Poetry Analysis: Sonnet XVII by Pablo Neruda
“You… you complete me. ” – Jerry Maguire
Love forms an essential part of all relationships. However, what exactly is love? This bizarre emotion has long been regarded as a mystery. Although love creates many trials and tribulations, it has done wondrous things as well. It has the potential to unite enemies, and bring about peace. In reverse, it also has the potential to turn best friends into enemies, and the capability to create wars. In Romeo and Juliet, it united two star-crossed lovers and defeated the raging feud between two families. In the Iliad, Helen of Troy started the Trojan War, because her lover had spirited her away from her husband. Love has the ability to bring out the best and the worst characteristics of a person. While some believe that love is only an illusion created by social expectations, true love does, in fact, exist. The pure love between a mother and her child will never be destroyed by human imperfection. The magical bonds between humans and animals traverse across many barriers. A survey of love will reveal one major thing: it is eternal and cannot be fully described using mortal words. Through both imagistic (personification, Volta, simile) and auditory (alliteration, enjambement, free verse) devices, Pablo Neruda’s idea of love is contemplated through this analysis of his 17th sonnet.
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Although countless poets have written about love, no one has really captured the true essence of this secretive emotion. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties. ” On this note, does what we define as “true love” even exist? To a poet like Pablo Neruda, love can mean many things. In this sonnet, he explores the theme of love in a very intimate way. The affection that a pair of lovers holds for each other is intense and profound: they seem like one entire identity, seamlessly merged together by the bond that they share. Through “…where I does not exist, nor you, / so close that your hand upon my chest is my hand, /…” it is revealed that, between these two people, there exists a secret world where reality holds no value. It is a love that is not definable by any mortal means. Nor is this love able to be seen by our incapable eyes. With this intent in mind, the lover declares his passionate feelings through a quiet repose: “I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, /in secret, between the shadow and the soul.” Unlike the love of our modern age, this love is pure—untainted by any lust or sin. This is the type of love that will last throughout life and…perhaps, even to the beyond. In fact, it seems like nothing will be able to break this beautiful bond apart.
There are several imagistic devices used in this sonnet. One of these devices is personification. This is where nonhuman things, animals, and ideas are given human qualities. It appears in “…or the arrow of the carnations the fire shoots off.” Although fire is non-living, this exquisite phrase is used to describe how passionate and vibrant fire is. It almost seems like its shooting off sparks on its own. With this, Neruda is dedicating his love without any vanity or pride. There is also a Volta between the last few lines: “so I love you because I know no other way/than this: where I does not exist, nor you.” A Volta is the place at which a distinct turn of thought occurs. While the beginning of the poem talks about the kind of love that a person feels for another, the tone at this part drastically changes so that the writer is contemplating the united existence between two lovers. This poem doesn’t contain the stereotypical Shakespearean descriptions; instead, it explores the bare nakedness and the intimacy that comes with completely surrendering yourself to another. At the very beginning of the poem, a simile (a figure of speech, which makes a direct comparison between two unlike objects with “like,” “as,” or “than”) is found. The writer starts off with “I do not love you as if you were salt-rose or topaz.” Indeed, this selfless love for his companion contains no sin: greed, lust, and vanity hold no priority. He compares her not to a beautiful salt-rose or an expensive topaz. She is just simply his lover.
... because the beloved has become the most precious thing in the universe to the lover: Someone to be nurtured, cared for, and ... are letting out our emotions. Some emotions, though, such as love, are more difficult to illustrate than others. Often people resort ... mind, though, into believing, acting, and doing things in certain ways. This is where love is blind. Just as I had seen ...
Within this sonnet, there are also several auditory devices used. One example is alliteration: “I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.” This is the intentional repetition of similar initial sounds in two or more words. In this case, it is the “w” sound. Enjambement (the breaking of a phrase, clause, or sentence by the end of a line or between two verses) is shown in the phrases “…because I know no other way/than this…” To continue on the sentence, you have to reach into the next line. In Sonnet XVII, there is no rhyme scheme. Indeed, it is considered to be a free verse. This is a style of poetry that does not use strict meters, rhythm, or rhyme. Because of this, the endings “…topaz/…off/…loved/…soul” does not rhyme with each other. However, because of this fact, the ideas tend to flow together much more smoothly.
Have you ever wondered about what is the thing that can bring heroes to their knees? Love, the emotion that created countless disasters, is one of the most powerful things in this world. In Neruda’s Sonnet XVII, a mixture of bewitching imagistic devices and exotic auditory devices are used to explore this particular perspective on love. This undying love cannot be defined by any mortal words. Untainted by any ulterior motives, it is a pure thing in its own right. Instead of a blazing passion, this conception of love is much more discrete. It is not like the daring escapades between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, or the quiet affections of innocent school children. Although people do not last very long, love is an everlasting rhythm that haunts our hearts. Life flows through the sands of time like a gentle song… In this waltz of life, love is what motivates the dancers. Each relationship has a different rhythm and melody. After all, the feeling of love is different for everybody. However, the truth remains the same:
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Because of love, this song is beautiful. Because of love, this song is eternal.