Sonnet XVII (100 Love Sonnets, 1960)

I don’t love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as certain dark things are loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom and carries
hidden within itself the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you simply, without problems or pride:
I love you in this way because I don’t know any other way of loving

but this, in which there is no I or you,
so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.


Image by Cantus / CC Licensed

Pablo Neruda was born Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto in Parral, Chile on July 12, 1904. His mother died just weeks later, and his father discouraged his affinity for poetry, which he had displayed since the age of ten. His family’s disapproval drove the young Basoalto to write under the pseudonym of Pablo Neruda, which he officially adopted in 1946. Neruda was married three times– Chile did not officially recognize his second marriage. Although his published poetry was widely respected by the time he reached age twenty, Neruda found it necessary to follow his budding political career to Asia in order to make a living. In Europe in the 1930s he became involved in Communism, which would influence his later political actions as well as much of his poetry. In 1946 he successfully campaigned in Chile for the regime of Gabriel Gonzalez Videla, but he soon publicly expressed displeasure with Videla’s presidency and was forced to flee his homeland for several years. Neruda was very active in the Communist party and briefly ran for president against Allende. His poetry was also deeply inflected with his political perspective. Neruda was able to return to Chile in 1952, finally both wealthy and widely respected. In 1971 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He died of cancer at age 69 on September 23, 1973. By that time he was recognized as a national hero and the greatest Latin American poet of the twentieth century.

Literary Influences

As a boy Neruda attended Temuco Boys’ School; the principal of the Girls’ School was Gabriela Mistral.  Mistral was a well-respected poet, and later became a Nobel Laureate herself, and she encouraged a young Neruda to pursue his fascination with poetry. In 1933, Neruda met Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Garcia Lorca not only befriended Neruda and introduced him to influential Communists, he also publicly supported Neruda’s poetry. Neruda was interested in both national and international aspects of literature.  He translated foreign works by many older authors including William Blake and William Shakespeare, but he also closely read Spanish language poets like Garcia Lorca, Jorge Luis Borges, and Miguel de Cervantes. Throughout his career, though, Neruda credited Walt Whitman with his deepest inspiration; he once declared that “I, a poet who writes in Spanish, learned more from Walt Whitman than from Cervantes.” A carpenter once helped hang a picture of Walt Whitman in Neruda’s home; when he asked if this was a picture of the poet’s grandfather, Neruda replied that it was indeed (Nolan 4).


During his lifetime, Neruda seemed to experience the spectrum of emotional highs and lows very vividly, and his poetry clearly reflected this experience. In times of inspiration he was capable of unparalleled romanticism. His passionate love affairs often provided him with a living muse; his third wife brought him such inspiration from their marriage until his death. Despite his illness, Neruda was extremely happy during his final years in Chile, and his love for his country served as an equally powerful contributor to his poetry.  Neruda’s capacity for joy and reverence toward life is especially evident in works such as Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924) and 100 Love Sonnets (1960).

Even in times of great happiness, however, Neruda tended to slip dark imagery into his poetry. Indeed, read in a different light, even his love poems can be seen as a subtle but powerful cry against life’s tragedies. Neruda’s periods of happiness were interspersed with times of extreme depression, which often resurfaced during his travels in Europe and Asia. Neruda was often forced by politics or financial troubles to abandon his friends, his country, and even his wives; in such times the passion he had reserved for these loves often turned inward and resulted in a gnawing loneliness. The dark undertones in Neruda’s daily life also surfaced in his work. Just as he often published collections of love poems in times of joy, he sometimes composed “material” poems to exercise his affinity for the macabre. Residence on Earth (1935) is one example of a collection detailing the sinister energy Neruda was able to derive from everyday objects.

