Ode to a Large Tuna in a Market

Ode to a Large Tuna in a Market Study Guide

"Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market" is a 1957 poem by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, describing the encounter between a human speaker and a dead tuna at a vegetable market. The speaker addresses the tuna with a blend of awe and sadness, describing its invulnerability and dignity underwater, and juxtaposing this former dignity with its current state. At the same time, the speaker, addressing the tuna, assures it that it maintains some dignity, contrasting it positively with the vegetables that surrounding it.

The poem consists of four stanzas written in free verse. Like Neruda's other works, it was originally written in Spanish, and has been translated into English numerous times. The translation discussed in this guide was produced by Robin Robertson and published in 2007. While Robertson describes his translation as a "loose" one rather than "straight literal verse translation," he does opt to preserve perhaps the most striking formal characteristic of Neruda's original: extremely short lines leading to a long, snaking appearance on the page.

As an ode, this poem shares characteristics with many of Neruda's other works: he produced odes throughout his career even as his writing changed in other ways. At the same time, the poem's emotional intensity is typical of Neruda's work. So is its accessible language and setting, as well as its themes of nature, human commerce, and consumerism.