Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto (1904 – 1973), known by his pen name Pablo Neruda, was a Chilean poet and politician. He became known as a poet when he was only 10 years old and when he was 19, his poetry collection Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair made him a household name in Latin America. It is difficult to classify Neruda’s poetry as it is extremely diverse. It may be considered to have developed in four main directions: love poetry, with collections like Twenty Love Poems and 100 Love Sonnets; “material poetry” of acclaimed books like Residence on Earth; epic poetry, best represented by Canto General; and poetry of common, everyday things, of which the Elementary Odes is the most famous example. Pablo Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 and he has been called “the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language.” Here are his 10 most famous poems.
#10 Ode To Tomatoes
|Chilean Title:||Oda al tomate|
The street filled with tomatoes, midday, summer, light is halved like a tomato, its juice runs through the streets. In December, unabated, the tomato invades the kitchen, it enters at lunchtime, takes its ease on countertops, among glasses, butter dishes, blue saltcellars. It sheds its own light, benign majesty. Unfortunately, we must murder it: the knife sinks into living flesh, red viscera, a cool sun, profound, inexhaustible, populates the salads of Chile, happily, it is wed to the clear onion, and to celebrate the union we pour oil, essential child of the olive, onto its halved hemispheres, pepper adds its fragrance, salt, its magnetism; it is the wedding of the day, parsley hoists its flag, potatoes bubble vigorously, the aroma of the roast knocks at the door, it's time! come on! and, on the table, at the midpoint of sumer, the tomato, star of earth, recurrent and fertile star, displays its convolutions, its canals, its remarkable amplitude and abundance, no pit, no husk, no leaves or thorns, the tomato offers its gift or fiery color and cool completeness.
One of the major works of Pablo Neruda, Elementary Odes, was published in three volumes between 1954 and 1957. Odes are usually formal poems written as a tribute to the extraordinary. However, Neruda’s odes were like nothing what people had ever read. They were addressed to everyday objects, situations and beings like an onion, a cat, French fries, a boy with a hare, etc. In Ode To Tomatoes, Neruda primarily presents a fascinating description of the blood-red tomato that “beds cheerfully” with other vegetables in the preparation of a salad. Though it can be simply seen as a poem on the value of tomatoes; Ode To Tomatoes can also be interpreted as addressing more complex themes related to Chilean history and culture. It is one of Neruda’s most famous odes.
#9 Sonnet LXVI: I Do Not Love You Except Because I Love You
|Chilean Title:||Soneto LXVI|
|Collection:||100 Love Sonnets|
I do not love you except because I love you; I go from loving to not loving you, From waiting to not waiting for you My heart moves from cold to fire. I love you only because it's you the one I love; I hate you deeply, and hating you Bend to you, and the measure of my changing love for you Is that I do not see you but love you blindly. Maybe January light will consume My heart with its cruel Ray, stealing my key to true calm. In this part of the story I am the one who Dies, the only one, and I will die of love because I love you, Because I love you, Love, in fire and blood.
Published in 1959, Pablo Neruda’s 100 Love Sonnets is one of his most famous works. The work is dedicated to his third wife Matilde Urrutia; and its poems are divided into the four stages of the day: morning, afternoon, evening and night. The sonnets of the collection remain hugely popular and have been translated into English numerous times by various scholars. Sonnet LXVI may be interpreted as talking about the conflicting feelings the narrator has to go through due to unrequited love. A poem with which many people can relate, Love Sonnet LXVI remains one of Neruda’s most popular poems. Its opening line is especially very well-known.
#8 Your Laughter
|Chilean Title:||Tu risa|
|Collection:||The Captain’s Verses|
Take bread away from me, if you wish, take air away, but do not take from me your laughter. Do not take away the rose, the lance flower that you pluck, the water that suddenly bursts forth in joy, the sudden wave of silver born in you. My struggle is harsh and I come back with eyes tired at times from having seen the unchanging earth, but when your laughter enters it rises to the sky seeking me and it opens for me all the doors of life. My love, in the darkest hour your laughter opens, and if suddenly you see my blood staining the stones of the street, laugh, because your laughter will be for my hands like a fresh sword. Next to the sea in the autumn, your laughter must raise its foamy cascade, and in the spring, love, I want your laughter like the flower I was waiting for, the blue flower, the rose of my echoing country. Laugh at the night, at the day, at the moon, laugh at the twisted streets of the island, laugh at this clumsy boy who loves you, but when I open my eyes and close them, when my steps go, when my steps return, deny me bread, air, light, spring, but never your laughter for I would die.
