In this sonnet, love isn't a mere feeling of affection or even adoration. Instead, it's a force so strong that it's nearly violent. For the speaker, love does, and should, eradicate the identities of the people involved. Therefore, the speaker claims to be indistinguishable from his lover (and vice versa). This indistinguishability is quite literal in some ways: for instance, the speaker describes himself and his lover being physically entwined to such an extent that it's not clear which limbs belong to whom. Love doesn't only dissolve individual identities: it also destroys any other obstacles in its path, rendering conflicts moot before they even begin. In fact, the only conflict that seems to remain in the face of the speaker's love is his struggle to articulate the intensity and power of that love.
At the start of this poem, the speaker ticks off a number of things that his love is dissimilar to, all of them flamboyant and familiar symbols of love: roses, fire, and precious stones. In the end, the speaker concludes, his love is too strongly felt to warrant such a showy and visible comparison. Somewhat paradoxically, it can only be compared to subtler objects, like a plant that is alive but not blooming. Moreover, the speaker says, his love comes from somewhere between "the shadow and the soul," which seems to be a way of saying that it's associated with dark, abstract, and invisible things. Overall, then, the speaker's love is strong but not flashy. It is internal and private, and therefore best expressed through quiet, subtle imagery.
Love Sonnet XVII (I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,) Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Love Sonnet XVII (I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,) is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
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.