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 including The Heights of Macchu Picchu, Walking Around, Sonnet XVII, Poema 20 and Ode to My Socks.

 

#10 Ode To Tomatoes

Chilean Title: Oda al tomate

Collection: Odas elementales (Elementary Odes)

Published: 1954

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.

Excerpt:-

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.

 

#9 Sonnet LXVI: I Do Not Love You Except Because I Love You

Chilean Title: Soneto LXVI

Collection: Cien sonetos de amor (100 Love Sonnets)

Published: 1959

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.

Excerpt:-

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.

 

#8 Your Laughter

Chilean Title: Tu risa

Collection: Los versos del Capitán (The Captain’s Verses)

Published: 1952

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.

Excerpt:-

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.

 

#7 Ode to My Socks

Chilean Title: Oda a los calcetines

Collection: Neuvas odas elementales (New Elementary Odes)

Published: 1955

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.

Excerpt:-

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.

 

#6 Walking Around

Chilean Title: Galope Muerto (Dead Gallop)

Collection: Residencia en la tierra (Residence on Earth)

Published: 1935

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.

Excerpt:-

Yet it would be delicious

to frighten a notary with a cut lily

or do a nun to death with a box on the ear.

It would be fine

to go through the streets with a green knife,

letting out yells until I died of cold.

 

#5 Poem XV: I Like For You To Be Still

Chilean Title: Poema XV: Me gustas cuando callas

Collection: Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair)

Published: 1924

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.

Excerpt:-

I like for you to be still: it is as though you were absent,

distant and full of sorrow as though you had died.

One word then, one smile is enough.

And I am happy, happy that it’s not true.

 

#4 Sonnet XVII: I Do Not Love You

Chilean Title: Soneto XVII

Collection: Cien sonetos de amor (100 Love Sonnets)

Published: 1959

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.

Excerpt:-

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.

 

#3 If You Forget Me

Chilean Title: Si tú me olvidas

Collection: Los versos del Capitán (The Captain’s Verses)

Published: 1952

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.

Excerpt:-

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.

 

#2 The Heights of Macchu Picchu

Chilean Title: Alturas de Machu Picchu

Collection: Canto General (General Song)

Published: 1950

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.

Excerpt:-

I am coming to speak for and through your dead mouths.

Throughout the earth, join together

all the scattered silent lips,

and out of the depths speak to me during this long night

as if I were anchored to you.

Tell me everything, chain by chain,

link by link, and step by step.

Sharpen the knives

you’d locked away,

put them on my breast and into my hands,

like a river of yellow lightening,

like a river of buried tigers,

and let me cry, hours, days, years,

blind ages, stellar centuries.

 

#1 Poem XX: Tonight I Can Write The Saddest Lines

Chilean Title: Poema XX: Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche

Collection: Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair)

Published: 1924

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.

Excerpt:-

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.

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