This poem begins with the speaker declaring to his beloved that he depends on her laughter more than food and even the air he breathes. He goes on to describe the troubles he has had to face in his life and how the laughter of his beloved has helped him get through the difficult times. Your Laughter is seen as poem regarding an adverse situation and about the one thing which helps one endure it. The laughter is the main focus of the poem and it can be seen as a metaphor for the thing that keeps the speaker going. The poem is rich in metaphors and symbolism.
#7 Ode to My Socks
|Chilean Title:||Oda a los calcetines|
|Collection:||New Elementary Odes|
Maru Mori brought me a pair of socks which she knitted herself with her sheepherder’s hands, two socks as soft as rabbits. I slipped my feet into them as though into two cases knitted with threads of twilight and goatskin. Violent socks, my feet were two fish made of wool, two long sharks sea-blue, shot through by one golden thread, two immense blackbirds, two cannons: my feet were honored in this way by these heavenly socks. They were so handsome for the first time my feet seemed to me unacceptable like two decrepit firemen, firemen unworthy of that woven fire, of those glowing socks. Nevertheless I resisted the sharp temptation to save them somewhere as schoolboys keep fireflies, as learned men collect sacred texts, I resisted the mad impulse to put them into a golden cage and each day give them birdseed and pieces of pink melon. Like explorers in the jungle who hand over the very rare green deer to the spit and eat it with remorse, I stretched out my feet and pulled on the magnificent socks and then my shoes. The moral of my ode is this: beauty is twice beauty and what is good is doubly good when it is a matter of two socks made of wool in winter.
Pablo Neruda aimed at taking elitism out of poetry and reaching a wider audience through his Elementary Odes, which celebrate the beauty of the unappreciated common things; and his odes did receive immediate and universal praise. In this poem, Neruda receives a pair of woolen socks from Maru Mori, the wife of his friend, the Chilean painter Camilo Mori. He then elevates the status of these socks to such an extent that he is tempted not to wear them. However, despite all his admiration for the socks, he ultimately sticks his feet out and pulls them on. The Elementary Odes of Neruda are among his most acclaimed works and Ode to My Socks is the most famous of his Elementary Odes.
#6 Walking Around
|Chilean Title:||Galope Muerto (Dead Gallop)|
|Collection:||Residence on Earth|
It so happens I am sick of being a man. And it happens that I walk into tailorshops and movie houses dried up, waterproof, like a swan made of felt steering my way in a water of wombs and ashes. The smell of barbershops makes me break into hoarse sobs. The only thing I want is to lie still like stones or wool. The only thing I want is to see no more stores, no gardens, no more goods, no spectacles, no elevators. It so happens I am sick of my feet and my nails and my hair and my shadow. It so happens I am sick of being a man. Still it would be marvelous to terrify a law clerk with a cut lily, or kill a nun with a blow on the ear. It would be great to go through the streets with a green knife letting out yells until I died of the cold. I don’t want to go on being a root in the dark, insecure, stretched out, shivering with sleep, going on down, into the moist guts of the earth, taking in and thinking, eating every day. I don’t want so much misery. I don’t want to go on as a root and a tomb, alone under the ground, a warehouse with corpses, half frozen, dying of grief. That’s why Monday, when it sees me coming with my convict face, blazes up like gasoline, and it howls on its way like a wounded wheel, and leaves tracks full of warm blood leading toward the night. And it pushes me into certain corners, into some moist houses, into hospitals where the bones fly out the window, into shoeshops that smell like vinegar, and certain streets hideous as cracks in the skin. There are sulphur-colored birds, and hideous intestines hanging over the doors of houses that I hate, and there are false teeth forgotten in a coffeepot, there are mirrors that ought to have wept from shame and terror, there are umbrellas everywhere, and venoms, and umbilical cords. I stroll along serenely, with my eyes, my shoes, my rage, forgetting everything, I walk by, going through office buildings and orthopedic shops, and courtyards with washing hanging from the line: underwear, towels and shirts from which slow dirty tears are falling.
