‘One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII’ by Pablo Neruda is a fourteen line sonnet that has been separated into three stanzas. The first two stanzas contain four lines, and are known as quatrains. The last stanza has six lines and is known as a sextet. While sonnets are generally contained within one block of text, they commonly follow this same pattern (of a two quatrains and a sestet). The pattern (regardless of rhyme) comes closest to the Petrarchan sonnet, named after the poet, Francesco Petrarca.
The space between the two sections of the poem is called the “turn.” This means that something about the poem, whether that is the speaker, subject matter, or opinion of the narrator, changes. The second half of a sonnet often also contains an answer to a question asked in the first or an elaboration on the details of the first.
It is also important to note that Sonnet XVII was translated from the original Spanish. That means that any pattern of rhyme or rhythm has been lost. It was originally published in the collection, Cien sonetos de amor or 100 Love Sonnets. Neruda published the poem in Argentina in 1959. It was dedicated to Neruda’s wife, Matilde. He separated the collection into four sections, morning, afternoon, evening and night.
Even without access to the title of the collection this work appears in, a reader will immediately understand that this piece is about love. The word appears nine times in the text and the speaker spends the entire first two stanzas attempting to relate his feelings of love to other objects. You can read the full poem here.
Summary of One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII
‘One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII’ by Pablo Neruda describes the love he feels and how it surpasses any previous definition of what love could be.
In the first stanza the speaker lists out a few things that his love is not like. These objects, a rose and a flaming arrow, are traditional representatives of love. His emotions go far beyond the physical. They exist deeper, and are present in the “shadow and the soul.” This makes it seem as if his emotions are forbidden, or so ephemeral they cannot be pegged down to anything as trite as a rose.
The next section describes how his love is going to exist no matter what. It is like the love one would feel for a flower that is not blooming, existing needless of exterior beauty. In the final lines the speaker gives up trying to define his love through metaphor. He admits that he loves this person and that is that. There is no better way to put it.
Analysis of One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII
In the first stanza the speaker begins by telling his lover about a few things that don’t represent his love. Although not mentioned explicitly in this piece, Neruda dedicated the collection Sonnet XVII appeared in to his third wife. This makes it likely that she was the intended listener and the lover to whom he refers. Neruda is utilizing the second person perspective in this piece in order to broaden the range of people the words could refer to. This makes it easier for the reader to see these lines applying to their own life.
The speaker states he doesn’t “love you” as he might love a “rose of salt, topaz.” A “rose of salt” likely refers to a flower that grows near the ocean and takes in salt water. He also mentions the mineral “topaz.” It can appear in a number of different hues, from orange to blue and brown. Both of these things are beautiful and somewhat precious or rare.
In the next line the speaker presents another vague image. He describes an,
[…] arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
It is easiest to take this statement at face value. He doesn’t love his partner as one would love the brightness of a flaming arrow. At this point it is fairly easy to see the reasoning behind the comparison the speaker is attempting. She is not the same as these symbols of love and beauty are. There is something else to their relationship beyond the traditional patterns and aesthetics of love.
In the next two lines the speaker describes how it is that he does love his partner. He states that their love is the same as the love of “obscure” or dark, “things.” There is no clear description about what these dark things are. Perhaps he is referring to the power of a love that is forbidden, it is located somewhere between “the shadow and the soul.” This could also be a comparison between the physical and the ephemeral. His love cannot be nailed down to the image of a rose or a flaming arrow, it exists elsewhere.
In the second quatrain the speaker continues his metaphorical descriptions of his love. The first line re-emphasizes the fact that his love is not based on beauty. He states that it is closer to how one would feel about a,
[…] plant that doesn’t bloom but carries
The light of those flowers, hidden
Compared to the previous images, this one is a fairly clear. His love is not dependent on a flower being in full bloom and at the pinnacle of its beauty. It exists internally, he loves something about this person that is deeper than the skin. This means that no matter if it is winter or summer his love would not change.
The second line adds onto this fact by stating that he is able to see into the flower, past what might be its dead exterior, to the “light” that is hidden. He knows it is going to emerge in the spring but for now it is carried around silently.
In the next two lines the speaker thanks his lover for the way that she is. She gives off a “tight” or quickening aroma that has seeped into his body and changed him. The feelings she gave him are only growing, as a plant would, within his “body.” These two lines mirror the ones that came before them. The speaker keeps the love he feels inside his body just like his lover (like a flower) keeps her light and beauty inside her.
The first two sections of the poem were devoted to attempts at defining what his love is like. In the final six lines he gives up trying to clear his feelings up through metaphors. Instead he takes a more straightforward approach and states that he simply loves her no matter what happens. The first two lines put this sentiment very beautifully, the speaker says that he loves her,
[…] without knowing how, or when, or from where,
[He loves her] directly without problems or pride:
His love is not defined or plagued by exterior problems or those which he might create for himself. So far the speaker has presented his love with this person as very singular. It does not exist in any other place. In the third line of the stanza though he states that he loves her this way because he doesn’t know how else to love. This makes his participation in the relationship more important and actually goes against the previous statement about pride. He is clearly proud of his own fidelity and purity of heart.
The final three lines speak to the way the lovers have become interconnected. When they are together the “hand upon [his] chest” is both hers and his. At the same time the “eyes” that close at night belong to them both. The two have grown so close, and learned to love one another so well that they’re becoming the same person.