The Weekly Verse: One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII by Pablo Neruda

9 July 2014 by 8 Comments


It’s Pablo Neruda’s birthday this Saturday the 12th. Or, rather, what would have been his birthday if he was still alive. I see-sawed hard with this one, knowing that I wanted to honor Neruda in some way, but also share the right poem. Because, ya know, with poetry we get all wrapped into what’s right and what’s not.

We’ll get to that in a moment though–Neruda first.

A poet from the age of 13 to his death, Neruda was at once a romantic, erotic poet, but also a writer of surreal poems, historical epics, political manifestos, and prose poems. His selected works number close to 50. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971. On top of writing poetry, Neruda was also heavily involved in politics throughout his life. He:

  • Worked diplomatic posts in Rangoon, Mexico City, and Spain among others
  • Was elected as a Communist party senator in Chile
  • Wrote an ode on the anniversary of Stalin’s death and wrote poetry in praise of Fidel Castro
  • Was nominated for president in Chile (though he ended up giving his support to Salvador Allende)

This is A LOT of stuff you guys, enough that it makes me tired to even consider how he had time for all of these things. It’s amazing. And so, when I considered the poem for this week, I wanted something that paid homage to his political work as well as that dense back-list of poetry he has.

Over and over again, though, I kept coming back to the one poem that hooked me to Neruda in the first place. It’s a simple love poem, so it didn’t feel like the Poetry I should be sharing here. Why there’s that unconscious desire to think of important poetry as only the type that deals with death, or war, or the mysteries of life is a topic for an entirely different post.

So, I said fuck it.

I love this poem, “XVII” from One Hundred Love Sonnets. I loved it enough to have it read at my wedding because, for me, it encapsulates that scary, fierce, all-pervasive side of love. It reminds me of those hours I have spent with my husband that felt like they were spent alone because we so easily coexist near each other. It’s a weird thing to put into words, but somehow Neruda does it here. And he does it damn well. [Ed note: I also used this at my own wedding. Yay, love!]

One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII

By Pablo Neruda
I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose
from the earth lives dimly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.


Nikki is a freelance writer who talks about booksluttery during the day, food at night as a contributing editor at, and combines both over at her blog, You can find her random dog photos, squees, and rants on Twitter @nnsteele.

8 thoughts on “The Weekly Verse: One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII by Pablo Neruda

  1. I adore those final two lines…though I can’t quite tell if they continue the thought of the third-to-last line (i.e. the speaker and his beloved are not so close that they merge into one person), or if they are a separate thought (i.e. the love between the speaker and his beloved is such that they do not exist as separate identities, but as a single entity). The former interpretation makes those last two lines sound slightly satirical, as if the speaker is rolling his eyes at other love poems that — in his view — exaggerate or melodramatize the concept. Or maybe he’s defending his experience of love as valid despite its non-conformity with other poets’ descriptions.

    Personally, I prefer the latter interpretation, though it always reminds me of that one sad scene from Patch Adams (interesting fact…the love interest was completely made up for the movie, for extra drama’s sake. She didn’t actually exist in real life).

  2. I think you chose correctly. That poem is so iconic. One of my favorites. Neruda writes about romance without the fluff. It’s real. Earthy. Gritty. And I love it.

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