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 “I’m Explaining a Few Things”

Lilac (cult)


The word lilac in Pablo Neruda’s poem “I’m Explaining a Few Things” is a personal symbol for the author and also a cultural symbol. It is symbol that is not intrinsically associated with Chile, however, it is associated with the culture of Spain which is strengthened by its association with the Spanish author Federico Garcia Lorca.  Neruda uses this word in his poem as a way to herald a message and as probably a symbol to associate with Spain and Lorca. Moreover there is a strong connection between Spain and lilacs because the latter grow in Spain and in mostly other European countries. Perhaps when in Spain Neruda was first exposed to them and influenced by it in some degree. Consequently his observation of this flower has made a resonant mark in Pablo Neruda urging this acclaimed Chilean author to embrace its symbolism in his poem “I’m Explaining a Few Things.” Hence, the lilac has a great cultural symbolism that connects Pablo Neruda with Spain and with his friendship with famous Spanish Literary figure Federico Garcia Lorca. “Neruda and Lorca: A Meeting of Poetic Minds” written by Robert M. Gleaves, confirms this friendship of the two authors developed while in Spain.  According to this same source Lorca, was a celebrated Spanish author had introduced Pablo Neruda to the intellectual Spanish circles when Neruda arrived in Spain on a diplomatic assignment in 1934. This is true since Neruda refers to Lorca in his poem “ I’m Explaining a Few Things” in line 18, by saying “Federico do you remember” which is Neruda’s attempt to communicate and reach Lorca beyond this life past the one beyond the grave. Thus I am trying to say that the connection that the Lilac had very little to do with the actual physical flower lilac and its cultural meaning is one that is strongly associated with Neruda’s life when in Spain where he was able to associate them with the beauty of Spain and Pablo Neruda’s memories of his friend Lorca. Indeed Spain and Lorca greatly influenced him. According to “Neruda and Lorca: A Meeting of Poetic Minds”, Neruda and Lorca spent many time together lectures, poetry and daily life. So when analyzing the lilac, a flower that grew in Spain, as a symbol it is inevitable to make the connection of Pablo Neruda’s strong relationship with Lorca. Naturally “I’m explaining a Few Things” is Neruda’s homage to the great man Federico Garcia Lorca was:

What a poet! seen grace and genius, a winged heart and a crystalline waterfall, come together in anyone else as they did in him. Federico Garcia Lorca was the extravagant “duende,” his was a magnetic joyfulness that generated a zest for life in his heart and radiated it like a planet. Openhearted and comical, worldly  and provincial, an extraordinary musical talent, a splendid mime, easily alarmed and superstitious, radiant and noble he was the epitome of Spain through the ages, of her popular tradition. Of Arabic-Andalusian roots, he brightened and perfumed like jasmine the stage set of a Spain that, alas, is gone forever (Memoirs, p 122).

(The previous being an excerpt from the original document Memoirs on page 122, which was then included in the secondary source I used “ Neruda and Lorca: A Meeting of Poetic Minds” written by Robert M. Gleaves).


Works Cited


M. Gleaves, Robert. “Neruda and Lorca: A Meeting of Poetic Minds”. Poets of the Hispanic World. University of North Carolina: Research Studies. 48.3 (Sept. 1980). 17 Apr. 2007 < http://www.languages.uncc.edu/rgleaves/poetas/meeting.htm >.


Submitted by Wei Chia Yen Dorado



Cultural Significance


According to the Oxford English Dictionary a lilac is the flower of ‘a shrub, Syringa Vulgaris, cultivated for its fragrant blossoms, which are of a pale pinkish violet color’.  It has also become known as a color, stemming from these lilac bush blossoms. There are over 1,000 varieties of lilac, the most popular being purple, white, pink, or the color lilac.  Lilac is said to mean first love.  They represent the element of youthful innocence, youthfulness, humility and confidence.  The origin, according to Oxford English Dictionary, is obsolete French, via Spanish and Arabic from Persian.  Pablo Neruda was a member of the Spanish culture in Latin America, and so this flower has Spanish origin. It makes sense that Neruda would use this specific flower in his poetry due to the meaning behind it. At the time when Neruda was writing his poetry he was witnessing the revolution of politics and Spanish Civil War, which had a profound impact on many people actively involved the Spanish culture.  The word lilac is used in the line “You are going to ask: and where are the lilacs?” which signifies that the questioner is in search of the light, youthfulness that the lilacs represent. 


Works Cited.


Flower Meaning. FlowerMeaning.org. 19 April 2007.


How to Grow and Care for Lilac Bushes. The Gardener’s Network. 19 April 2007. http://www.gardenersnet.com/lilac.htm

“Lilac”. Oxford English Dictionary. 2006. OED Online. Oxford University Press. http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50133269?single=1&query_type=word&queryword=lilac&first=1&max_to_show=10

“Lilac”. Oxford Reference Online. 19 April 2007. Oxford University Press.


Meaning of Flowers. aboutFLOWERS.com. 19 April 2007. http://www.aboutflowers.com/floral_b5.html

Neruda, Pablo. I’m Explaining a Few Things: The Norton Anthology of World

Literature Second Edition Volume F.  New York: London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002

Stritof, Sheri & Bob. The Meaning of Flowers. About.com. 19 April 2007. http://marriage.about.com/od/flowers/a/flowermean.htm


Submitted by Katherine Barszcz



Cultural Significance


Pablo Neruda mentions that lilacs are not only shrubs that are used for their blossoms that are clustered with purple and white flowers, but they are also the children of Spain.  The children of Spain are the lilacs because they are beautiful humans since they don’t know what war is, and they haven’t been corrupted by politics yet.  The children also help the country flourish by helping out their parents when they are asked to do chores for them just like the lilacs help nature flourish by the lilacs being used to help maintain the energy of animals through their clustered blossoms when they are eaten.  The children also represent the lilacs because children tend to gather into a large group with one another just like the lilacs that are found among other flowers are clustered together.  In the poem “I’m Explaining a Few Things,” the lilacs are mentioned in the first stanza, “and where are the lilacs?” symbolizing that all the children have gone into hiding (Lawall 2444).  The children are hiding since there is no point for them to be around during war time.  Children aren’t suppose to carry guns and kill their fellow neighbor.    


