on Too Many Names
Written: My Junior Year of Highschool for IB English
(Grade recieved: dunno yet)
"Too Many Names" by Pablo Neruda explores the boundaries between things and ideas that are different, but by calling them two opposite names, the author forces the reader to wonder if the only thing really different is that theyre named differently. He suggests that we might not use names for things, and consider them as though they didnt have a label at all. The author uses contrasting imagery in "Too Many Names" to show the absurdity of names, which makes the reader question the logic and purpose of naming objects.
Contrasting images are used to show how we use names to divide time, but it actually does not get divided in the real sense at all. Monday and Tuesday are two different days in the week, but we could just as easily call Monday Tuesday, and vice versa, and the speaker points out that the line between them is blurry: "Mondays are meshed with Tuesdays." Why does the line between Monday and Tuesday start at midnight instead of dawn? Does Monday feel any different than Tuesday? Although we may divide our weeks into seven days, why cant they be ten, or twenty, or even the whole year, the author asks, "and the week with the whole year." The week could just as easily be the entire year; why bother to divide time at all? While we quantify it with words, "time cannot be cut."
The differences between objects is questioned when the speaker uses seemingly inappropriate names to identify unknown things. The speaker notes "when I spoke to a stone it rang like a bell." The stone the speaker talks to rings, but stones do not ring like bells. The stone may actually be a bell, or perhaps it is neither a stone or a bell, but it rings. To see what the speaker refers to without the label of a name is to see it in a different light, as something to which he speaks and that rings. Without the preconceptions and connotations of a name, this object could be anything; perhaps a stone could ring like a bell if it were not called a stone.
Proper names are contrasted, and the question of definition received by name arises. Names cannot belong to a person, nor does the person belong to the name; many people may be named Jeff, for instance, but they are not all the same person, they are not all exactly alike: "No one can claim the name of Pedro, nobody is Rosa or Maria." The name Rosa does not describe the person Rosa. It is a label, an appellation used to designate one from another, and yet there are many Rosas in the world, and none of them are exactly alike. What would differentiate a Maria from a Rosa? The Earth, too, is named and divided: "They have spoken to me of Venezuelas, of Chiles and of Paraguays; I have no idea what they are saying. I know only the skin of the earth and I know it is without a name." This is a strong argument against names; the speaker clearly states that the skin of the earth, or the land, is without a name, naming it is only dividing it so that we may understand it better, like how we divide time with names. Naming one square of land Chile does not differentiate it any from another square named Paraguay. There is no line dividing the land, there is no difference between the soil in Chile and the soil in Paraguay; it is the same Earth underneath the "skin." The only difference between Chile and Paraguay is what we make of it. We think of the two as being different, as having distinct lines between them, but it is more of an abstract idea agreed upon by all, rather than an absolute fact. The reader may question why we name them at all. While we name people and places with names to differentiate them from one another, they do not, in themselves, accomplish this; it is our own conceptions of the names that do this.
Contrasting images regarding time, objects, and proper nouns are used throughout the poem to convey the idea that names are not absolute definers of objects, people and places, but the definitions lie in what they physically are, or what we make of the abstract ideas the names represent. The overall effect makes the reader question why we use names to differentiate one thing from another. While I think the answer is to help us better understand differences between things, and differences between abstract ideas, such as time, or the entire earths surface (which is too huge for practical comprehension), the reader might also question why we cannot do away with names altogether, and simply call things "this" and "that." The speaker, in the last stanzas, expresses a desire to do so, to "confuse things" and unite everything by getting rid of names until everything we know "has the oneness of the ocean." The contrasting images help to advance the authors idea of the irrationality of names, which makes the reader, in turn, question the logical reasons for needing names.