Pablo Neruda, who was born in Chile, is the best-known and most influential Latin American poet of our times. Pablo Neruda’s Sonnet XVII demonstrates the characteristics of a sonnet. It consists of fourteen lines with line break of 4-4-3-3. The sonnet was originally written in Spanish therefore the rhyme does not flow as smoothly as it does in Spanish. The sentiment of the poem is perfectly projected in the sonnet form. By analyzing the sonnet, we can see that Neruda displays a clear understanding of the form.
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The second half of the first stanza answers this question. The lines read: “I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, /in secret, between the shadow and the soul” (39). Instead of flowers, Neruda compares his love to dark things, which raises the question: How do you love dark things? Neruda answers this by responding “secretly, between the shadow and the soul” (39). This line shows that he keeps his love deep in his soul. It describes the emotional placement of his love. When we love someone, we feel it deep in our soul and heart; we do not think about how much we love flowers or rainbows. This line is the sonnet’s problem statement and the sonnet follows this lines theme throughout the poem.
The sonnet continues with an addition to the sentiment introduced in the first stanza. The fist two lines carry the same tone of love: “I love you as the plant that never blooms/ but carries in itself the light of the hidden flowers;” (39). This line shows how he keeps his love inside him and although we may not see it, he is content. The “light” is symbolic for the love that he keeps inside that makes him flourish. This describes how love may not be tangible, but is felt inside as the same love that is compared to flowers. The stanza’s continues by adding: “thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance, /risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body” (39). Neruda explains how her love is fed through the earth and into his soul where he keeps it. He uses the word “darkly” to show that he keeps her love deep in his soul to protect it.
So far, in the sonnet, we have seen Neruda describe how he loves from the darkness of his soul. This idea is shown in the third stanza: “I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where” (39). This shows how raw his love is. He loves from the depths of his soul and he freely shows it. He does not use the traditional tone of a love poem; therefore, his love becomes very instinctual. The idea is extended in the next line, “I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride; / so I love you because I know no other way” (39). Here he explains how he does not allow his pride to refrain him from expressing his love the only way he knows, instinctively.
The sonnet concludes by expressing the harmony of love and how two become one. He begins by saying, “that this: where I does not exist, nor you” (39), this is an enjambment from the previous line and is self-explanatory. He is saying love has no “I” or “you”, an illustration of unity. He then finalizes the idea by adding: “so close that your hand on my chest is my hand, /so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep” (39). This closes the sonnet beautifully by showing how his love allows him to become so close to his lover that she becomes an extension of him.
The major theme in this poem is love. Love can be felt in many levels and Neruda uses a very straightforward technique that is very effective. Neruda does a wonderful job of showing a love poem does not have to be about flowers and rainbows for it to be effective. He is able to make this poem very real and focus on the human psyche of a man and love.
The sonnet follows a unique rhyme scheme different from the traditional rhyme scheme. Neruda writes this sonnet as a Petrarchan, which would follow a rhyme scheme of abab cdcd cde cde. The translated version does not follow a rhyme scheme, but looking at the original Spanish version, we see the rhyme scheme. The octave ends with the words: “topacio,” “fuego,” “oscuras,” “alma,” “lleva,” “flores,” “cuerpo,” and “tierra” (Neruda 38). These words give us a rhyme scheme of aabc cbac. In the sestet the lines end with the words: “dónde,” “orgullo,” “manera,” “eres,” “mía,” and “sueño” (38). These words give the sestet a rhyme scheme of bac bca. After analyzing the rhyme scheme in each line, we end up with an overall scheme of aabc cbac bac bca. If we look at the traditional rhyme scheme, of abab cdcd cde cde, we notice that Neruda uses the pattern, but in a different order.
The change in the rhyme scheme makes the sonnet his. Neruda changes the form to harmonize it to the tone of the sonnet. Neruda’s sonnet express the emotion of love in a unique fashion, which contradicts traditional love sonnets like, Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Neruda is not comparing love to a summer’s day; instead, he describes love as a powerful emotion kept within the darkness of the soul. The fact the Neruda decides to break away from the traditional rhyme pattern parallels the theme of his anti-traditional love sonnet.
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I first read this poem several years back and immediately I was captivated with Pablo Neruda’s work. This sonnet gives me a powerful emotional response. The way the poem is placed into a sonnet helps build the sentiment that the poem is portraying. The ideas are expressed beautifully in each stanza and the lines break perfectly. Each line expresses a new emotion and creates a perfect enjambment with the next line. Each stanza projects different levels of the emotion that can stand alone, but work brilliantly together.
The one aspect of this sonnet that I enjoy the most is the break away from the traditional love poem. It seems most loves poems were written from a similar template. The traditional love poem has become cliché and to read a modern poet write in the same fashion is unoriginal. This sonnet broke away from the traditional template and created voyage into the human spirit where love grows. Neruda’s originality makes me love this poem.
I have read this sonnet countless times and it still manages to manifest an emotional response. I have always been a fan of love poems and the emotion shown in this sonnet is original and inspiring. As an aspiring poet, I have made Neruda’s style the standard that I desire to achieve.
The sonnet has come a long way from its origin in Sicily. Whether it is a Petrarchan or Shakespearian sonnet one thing has not changed and that is the beauty of the poem. The sonnet is beautiful and it has become the transcript of the human soul. The modern sonnet has evolved from its very structured form to a variation of forms that display the characteristics of the sonnet. Pablo Neruda’s Sonnet XVII is a wonderful example of how the sonnet has evolved. Neruda has written countless sonnets and he does not use one single form. Each sonnet is specially altered to fit the theme and tone of the poem and it still projects the beauty of the form.
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