The ups and downs in Neruda’s personal life led him to seek out and attempt to describe the essence of life.  It was in this quest for understanding and oneness that he most closely resembled, and sometimes mimicked, Whitman. Like much of Whitman’s own work, many of Neruda’s poems, such as those found in his General Study (1950), were an attempt to discover and explain truths across separate themes. Such works tended to combine nature with nation, with history, and with freedom. Paradoxically, Neruda was also able to capture the intrinsic value inherent in plants, animals, and simple objects without unduly coloring the odes with emotion. His Elementary Odes (1954) also followed Whitman’s lead, and were heralded for their insightful brand of simplicity. Neruda’s greatest literary success was his ability to approach the grandiose and the minute, the tragic and the joyous,with equal patience and reverence.

List of Works

  • Neruda, Pablo. Antologia Esencial (Ed. Hernan Loyola; 1971)
  • —. Antologia General (1970)
  • —. Antologia Poetica (Ed. Pablo Luis Avila; 1962)
  • —. Arte de Pajaros (1966)
  • —. Aun (1959)
  • —. Bestiario (1958)
  • —. Cancion de Gesta (1960)
  • —. Canto General (1950)
  • —. Cantos Ceremoniales (1961)
  • —. Cien Sonetos de Amor (1960)
  • —. Crepusculario (1923)
  • —. Dulce Patria (1951)
  • —. Extravagario (1958)
  • —. Fin de Mundo (1969)
  • —. Geografia Infructuosa (1972)
  • —. Hondero Entusiasta (1932)
  • —. Incitacion al Nixoncidio y Alabanza de la Revolucion Chilena
  • —. La Barcarola (1967)
  • —. La Espada Encendida (1970)
  • —. La Rosa Separada (1972)
  • —. Las Manos del Dia (1968)
  • —. Las Piedras de Chile (1961)
  • —. Las Uvas y el Viento (1954)
  • —. Los Versos del Capitan (1954)
  • —. Memorial de Isla Negra (1964)
  • —. Navegaciones y Regresos (1959)
  • —. Nuevas Odas Elementales (1956)
  • —. Obra Poetica de Pablo Neruda (1948)
  • —. Obras Completas (1962)
  • —. Obras Completas (1968)
  • —. Odas Elementales (1954)
  • —. Plenos Poderes (1962)
  • —. Poesia Politica (1953)
  • —. Poesias (1965)
  • —. Residencia en la Tierra (1935)
  • —. Tentativa del Hombre Infinitivo (1926)
  • —. Todo el Amor (1953)
  • —. Viente Poemas de Amor y Una Cancion Desesperada (1924)


  • Neruda, Pablo. Antologia Poetica (1981)
  • —. Elegia (1974)
  • —. El Mar y las Campanas (1973)
  • —. Jardin del Invierno (1973)
  • —. Libro de las Preguntas (1974)
  • —. Pablo Neruda (Ed. Carlos Rafael Duverran; 1977)
  • —. 2000 (1974)

Works Cited

  • Nolan, James. Poet-Chief: The Native American Poetics of Walt Whitman and Pablo Neruda. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1994.

Selected Bibliography

  • Agosin, Marjorie. Pablo Neruda. Translated by Lorraine Ross. Boston: Twayne, 1986.
  • Nolan, James. Poet-Chief: The Native American Poetics of Walt Whitman and Pablo Neruda. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1994.
  • Perriam, Christopher. The Late Poetry of Pablo Neruda. Oxford: Dolphin Book Co., 1989.
  • Poirot, Luis. Pablo Neruda: Absence and Presence. Translated by Alastair Reed. New York: Norton, 1990.
  • Santi, Enrico Mario. Pablo Neruda, the Poetics of Prophecy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 1982.
  • Teitelboim, Volodia. Neruda: An Intimate Biography. Translated by Beverly J. DeLong-Tonelli. Austin, TX: University of Texas, 1992.
  • Woodbridge, Hensley C. and David S. Zubatsky. Pablo Neruda: An Annotated Bibliography of Biographical and Critical Studies. New York: Garland, 1988.

Related Links

Further information on Chile

Introduction to Marxism

Il Postino site

Nobel Prize

The Poetry Foundation

Author: Jesse Zitrin, Spring 1999
Last edited: May 2017


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