Work Cited

Neruda, Pablo.  I’m Explaining a Few Thing

Sarah, Lawall.  The Northern Anthology of World Literature Second Edition.

“Lilacs” The Oxford English Dictionary.  2006.  OED Online.  Oxford University Press.



Submitted by Nathaniel Bewley


Cultural Significance


Lilacs are known to be a symbol of protection and beauty (Connor).  In Neruda’s “I’m Explaining a Few Things” it reads, “You are going to ask: and where are the lilacs?” (1).  Neruda is stating that the people are asking where all the protection and beauty in Spain has gone.  There are children dead in the streets, fires all over, and destruction.  People are wondering how such a peaceful, safe place could become so dangerous.  Neruda lets his readers know, through the absence of beautiful things, like lilacs, that the protection that once existed in Spain is gone.  If the protection was still there Neruda would not write, “come and see the blood in the streets./ come and see/ the blood in the streets./ come and see the blood/ in the streets!”(70-74).  With this cry Neruda is trying to make people realize that the “lilacs” are gone and that they must now open their eye to what is really going on around them.


Works Cited

Conner, Teresa. “Top Ten Most Romantic Flowers for Valentines Day.” Associated           Content. 22 April 2007 < http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/124814/



Neruda, Pablo. "I’m Explaining a Few Things." The Norton Anthology of World     Literature. 2nd edition. Volume F. ed. Sarah Lawall. New York: Norton, 2002.         2444-2446.


Submitted by Nadine Beres




Culture Significance


According to Webster online dictionary, a lilac is a widely cultivated European shrub of the olive family that has cordate ovate leaves and panicles.  Also, according to the Britannica Encyclopedia, lilacs have deep green leaves and large oval clusters of compound blooms colored deep purple, lavender, blue, red, pink, white, or creamy yellow; they are often highly fragrant.  White lilacs represent a youthful innocence, while purple lilacs represent a first emotion of love, or new love.  They are popular to celebrate a new union at weddings, also used to signify the first love between a mother and child.  In Neruda’s poem I’m Explaining a Few Things, I think Neruda asks “where are the lilacs?” because the innocence is no longer there. 


Lawall, Sarah, ed. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. 2nd ed. Vol. F. New York: W W Norton and Company. 2444.


“Lilac” Merriam-Webster Online. 18 Apr. 2007 <http://www.webster.com>.


Submitted by Dorothy Wilson



Cultural Significance


The first line of the poem begins by reflecting on what life was like when the lilacs were around. As the poem progresses it is obvious to the reader that the lilacs represented a time of peace and tranquility as apposed to violence.  An alternate view is that lilacs were thought to ward off Black Death and symbolized abandonment. The strong smell of the flower was often used to mask the smell of the deceased after they were buried. It is said say the purple lilacs represent sadness and mourning which is consistent with the theory that lilacs were used in burials. Using this idea, the reader can assume that while the lilacs were around there were fewer funerals and fewer lilacs used to mask the smell.  Lilacs also signify a first love which can be traced to the fact that the flower is one of the first plants to bloom in the spring. In relation to the poem I think that lilacs signify either a time of serenity or a symbol that foreshadows death to come.


Works Cited

. What Do I Think About? Blogspot.com18 April 2007



The Symbology of Flowers Renaissance Store. 18 April 2007



Submitted by Perry Avery





Culture Significance


This word is used in the poem “I’m Explaining a Few Things”. Lilacs are known to symbolize first love (purple) and youthful innocence (white), so its use could be related to these meanings in the culture. Since flowers are often given as gifts, they could have been offered to young lovers or to children to wish them luck in their chosen endeavor. Strangely enough, the acronym LILACS has ties to the Latin American and Caribbean Center on Health Sciences, this could mean a number of things. Since flowers can generally be associated with life (such as the first flowers in spring after the snow has melted) they could be linked with patients of this center of health. It is common amongst friends to bring each other flowers when that person is feeling down, and especially when in the hospital for whatever reason. Not to mention that lilacs smell especially intoxicating when they are in full bloom, and are very pleasing to the eye.


Works Cited

"Lilac." Wikipedia. 24 Apr. 2007 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilac>.


Submitted by John Bennett



Cultural Significance

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, a lilac is a flower that blooms in the spring and comes from the Oleaceae family.  The color of a lilac is usually white or purple.  Many see lilacs as representing “firsts”:  first loves, births, and marriage are a few.  Many also see them as signifying youth and innocence.  The white lilac is associated mostly with innocence whereas the purple lilac is connected more with the emotions of love.  In reference to the Oxford Reference Online, folklore and mythology the lilac is a flower that can “bring death into the house if cut and brought indoors.” (par.5)  As a result this flower would be used to line graves or coffins.  In this poem talks about the happy times he remembers from his town.  Neruda asks, “where are all lilacs?”  It seems as though he is asking where all the good and happy times went. 


Works Cited

“Lilac.” Oxford Reference Online. 26 April 2004


Flower Meanings. 17 March 2004.  26 April 2004


“Lilac.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 25 April 2004



Submitted by Maureen Callahan