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Abandonment, " A Song of Despair"
At its core, this is a poem about the desolation and isolate of abandonment. In the poem, the narrator reminiscences about his once-beloved lover. As he thinks about this lost love, however, the narrator grows even more lonely and lost. Though the narrator never specifies whether or not the woman abandoned him, he feels a sense of desolation now they are parted. Neruda uses this sense of abandonment to further his ideas that love is a dangerous pursuit, one that can end in great riches or great loss. In this poem, he exemplifies the great loss that can be felt after a breakup or a parting of ways.
The Foolishness of Man, "A Song of Despair"
In this poem, the narrator describes the woman he once loved (and has since lost) as a treacherous sea that devours up pirates and sailors. In this way, he is suggesting that this woman did not pursue men for love, but for lust and fortune. He likens her to a storm, one that intentionally gobbles up and abuses men in her path. The narrator is essentially scolding himself for falling for such a woman and suggests that men are particularly foolish when it comes to women. He, like so many others, were taken in by her beauty and feminine wiles, but failed to notice the malice behind her actions.
The Power of Our Memories, "A Song of Despair"
Neruda purposefully abstains from offering readers any sort of timeline regarding this poem and these characters. It’s entirely unclear how long ago this love affair and subsequent heartbreak took place. This intentional decision is very powerful, as it exemplifies the power our memories hold over us. The opening lines of the poem depict a memory, one that the narrator simply cannot forget. These memories, which he clings desperately to, are all the narrator has left to remember his love affair. Though the relationship is clearly over, and the woman clearly gone, the man is obsessed with the memories of our time together; he clings to his recollections in a way that brings him only more sorrow. In this way, this poem is a cautionary tale that warns readers not to let memories of the past dictate the present.
Sadness, "A Song of Despair"
As the title suggests, this poem is not one of joy and happiness. It depicts the sorrow and heartbreak that wreaks havoc on the human body after a particularly emotional falling out. The narrator speaks of his lost love and laments the relationship he once had. In this way, this story is one of grief and sorrow. The narrator is grieving the loss of his relationship, but also the part of himself—of his heart—that is lover took when she left. In this way, there’s no doubt that sadness and despair are integral themes in this poem.
Identity, "Love Sonnet 17"
In this poem, Neruda speaks to the addictive but troubling nature of love. He suggests that love is a dangerous endeavor because it requires one to give up so much of him/herself. The love between the narrator and the lover is particularly dangerous and intense, namely because the two participants have given so much of themselves to the other that they have ceased to exist as their past themselves; their individual personalities have been erased. These two characters have become so intertwined with each other that they have lost their individual selves and have essentially become a part of each other. In this way, Neruda probes his readers to think about the sacrifices we make for love. He wants his readers to question whether or not love necessitates that its participants become one. Should the individual identity be compromised for the sake of the pair?
Love, "Love Sonnet 17"
Given the nature of the poem and its title, it is no surprise that love is an integral theme of “Love Sonnet 17.” The poem centers around the narrator, who describes his love for the woman through a series of comparisons. He likens his love for this woman to the beauty of precious gems and flowers. Though Neruda describes love as beautifully overwhelming, he also hints at the ambiguity of love. He hints at its addictive and potentially dangerous nature. To love someone else is to make a part of yourself more vulnerable—which is very risky. In short, Neruda aims to point out that love is complicated and not easily defined .
Love and Sex, "Body of A Woman"
The idea of reclaiming female sexuality can be contrasted with Pablo Neruda’s possessive yet love-fueled viewpoint of the female body in “Body of a Woman” from Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair due to the implications of the extended metaphor Neruda creates. To demonstrate, the first stanza establishes the body of a woman as land that subsequently was conquered:
Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs,
you look like a world, lying in surrender.
My rough peasant’s body digs in you
and makes the son leap from the depth of the earth (1-4).
As evident by the peasant representing man and land representing woman, the idea of the woman “lying in surrender” certifies Neruda’s beliefs about the commonplace stereotype in which women are sexually submissive to men (3). Also, through the creation of the extended metaphor, Neruda compares the conquest of land to the conquest of a woman; this is evident by creating hypersexual connotations such as “My rough peasant’s body digs in you / and makes the son leap from the depth of the earth,” implying intercourse followed by childbirth (3-4). However, the speaker also professes his love in an emotional way, stating “But the hour of vengeance falls, and I love you. / Body of skin, of moss, of eager and firm milk” (9-10). This conveys the admiration the speaker has for the woman described; he is in love with the beauty of her body, and will miss her if she were to leave. Despite the sexually possessive connotations of this poem- “I will persist in your grace. / My thirst, my boundless desire, my shifting road!” -it should be seen as an act of love versus an act of control (13-14). Neruda writes the poem from the perspective of a Chilean man during the times of the 1920s- himself -which provides reason for the perpetuation of sexual stereotypes between man and woman. Although this may be true, it is also true to say that this poem was created to comment on the sacredness of love.
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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.