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Light v. Darkness, “A Song of Despair”
As with many of Neruda’s works, this poem toys with the ideas of light and darkness (read: night and day). This poem details the heartbreak that the narrator feels at the hands of his past and lost lover. In this poem, the man was tricked and wooed by a woman whose intentions were less than savory. Despite the fact that the woman left him, the narrator cannot help but reminiscence on their times together—which only furthers his sadness and heartbreak. In this way, the present time (his time of mourning and recollection) are symbolized by the night/darkness. In the present, the man is trapped in his memories and without his lover. As a result, the present is a dark and upsetting time for the man, filled with sorrow and grief. The past, however, during which he remembers the time he spent with this lover are symbolized by the day/light. This woman, who was the light of his life, made everything brighter. As a result, these moments of reminiscing—during which he is transported into the past—are representative of the lighter times in the narrator’s life.
Feminine Symbolism, “A Song of Despair”
The entirety of this poem is based off of the narrator’s sorrow at having his heart broken by a woman who has long since disappeared. This poem is a note to her, in which he proclaims his love, sorrow, and anger at her disappearance. He describes her as numerous and contradictory things, including beautiful, a pit, raging, the sea, dangerous, and alluring. In this way, the woman is symbolic of women and the way they are able to use their bodies and minds to trick and trap men. The feminine symbols of the narrator’s past lover liken her to many objects that are both beautiful and destructive. In this way, the feminine elements of the poem symbolize how women are complex, nuanced, beautiful, alluring, and (above all) dangerous. Though women have the power to comfort and protect, the narrator argues, they are in fact a destructive force.
Nautical Elements, “A Song of Despair”
The sea and waves play a very prominent role in this poem and in the narrator’s psyche. The narrator speaks often of the looming and tumultuous sea. He associates the raging sea with his lost and deceptive lover. In this way, the raging water is repetitive of the woman’s power and frightening beauty. Much like the sea, the woman could be calm and appealing or violent and destructive. The narrator also mentions the sea in relation to sailors. This is highly suggestive of the woman’s sexual nature. He suggests that, just like the sea (and just like him), the woman befriends sailors (men) and toys with their bodies and emotions before abandoning them, leaving broken hearts in her wake. Much like the sea, the woman has an alluring nature about her. She is dangerously appealing and beautiful.
Darkness, "Love Sonnet 17"
Though this is a poem about love—and though the poem includes a title with the word love—this poem does channel a bit of darkness. In fact, Neruda uses this poem to point out the hazardous and dangerous nature of love. When it comes to identifying precisely what darkness lurks in this relationship, however, the narrator is particularly ambiguous. Though the likens his love for the woman to the way we love “certain dark things,” he never specifies what these “certain dark things” might be. In this way, the darkness that the narrator often refers to symbolizes the dark and mysterious components that lurk in the midst of love. It is suggestive of the fact that perhaps the love between these two characters if forbidden or secretive.
Flowers, "Love Sonnet 17"
Flowers and plants are common tropes that are used when it comes to poems about love and beauty. Though “Love Sonnet 17” utilizes this trope by comparing the woman to beautiful plants, Neruda uses these symbols in various ways. Unlike most poems, which compare women to the most beautiful and vibrant flowers around, the narrator of this poem compares his lover to a plant that does not produce a flower. He suggests that his love for this woman is not the same as his love for beautiful flowers. Rather, he compares her to the type of flowers that keep their beauty hidden within. In this way, flowers are a symbol for inner beauty and genuine love, which runs much deeper than physical appearances. The flowers are also symbolic due to their aromatic nature. The aroma of these flowers symbolizes the powerful and strong feelings the narrator shares with his lover. In this way, flowers are symbolic representations of the intense and genuine love that is shared between the narrator and the woman.
Intimacy, "Love Sonnet 17"
Given that this is a poem about love and affection, it’s hardly surprising that love and intimacy play important symbolic roles in this poem. Intimacy is most aptly utilized in this poem through the narrator’s discussions about individuality. The narrator frequently makes reference to how close he is to his lover. So close are they, in fact, that the woman can see the narrator’s dreams. The narrator suggests that their love is so intimate that their bodies and ideas have, in fact, become one. Their individual natures and personalities have merged together, forming a single, combined existence. In this way, intimacy is a dangerous symbol, as it suggests that too much intimacy can lead to the abolishment of the individual mind. When we give ourselves so completely to someone else, we forget to live independently, and we forget who we were before we became dependent upon that person. The intimacy of this poem symbolizes the closeness of love and how the narrator and the woman have become so close and intimate that they have practically become one person.
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Pablo Neruda: Poems Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Pablo Neruda: Poems is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.