I love you as one loves certain obscure things, / secretly, between the shadow and the soul.
The phrasing of these lines is notably strange. The poem begins with the speaker making a number of metaphorical comparisons between his love and various objects, declaring that none of the comparisons are accurate. Here, he articulates what his love actually does resemble—other people's love, in specific cases when they love something that is obscure. In other words, rather than simply describing his own love, he compares it to that of other people, inserting an almost superfluous simile. Perhaps the use of simile here suggests that, though the speaker's love resembles the love that others feel, it isn't exactly the same—to him, it feels entirely unique. At the same time, perhaps, using figurative language helps the speaker ease into a vulnerable and emotional topic, expressing himself through comparison rather than direct confession.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
This line, which comes at the start of the poem's final stanza, marks a sudden turn (or volta), and not merely because of its place in the poem's formal structure. With this direct statement, the speaker stops trying to find comparisons for his love. The statement is something of an admission of defeat. Not only has the speaker stopped trying to use metaphor; he has also stopped trying to answer unanswerable questions about his feelings. Now, dropping metaphor entirely, he chooses to make simple statements, devoid of imagery and in fact quite prosaic. In doing so, the speaker hints at the simplicity and directness of his own love, indicating that it speaks for itself and requires no embellishment.
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine, / so close that your eyes close with my dreams.
In these closing lines, the poem's speaker takes a fairly well-trodden idea—that love removes the physical and emotional barriers between lovers—and makes them almost unnervingly literal. The speaker suggests that his closeness with his lover makes it literally impossible to discern the borders between their bodies or their subconscious minds. Interestingly, their closeness makes the project of the love poem seem unnecessary. The two lovers are essentially one person, making it pointless for the speaker to reveal his feelings to the lover. On the one hand, readers might conclude that the very existence of the poem belies the speaker's claims, showing that the lovers are still two separate beings. On the other, one might argue that the speaker's claims of oneness with the lover resolve the poem's tensions: he no longer needs to struggle to express himself, since his listener already knows him so well.
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.