itself 360 degrees (= 30 x 12).

The Heavenly City of Revelations has twelve gates with the names of the twelve tribes on them. Twelve angels stand at the gates; the walls have twelve foundations garnished with twelve precious stones and in them the names of the twelve apostles. The city is twelve thousand furlongs square, and the twelve gates are twelve pearls. The number twelve is used here symbolically of God’s perfect government.

The importance of 12 in Judaism and Christianity can be found in the Bible. The Twelfth chapter of the Bible starts with God calling Abram to come out of the land he was living in and go where God would tell him. This is the beginning of God’s plan to call out a nation unto him, that would be ruled by God and be a testimony to all the nations of the earth of the one true God. Here we can see the link between perfect government and the number twelve.

There are 12 days of Christmas. Most calendar systems have twelve months in a year. At twelve, the hands of a clock are one. It is Oneness that the poem calls for. Count the letters in the title “Keeping Quiet”, there are twelve. Or, the poet may have used ‘twelve’ for no reason.


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