Residence on Earth is a verse collection by Neruda published in three volumes in 1933, 1935 and 1947. The series is known for its philosophical examination of the theme of universal decay; and for its fierce, anguished tone mixed with Surrealistic pessimism. Walking Around is perhaps the most well-known poem of the acclaimed series. It takes a horrid look at society from the point of view of the struggling classes. The narrator feels sick of the world due to its focus on material goods. He is so upset that he even turns against himself. Yet he thinks that it would be “delightful” to “scare a notary with a cut lily” or to “kill a nun with a jab to the ear.” This is perhaps a reference to shaking up the bureaucracy and challenging the church. Walking Around is seen as a powerful expression of disgust regarding the destruction of the world by the human race.
#5 Poem XV: I Like For You To Be Still
|Chilean Title:||Poema XV: Me gustas cuando callas|
|Collection:||Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair|
I like for you to be still It is as though you are absent And you hear me from far away And my voice does not touch you It seems as though your eyes had flown away And it seems that a kiss had sealed your mouth As all things are filled with my soul You emerge from the things Filled with my soul You are like my soul A butterfly of dream And you are like the word: Melancholy I like for you to be still And you seem far away It sounds as though you are lamenting A butterfly cooing like a dove And you hear me from far away And my voice does not reach you Let me come to be still in your silence And let me talk to you with your silence That is bright as a lamp Simple, as a ring You are like the night With its stillness and constellations Your silence is that of a star As remote and candid I like for you to be still It is as though you are absent Distant and full of sorrow So you would've died One word then, One smile is enough And I'm happy; Happy that it's not true
Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair was published in 1924 when Pablo Neruda was just 19 years old. Considering Neruda was just 19, the work was controversial for its eroticism but it immediately established his reputation and it went on to become his most popular book. The love poems of the collection describe his remembrance of two love affairs while the closing poem is “a Song of Despair” as the title suggests. In this poem, the speaker embraces the silence of his beloved; celebrates her absence; derives pleasure from imagining her to be so distant as though she is dead; but ultimately states that he is happy that she is not dead. Poema 15 is one of the most enigmatic, analyzed and renowned works of Pablo Neruda.
#4 Sonnet XVII: I Do Not Love You
|Chilean Title:||Soneto XVII|
|Collection:||100 Love Sonnets|
I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz, or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off. I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul. I love you as the plant that never blooms but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers; thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance, risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body. I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride; so I love you because I know no other way than this: where I does not exist, nor you, so close that your hand on my chest is my hand, so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.
In this sonnet, the speaker begins by saying that he doesn’t love his beloved like one loves flowers or precious gems but instead “as certain dark things are loved”. He attempts to describe his love in the first eight lines, or the octave, of the poem; while in the last six lines, or the sestet, he admits the impossibility of the task. The dominant theme of the poem is love and the uniqueness in each individual’s feelings, which is difficult to put in words. Sonnet XVII is the most famous sonnet of Neruda’s acclaimed and widely translated collection of 100 Love Sonnets. Lines from the poem were used in the 1998 film Patch Adams, most notably in the climatic funeral scene.
#3 If You Forget Me
|Chilean Title:||Si tú me olvidas|
|Collection:||The Captain’s Verses|
I want you to know one thing. You know how this is: if I look at the crystal moon, at the red branch of the slow autumn at my window, if I touch near the fire the impalpable ash or the wrinkled body of the log, everything carries me to you, as if everything that exists, aromas, light, metals, were little boats that sail toward those isles of yours that wait for me. Well, now, if little by little you stop loving me I shall stop loving you little by little. If suddenly you forget me do not look for me, for I shall already have forgotten you. If you think it long and mad, the wind of banners that passes through my life, and you decide to leave me at the shore of the heart where I have roots, remember that on that day, at that hour, I shall lift my arms and my roots will set off to seek another land. But if each day, each hour, you feel that you are destined for me with implacable sweetness, if each day a flower climbs up to your lips to seek me, ah my love, ah my own, in me all that fire is repeated, in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten, my love feeds on your love, beloved, and as long as you live it will be in your arms without leaving mine.
