Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ode to the artichoke - Pablo Neruda

I'm relieved to report that all is well with Dad. I've just this minute spoken to him in his room at London Bridge Hospital. He had a Double Chamber Pacemaker fitted this afternoon, was hungry as a herd of bulls (having had to fast pre-surgery, of course) and has been told he should be fine to go home to Kent by train (?!) on Sunday. What a remarkable world we live in... in days gone by, pacemakers didn't exist; neither did telephones or the internet with Skype and email and all the opportunities such technologies offer us for connecting up and being alongside those we love who live on the other side of the world.

One of Dad's favourite vegetables is the globe artichoke. If I could hop over to England right this minute, I'd take him a platter of steaming artichokes, a finger bowl of warm water with floating-boat wedges of bright yellow lemon and a starched white linen napkin to tuck under his chin.

Do you know this poem?

Ode To The Artichoke
The artichoke
With a tender heart
Dressed up like a warrior,
Standing at attention, it built
A small helmet
Under its scales
It remained
By its side
The crazy vegetables
Their tendrills and leaf-crowns,
Throbbing bulbs,
In the sub-soil
The carrot
With its red mustaches
Was sleeping,
The grapevine
Hung out to dry its branches
Through which the wine will rise,
The cabbage
Dedicated itself
To trying on skirts,
The oregano
To perfuming the world,
And the sweet
There in the garden,
Dressed like a warrior,
Like a proud
And one day
Side by side
In big wicker baskets
Walking through the market
To realize their dream
The artichoke army
In formation.
Never was it so military
Like on parade.
The men
In their white shirts
Among the vegetables
The Marshals
Of the artichokes
Lines in close order
Command voices,
And the bang
Of a falling box.

With her basket
She chooses
An artichoke,
She's not afraid of it.
She examines it, she observes it
Up against the light like it was an egg,
She buys it,
She mixes it up
In her handbag
With a pair of shoes
With a cabbage head and a
Of vinegar
She enters the kitchen
And submerges it in a pot.

Thus ends
In peace
This career
Of the armed vegetable
Which is called an artichoke,
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The delicacy
And eat
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.

Artichoke hearts - Ink & Chinagraph pencil - CB
I've just spoken to Mum who's about to take herself off to bed (it's late in the UK and what a huge week she's had); my sister Pip's also just emailed from Cambridge to give far-flung family an update. At the end of her letter, she wrote... "PS. Jonny lost his first tooth and had a visit from the 'toosth mows' last night. He wrote the most precious letter to explain that he had swallowed the toosth my mistayk and was soree it wasn’t there for the mows’s castle. xoxox"
Thank you for your candlelight and concern - M & D said to say so, too. xxx


  1. Dearest Claire, you must feel so relieved and exhausted. I'll never think of artichokes again without thinking of your Dad and Neruda's poem. You are so loved, as is your family because they are yours, and there are candles burning all over the globe. L., M.

  2. Oh, good news, Claire. And long live the artichoke, too. (No melted butter in a tiny bowl to offset the lemon? Might clog the pace-maker?) Anyway, glad tidings!

  3. I'm happy for you and your family,Claire. I lost power yesterday before I could wish you well,then had to go out.

  4. Claire,

    That's the spirit ... mind-over-matter. Best to you, and the Da.

    "Art-I-Choke", indeed!

  5. The poem is new to me Claire, but it seems a splendid metaphor for your father.

    I hope he continues to recover well.

  6. Dearest Sparrow - I love the way you've transformed our globe into an artichoke, brightened by candlelight. Thank you. There are candles burning here for you today xx

  7. Thanks, Pen - I thought about butter ('tis obligatory with both A. leaves and heart) and then I thought better of it! We want no clogging! Olive oil would be good, though? With grated rind and ground pepper... XX

    Yesterday I decapitated three shriveled-up old artichokes in my garden. They'd tried to make a go of it in mid-winter - defiant, but not triumphant. Although the new season's heads are coming through... We'll be able to eat them before Christmas! L, C xx

  8. Thanks for your thoughts, Dinah - my internet has been oh-so-slow lately, making meandering difficult, but I visited your blog again last night... love it! Love your wit and humour, the light in your voice.

  9. John, thanks - as Mum says, 'he's a tough old bird.'

    Your Irish 'Da' gets me in my belly, no matter whether I read it or hear it spoken. Somehow I can't imagine it being a name yelled in anger. As titles go, it's got to be one of the most endearing.

    Art-I-choke?! Are you not partial to these handsome thistles, John? ; )

  10. Dear Elisabeth - Neruda has written a number of poems 'to' things... salt, tomatoes, the artichoke, maize, a large tuna in a market (yes!), a chestnut on the ground - and others. They're amongst my favourite of his poems. You can find them here...

    Thank you for your wishes for my father's good health. He's progressing well and should be home within the next 48 hours. Amazing, really. As Mum says, he's like an old car that's been kitted out with new spare parts, good to go for a long stretch yet.

    Enjoy your weekend in Sydney; I imagine you striding the hills in red, giving those demons behind your tonsils a thoroughly good talking to (up, up and out with them! if it's any consolation, I have them, too... we can't let them get the better of us?). Love to you, Claire.

  11. A welcome report; I am a fool for a good outcome. My best to you and all family in England, with and without teeth. Ah, Neruda and the artichoke and the age-old question of the thoughts of other organic forms.

  12. So glad to hear all is well, dear Claire.

  13. Thanks for checking in, Marylinn and Rachel. Dad's home now and Mum's having a hard time keeping him quiet! 'He's a tough old bird', is what she says!