‘Keeping Quiet’ is a deceptively simple poem by Neruda about the exigency of self-analysis and introspection in building up a new world. An Indian reader with a penchant for spiritual stuff would find the poem offering rich resource for explaining things like meditation, awareness etc.
The poem is a plea for peace from one who has seen the dire consequences of war and and violence.
See the line,
“Let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.”
ARMS can also mean weapons and moving arms (arms-hands)is the stock gesture of dictation and order of any political leader. Remember how Chaplin makes fun of Hitler in “The Great Dictator” esp. in a scene where he sweats and fumes during a speech. The poet pleads people to do self-analysis before doing anything. A person without awareness in action would spread the same ignorance around. It is a vicious circle.
Sri Ramakrishna used to say,
“First rub your hands with oil and then break open the jack-fruit;
otherwise they will be smeared with its sticky milk.
First secure the oil of divine love, and then set your hand
to the duties of the world."
The poet directs our attention to Nature to convince us that Nature too holds back itself only to come back with better output. The same applies to us.
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 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 wehre 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.