The primary theme of this poem is that the speaker will move on, and not suffer, if his love is not reciprocated. If You Forget Me is written in a format that resembles a letter and Neruda frequently uses the pronoun “you” as if he is addressing someone, though this “you” may be symbolic of something. In the beginning of the poem, the speaker talks about how he is drawn toward the subject; in the middle, he declares that he will move on if the subject forgets him or stops loving him; and in the end, he reverts back to the positive, romantic tone of the beginning and writes how much he loves the subject. Though the poem appears to be a warning to a lover, the subject of the poem might be Neruda’s homeland, Chile, which was going through a civil war at the time.
#2 The Heights of Macchu Picchu
|Chilean Title:||Alturas de Machu Picchu|
|Collection:||Canto General (General Song)|
From breeze to breeze, like an empty net, at the advent of autumn, I wandered between the streets and the air, arriving and dispatching (the coins of the leaves reaching out, and, between springtime and sprigs of wheat) what the greatest love delivers to us like a long-setting moon, as if fitting into a falling glove. (Days of living radiance during the tempest of the bodies: steel blades converted by the silence of the acid: nights unraveled down to the last bit of flour: assaulted stamens in the nuptial homeland.) Someone who awaited me among the violins found a world like a buried tower sinking its spiral even below all the hoarse sulfur-colored leaves: lower, in geological layers of gold, like a sword wrapped in meteors I plunged my sweet and turbulent hand into the planet's genital innards. I placed my forehead among the deepest waves, I went down like a drop submerged in sulfuric peace, and, like a blind man, I went back to the jasmine of our squandered human springtime. Read Full Poem Here
Canto General is an epic work by Pablo Neruda consisting of 15 sections and 231 poems. Considered one of his most influential books, it focuses on the entire history of the New World from the perspective of a Hispanic American. This poem begins with the narrator describing his exhaustion with modern life, both his and that of his fellow human beings, while climbing up to Machu Picchu. On viewing the magnificent city of the Incas, he is captivated by it and thinks about the life of the ancient who built it. He concludes that their lives were as noble and also as meaningless as that of people today. Inspired by his 1943 visit to the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu in Peru, The Heights of Macchu Picchu is considered by many people as Neruda’s greatest work; and it is the most famous canto of his critically acclaimed epic Canto General.
#1 Poem XX: Tonight I Can Write The Saddest Lines
|Chilean Title:||Poema XX: Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche|
|Collection:||Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair|
Tonight I can write the saddest lines. Write, for example, 'The night is starry and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance.' The night wind revolves in the sky and sings. Tonight I can write the saddest lines. I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too. Through nights like this one I held her in my arms. I kissed her again and again under the endless sky. She loved me, sometimes I loved her too. How could one not have loved her great still eyes. Tonight I can write the saddest lines. To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her. To hear the immense night, still more immense without her. And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture. What does it matter that my love could not keep her. The night is starry and she is not with me. This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance. My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her. My sight tries to find her as though to bring her closer. My heart looks for her, and she is not with me. The same night whitening the same trees. We, of that time, are no longer the same. I no longer love her, that's certain, but how I loved her. My voice tries to find the wind to touch her hearing. Another's. She will be another's. As she was before my kisses. Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes. I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her. Love is so short, forgetting is so long. Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her. Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer and these the last verses that I write for her.
The poems in Neruda’s Veinte poemas follows a love story from initial infatuation to the passionate relationship and finally the separation. Poem 20, the penultimate poem of the collection, expresses the pain of the speaker due to the absence of his lover in his life as their relationship has fallen apart. Through the poem the speaker primarily recalls their passionate romance; mourns its loss; and expresses the difficulty he is experiencing in forgetting her. The poem brilliantly captures youthful melancholy and has a rhythmic flow due to the use of repetition by Neruda. Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair has sold over 20 million copies since its publication and it remains the best selling poetry book in the Spanish language ever. Poema 20 is the most famous poem of the most widely read poetry collection in Spanish.