The speaker is a mysterious figure, with no identifiable age, gender, or biographical information (we refer to the speaker as "he" in this guide for clarity and because the speakers in many of Neruda's other love sonnets appear to be male). What we do know about the speaker is that he is wholly in love, to such an extent that he dispenses with self-preservation or ego. His only goal is to become unified with the person he loves so that their identities are no longer separate. He believes that love is uncomplicated and all-consuming, demanding frankness and honesty rather than showy metaphor. At the same time, he feels his love so intensely that he struggles to articulate it: it feels private and entirely invisible.
The speaker's lover, to whom the poem is addressed, is even more mysterious than the speaker. For one thing, we learn no direct information about the lover's identity. But this figure's obscurity goes beyond a mere dearth of information. The speaker is committed to a kind of love in which individual identities fall away, making the minds and bodies of the two loves essentially a single fluid entity. As a result, we readers literally aren't able to determine where the speaker starts and the lover begins. The arm resting on the speaker's chest might belong to either of them, and when the lover dreams, her dreams are no different from those of the speaker. The poem's characterization of this individual reflects the speaker's stance on romantic love—i.e., that it renders individuality irrelevant.
Love Sonnet XVII (I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,) Questions and Answers
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Study Guide for Love Sonnet XVII (I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,)
Love Sonnet XVII (I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,) study guide contains a biography of Pablo Neruda, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.