Love Sonnet XI by Pablo Neruda

‘Love Sonnet XI’  (Sonnet 11) is one of Neruda’s best-known, and most loved, sonnets. It is one of several that he wrote that should be considered “love sonnets”. In this poem he focuses primarily on the theme of desire but also touches on others like human relationships and devotion/dedication.

 

Summary of Sonnet XI

‘Love Sonnet XI’ by Pablo Neruda is a powerful and deeply sensuous love poem that compares a speaker’s desire to the hunger of a prowling puma.

The poem takes the reader through all the things about a woman that the speaker is missing. His desire for her is overwhelming him, making him feel as though he is starving to death. Neruda uses a series of metaphors and similes, as well as hyperbolic language, to depict that hunger. In the end the poem concludes with a simile comparing the speaker to a puma prowling through the jungle looking for a much-needed meal. 

You can read the full poem here.

 

Structure of Sonnet XI

‘Sonnet XI’ by Pablo Neruda is a fourteen-line sonnet that is separated into four stanzas. The first and second are quatrains, meaning that they contain four lines while the third and fourth are tercets, meaning they contain three lines. Due to the fact that Neruda wrote in Spanish and this poem has been translated into English, there is no clear rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. 

 

Poetic Techniques in Sonnet XI

Despite going through the process of translation there are still several poetic techniques that a close reader can analyze in ‘Sonnet XI’. These include but are not limited to anaphora, hyperbole, and imagery. The latter is perhaps the most important. Imagery refers to the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. 

Traditionally, the word “image” is related to visual sights, things that a reader can imagine seeing, but imagery is much more than that. It is something one can sense with their five senses. There are numerous images that are worth calling attention to. But, the description of the woman’s body and the “sunbeam flaring” from it is one of the best. A reader can also look to the last line of the first stanza and the line “liquid measure of your steps” for another great example. 

Hyperbole is an intentionally exaggerated description, comparison or exclamation meant to further the writer’s important themes, or make a specific impact on a reader. There is a good example in line four of the second stanza where the speaker says that he wants to eat this woman’s body like aa “whole almond”. 

Neruda also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. Almost every sentence in this poem starts with the first person pronoun “I”. It appears at the beginning of seven lines.

 

Analysis of Sonnet XI

Stanza One 

In the first stanza of ‘Sonnet XI’ the speaker begins by listing out, quietly simply, the features of someone he loves and desires. He is separated from that person and in their absence he has begun to “crave” their “mouth,” “voice,” and “hair”. The word “crave” is the first in a series that compares desire to hunger. Other words and allusions will follow that continue this pattern of images. 

For example, in the next lines he uses words like “starving” and “prowl” to depict himself as an animal. He is a hunter seeking out this woman that he desires. There is an example of sibilance in the second line with “Silent,” “starving,” and “streets”. But, a reader has to remember that this piece was originally written in Spanish and this same technique may not have appeared in the original. 

There is another example of repetition, this time alliteration, in the third line with “does,” “dawn,” “disrupt,” and “day”. He is explaining how painful it is to go any period of time without this person, he is longing for her so painfully that it feels as if he is starving to death. The last line of this stanza is one of Neruda’s best known. It reads: “I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps”. There are a number of different interpretations around what this line could mean. Neruda is longing after the silent, sensuous way she moves. He compares it to light but powerful water moving smoothly through his life. It could also be connected to footprints, something a hunter might follow.

 

Stanza Two

In the second stanza the speaker continues in the same way, comparing lust to hunger and his own actions to those of a predator hunting for prey. He is hungering for her “sleek laugh” and her hands. He uses a metaphor to compare her hands to the “colour of a savage harvest”. This is a very bodily depiction that speaks to an emotional intensity that is quite intimate and that the reader is getting access to.

Her fingernails, he adds in the next lines, are “pale stones”. They’re small, delicate, and perfectly shaped as if by water. There is an example of hyperbole in the final line of this stanza when he says that he wants to “eat” her “skin like a whole almond”. This statement is added in order to show how series his emotions are. He feels as though a literal consumption is the only thing that he can compare his thoughts to.

 

Stanza Three 

The word “eat” appears two more times in the third stanza along with some powerful imagery. He paints a picture of her body as a “sunbeam flaring”. This brings in an image of something otherworldly, divine, warm, and worthy of being worshipped. 

Whoever this woman is, she is proud, the second line alludes to. This is seen through the use of the word “sovereign” and “arrogant”. She holds herself as a queen would. The last line depicts the “fleeting” or temporary shade that’s created hen this woman closes her eyes. 

 

Stanza Four 

In the last three lines of ‘Sonnet XI’ the speaker reemphasizes his animalistic nature. He is pacing like a hunter. He is “sniffing the twilight” seeking out “your hot heart” as a puma would. Neruda locates the poem in the last line, metaphorically, in the “barrens of Quitratu,” a region in Chile.  The last line is an example of a simile, it connects back to all the references to hunting and hunger that appeared in the text up until now. 

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