The Artichoke with Tender Heart

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‘The artichoke, With a tender heart, Dressed up like a warrior, Standing at attention . . .’
The wondrous Ode to the Artichoke (Oda a la Alcachofa) by Pablo Neruda follows in full below. Obviously I’m an old fool, but I have to confess it always brings a tear to my eye, and I can’t see my own artichokes, heads poking up above the vines for a view of the fields, without thinking of it. They are extraordinarily fine-looking things and I find it painfully difficult to cut them down. As I like the look of them, much more than the taste, I’m going to let the majority stand. I’ll never make a market gardener.

The artichoke
With a tender heart
Dressed up like a warrior,
Standing at attention, it built
A small helmet
Under its scales,
It remained
Unshakeable . . . ,
By its side
The crazy vegetables
Uncurled
Their tendrils and leaf-crowns,
Throbbing bulbs,
In the sub-soil
The carrot
With its red moustaches
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
Artichoke
There in the garden,
Dressed like a warrior,
Burnished
Like a proud
Pomegrante.
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
Were
The Marshals
Of the artichokes
Lines in close order
Command voices,
And the bang
Of a falling box.

But
Then
Maria
Comes
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
Bottle
Of vinegar
Until
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,
Then
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The delicacy
And eat
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.
Pablo Neruda.

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