The poet transforms the Ode—a praise poem traditionally written about exalted subjects, into a vehicle for considering something much less elevated: socks. These may seem at first humble and mundane, but reveal themselves to be amazing shape-shifters. As the speaker contemplates them, they become beautiful and astonishing animals. This theme is, in fact, reflexive; in using poetry to consider socks, the poet comes to reflect on the power of the poetic imagination itself to change our relationship with things, and to reveal wondrous possibilities.
In this early passage, the speaker slips the socks onto his feet, and the socks transform into jewel cases. They are at the same time made out of ordinary sheep’s wool and dusk. The poem elevates these everyday objects into something fit for royalty, utterly luminous:
The socks and the speaker’s feet have become one: the feet transform into sharks that somehow contain golden thread.
“two long sharks/of lapis blue/shot/with a golden thread,”
The gesture that begins the drama of the poem is that Maru Mori gives the speaker a pair of socks that she has knitted herself. Gift-giving is one of the most basic, important rituals for maintaining friendships. Throughout the poem, the speaker feels honored by the gift, and at times overwhelmed by the honor. When he distinguishes the socks as good and beautiful at the end because of their utility of keeping his feet warm in the wintertime, he is also, by extension, thanking his friend for taking care of him.
The poem makes a series of connections between the socks, Mori’s hands, and the sheep who were presumably the source of the wool for the socks, and even Neruda’s native country Chile, were sheep-herding was an important industry. These are meaningful socks because they represent an ecosystem of relationships, expressed through craft, which includes the speaker who has received the gift. For example:
“Maru Mori brought me/a pair/of socks/ knitted with her own/shepherd's hands,”
The socks, which represent Maru Mori’s friendship, honor the speaker's feet, then, using synecdoche (where a part represents the whole), honor the speaker:
The focus of the poem is in praise of humble utilitarian objects: socks. (To contrast this with another famous Ode, consider the lofty subject of “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats). In this way, Neruda celebrates everyday experience available to ordinary people. Yet at the same time, the poem finds these ordinary objects extraordinary. Through the poet's gratitude and poetic imagination, the socks are compared to jewel cases, contain a gold thread, and resemble the heavens. The poet's feet—and the poet himself—feel humbler in relation to the socks. In the end, he finds ultimate goodness and beauty in their utility.
These are humble socks, made by a shepherd:
“Maru Mori brought me/a pair/of socks/knitted with her own/shepherd's hands,”
In comparison to the socks, the speaker is embarrassed by his feet.
“They were/so beautiful/that for the first time/my feet seemed/unacceptable to me,”
He is overwhelmed by the socks, represented here as a fire that his "fire fighter" feet are unable to match:
“two tired old/fire fighters/not worthy/of the woven/fire/of those luminous Socks.”
Ode to My Socks Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Ode to My Socks is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.