An unidentified individual seeking language to describe their feelings about a lover
Form and Meter
Modified free-verse Italian sonnet
Metaphors and Similes
Much of the poem revolves around simile and metaphor, since the speaker seeks and generally fails to find figurative language to describe his feelings. The speaker uses simile to compare the lover to "a rose of salt, topaz, / (and) arrow of carnations that propagate fire," but concludes that these similes are actually unsuitable to describe his love. He instead uses simile to compare his love to a "plant that doesn’t bloom but carries / the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself," as well as, enigmatically, to compare his love to other forms of love—namely, the way "one loves certain obscure things, / secretly..."
Alliteration and Assonance
In Mark Eisner's translation, the long "O" sounds in the phrase "rose of salt, topaz," the long "E" sounds in the phrase "secretly, between the," and the long "O" sounds in the repeated phrase "so close" are all instances of assonance. Meanwhile, the "S" sounds in the phrase "secretly, between the shadow and the soul," and the "P" sounds in the phrase "without problems or pride," are examples of alliteration.
The poem centers around the irony that, while the speaker's love is vast and powerful, it is best expressed through unexpectedly quiet and subtle gestures rather than ostentatious ones. Another irony of the poem is its insistence upon love as a force that destroys individual identity: the speaker's love erases distinctions between the lover and the beloved, rendering the idea of verbal communication between the two almost absurd.
Sonnet, love poem
The poem's setting is left almost entirely ambiguous, except for some hints at a domestic/household location
Impassioned, affectionate, introspective
Protagonist and Antagonist
The protagonist is the speaker, while the antagonist can be read as the limitations of poetic language itself
The poem's major conflict is the speaker's attempt to characterize his romantic feelings through figurative language, and to negotiate the boundaries between intimacy and public expressions of love.
The poem's climax occurs between the second and third stanzas, when the speaker abandons his search for metaphorical language and begins to speak in straightforward, literal descriptions.
The poem's first line, in which the speaker begins by stating "I don't love you," understates his feelings because it appears to declare that he does not love the listener—whereas additional context will make clear that, in fact, he feels what he considers to be an even deeper and stronger love than that described in this first line.
The poem alludes to several common literary symbols of love and romance, including flowers and fire.
Metonymy and Synecdoche
The lover's hands represent, through synecdoche, their bodies more generally.
The plant that keeps its flowers hidden is personified and imbued with both human intentions and actions.
The speaker hyperbolically describes love as completely, almost literally turning the lovers into a single being, both physically and emotionally
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.